The Pig War - by Jeffrey A. Thomas
|The Pig War
by Jeffrey A. Thomas
The Real Event
The origins of "The Pig War" were rooted in the treaty of 1846, which settled
the claims of the United States and Great Britain in the lands west of the
Rocky Mountains. The treaty established the 49th parallel as the boundary
between the United States and Canada, until it reached to "the middle of the
channel separating the continent from Vancouver's Island." The intention
behind this was to leave all of Vancouver Island as British territory.
Unfortunately the treaty state what was meant by "the main channel". The
British believed it referred to Haro Straight, to the East of San Juan Island,
the Americans believed it to be Rosario Straight, on the West.
This of course left San Juan Island in limbo. The Hudson's Bay Company had
claimed ownership of the island in 1845. In 1850 a salmon curing station was
built followed in 1853 by a sheep ranch. In that same year Washington Territory
was created and San Juan Island was made a part of Whatcom County. By 1859
about twenty nine Americans were living on San Juan Island, on land claims the
British regarded as illegal. Tempers tended to be short.
On the morning of June 15, 1859 an American settler named Lyman Cutlar shot and
killed a pig belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, as it was rooting in his
garden. When Cutlar refused to pay for the pig Charles Griffin, the farm's
manager demanded his arrest. The other Americans on San Juan sent a petition to
Brigadier General William S. Harney the anti-British commander of the
Department of Oregon. Harney was regarded by many as something of a hothead.
Harney responded by sending troops from the Ninth Infantry under the command of
George Pickett to San Juan Island. Pickett arrived there on July 27th.
In the meantime James Douglas, Governor of the Crown Colony of British Columbia
dispatched a naval force to protect British interest, although he was angry
over the situation he ordered Captain Geoffrey Hornby to avoid armed conflict
if possible. Hornby wisely decided not to take too much action until is
superior, Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes arrived. When Baynes arrived on the
scene he was shocked to find that the two countries were about to go to war
over a pig.
Through the summer of 1859 both countries continued to move more forces into
the area. By August 31, 461 Americans supported by 14 cannon dug into earthen
redoubts were squared off against five British ships carrying 167 cannon and
some two thousand troops. When news of the confrontation reached Washington
a shocked President Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to defuse the
situation. Scott and Douglas corresponded, and agreed to withdraw most of
their forces. At about the same time, in mid-September London and Washington
agreed to a joint military occupation of San Juan Island until the matter could
be settled by arbitration.
For the next twelve years both nations kept garrisons at opposite ends of the
island. (Both are now National Historical Parks.) In 1871 the United States and
Great Britain submitted the matter to the German Kaiser for arbitration. The
Kaiser sent the matter to a three man commission, which ruled in favor of the
Americans on October 21, 1872. A month later the British withdrew, and by 1874
the last American troops had left San Juan Island.
The only casualty of The Pig War was the pig.
But what if the confrontation was not as peaceful? The following is a look at
how an obscure incident could have turned into a not-so-obscure incident, and
the possible consequences. If British and American relations had already been
strained at the start of the Civil War, would the British have reacted
differently to the Federal blockade? Would the United States and Canada still
share the longest undefended border in the world? Let's be glad my fantasy
. Murray page 11.
. Dawson page 8.
. Murray pages 16 and 19.
. Dawson page 63.
. Dawson page 83.
. Dawson page 92.
. Dawson page 95.
. Murray page 72.
. Murray page 74.
. This is based on a real incident. See Murray page 27 and Dawson page 30.
The War That Was Never Fought
Auerbach Publishers, 1971
The Pig War
Washington State Historical Society, 1968
Copyright â°°3 by Jeffrey A. Thomas
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