Born in Red Lake and Born to Raise Hell on the Prairies
In the rough and rowdy days that followed the first Riel Uprising, there was a climate of general lawlessness that arose. Many who participated in the dust-up fled to America or went further west. Others stayed around the Red River Settlement and raised some hell. One of those men was Gilbert Godon, known to many as the first “outlaw” of Manitoba.
Gilbert Godon was born at Red Lake, Minnesota, the son of Louis Godon (b. 1820) and Elizabeth Isaac, the daughter of Martin Isaac and Magdelaine Roy. Magdelaine was sister-in-law to Little Shell Band Counselor Louis Lenoir. Although a Metis, Gilbert was considered a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and drew annuities in 1889. He spent time crossing the border and even raised a family. Gilbert first married Lucienne Collin and they had a son, Simon, born May 20, 1880 at Pembina River. He then married Elise Desjarlais, the daughter of Francois Desjarlais and Marguerite Parisien. Their son Joseph Godon was born in 1886.
Known to enjoy a good time, Gilbert would often frequent the Pride of the West Saloon, owned by Dugald Sinclair. This Winnipeg establishment was popular with Canadian soldiers, who would come during the day, and with the Metis population, who took the place over once the sun went down. This arrangement generally kept the peace, but one occasion saw a fight erupt between the soldiers and the Metis. During the fight, one of the soldiers took out a revolver and aimed to shoot Sinclair. Godon valiantly grabbed the assailant and was shot in the arm. This ended the fight and Godon was quickly patched up.
Again in 1873, Godon was involved in another incident that was fueled by a night of drinking and brawling. One night in early October, Godon and some of his drinking buddies wound up at the home of bootlegger A.J. Fawcett. The men were already under the influence and Fawcett refused to sell them any more liquor. Godon’s friend Benjamin Marchand took offense to this refusal and threatened violence if Fawcett didn’t sell them some whiskey right then and now. Trying to calm his friend Godon took Marchand outside, but Marchand’s son took offense to his father being berated. The young Marchand grabbed a shovel and started to hit Godon. Fisticuffs ensued and Godon, his father and brother made short work of the Marchands. In gratitude, Fawcett produced a bottle and sat down for a drink with the Godon boys.
After a while, Godon needed to relive himself and went outside. He noticed the younger Marchand standing in the darkness and, being larger and older than the young lad, quickly beat him to the ground. As the young Marchand struggled back to his feet, Godon grabbed an axe and hit the young man with the back of it – dealing him a near fatal blow. Fawcett ran as quickly as he could to the nearest soldier’s barracks for help, but when the soldiers arrived young Marchand died shortly afterwards.
Godon was arrested without incident and was released until a jury could be convened. Godon quickly decided that he didn’t want to stand trial and fled across the border before a grand jury handed down charges of murder against him. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but it was impossible to serve with Godon hiding in American territory.
Less than a year later Godon was in a fight in Pembina. While in jail, the Canadian authorities learned he was in custody and they came to Pembina to claim him on June 19, 1874. At this trail the next day, Godon pleaded not guilty to the murder of Marchand, but he was quickly found guilty and sentenced to hang by the neck until dead. While awaiting his fate, his old friend Dugald Sinclair and a few others petitioned for clemency for Godon and his death sentence was commuted to 14 years in prison instead.
Godon was sent to prison in Upper Fort Garry. For a time he pretended to be a model prisoner, but was only biding his time. On September 25, 1876, he ran from his work duty and fled in a small boat across the Red River under a hail of gunfire from the prison guards. He quickly disappeared into the woods and using his outdoorsman skills he lost the guards following his trail. Soon, he found a horse, collected his wife, and fled back across the border to Dakota by early October.
In early 1877, rumor had it that Godon planned to visit his brother in Emerson. Knowing that Godon would be back within their jurisdiction, a posse was rounded up to take Godon back into custody. It didn’t go as planned.
William Lucas, the leader of the posse bust through the door of the Godon residence – leaving his men outside to guard for escape. He was shocked to find himself staring down the barrels of Godon’s pistols, but even more surprised when Godon’s mother and sister-in-law jumped on him and beat him to the ground. During the confusion, Godon walked out the door, overpowered one of the posse members, and fled into the woods near the river. Again, under a hail of bullets, Godon made his escape and fled back to Pembina.
His time in Pembina was quiet for a while, but again he found himself in trouble while drinking at a house party in 1880. Fisticuffs with Alexander Montreault led to some broken ribs and Godon being tossed in jail for assault with the intent to kill.
This incarceration didn’t last long, however, and he soon escaped with the help of a couple of fellow prisoners. They ran away when the jailer was sick, stole a canoe from a nearby Indian camp, and disappeared. Godon, knowing that he couldn’t return to Manitoba, decided to flee west to the Missouri River. He and fellow prisoner Frank Larose wound up at a Metis encampment on the Missouri where Larose soon died of an illness. Godon himself disappeared into history.