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 The Pig War
The Real Event
 An Alternate History
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
 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."[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] When news of the confrontation reached Washington a shocked President Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to defuse the situation.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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 never happened.

[1]. Murray page 11.
[2]. Dawson page 8.
[3]. Murray pages 16 and 19.
[4]. Dawson page 63.
[5]. Dawson page 83.
[6]. Dawson page 92.
[7]. Dawson page 95.
[8]. Murray page 72.
[9]. Murray page 74.
[10]. This is based on a real incident. See Murray page 27 and Dawson page 30.
The War That Was Never Fought
Will Dawson
Auerbach Publishers, 1971

The Pig War
Keith Murray
Washington State Historical Society, 1968


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Copyright â°°3 by Jeffrey A. Thomas
Please send comments to Jeffrey A. Thomas at: sneakythomas@hotmail.com