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Jackson, William Henry (1861–1952)

William Henry Jackson was born in Ontario in 1861. He studied Classics at the University of Toronto for three years, and in 1882 followed his parents to Prince Albert. As one of the most well-educated men in the district, Jackson became the secretary of the local Farmer’s Union, and in this capacity met Louis Riel in the summer of 1884. Jackson became convinced that the grievances of the Métis were legitimate and, sympathetic to their cause, moved to Batoche, where he acted as Riel’s secretary. He converted to Roman Catholicism and subsequently accepted Riel’s reformed Christianity. Once fighting broke out, however, the Métis became concerned about his loyalty and placed him under arrest following the clash at Duck Lake in March 1885. Ironically, the Canadian forces also arrested Jackson when they captured Batoche six weeks later.

Charged with “treason-felony,” Jackson was found not guilty by reason of insanity, in a trial that lasted less than half an hour. Committed to the “Selkirk Asylum,” he escaped two weeks before Riel’s execution, and fled to the United States. There, he presented himself as a Métis, and in 1886 changed his name to Honoré Jaxon (the French pronunciation of “Jackson”). Settling in Chicago, he became involved in the Labour movement.

In 1907 Jaxon, as he was now known, returned to Saskatchewan and ran for Parliament as an Independent the following year; he was overwhelmingly defeated. He was active for a short time in Saskatoon labour issues, and was an early and enthusiastic convert to the Bahá’i faith. Discouraged with life in Canada, however, he returned to Chicago, where he sank into obscurity. At some point in the 1920s he moved to New York, and began to collect books, newspapers and pamphlets, becoming in the process somewhat of a local curiosity who was referred to in the New York dailies as a “human packrat.” He acted as a janitor for an apartment building, but was evicted on December 13, 1951. His personal library was packed into boxes—forming a pile 2 metres high, 3 metres across, and 11 metres long—and was hauled away and burned. Jaxon himself died a few weeks later on January 10, 1952, in New York at the age of 90, his role in the North-West Resistance all but forgotten.

Brian Mlazgar

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Further Reading

Smith, Donald B. 1986. “Rip Van Jaxon: The Return of Riel’s Secretary in 1884–1885 to the Canadian West, 1907–1909.” Pp. 211–23 in F. Laurie Barron and James B. Waldram (eds.), 1885 and After: Native Society in Transition. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center.
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