SAN JUAN ISLANDS
SAN JUAN ISLAND NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
AN (ALMOST) WAR OVER A PIG
COn June 15, 1859, Lyman Cutlar saw a pig rooting in his potato garden. This was not the first time the boar was digging up his potatoes. He had warned the owners of the boar several times before to keep their pig penned. Irate, he fetched his rifle and shot the pig. His shot might have started a war between the world's two leading military powers.
CCutlar was an American who lived on San Juan Island. The pig belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company and Britain claimed ownership of the island. Cutlar offered to buy the pig, but the British set a price of $100, an impossibly high figure in 1859. So, the British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar. This was the immediate crisis that almost triggered a war between the United States and Great Britain.
The Setting of the Stage
CThe origin of the dispute was over who, England or the United States, would control the Oregon Country. This huge territory included today's states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the Province of British Columbia, and parts of Wyoming and Montana. An Anglo-American agreement, the Joint Occupation Treaty of 1818, opened this region to settlement by both English and Americans. English explorers were the first to map much of this area, and the British Hudson's Bay Company had long-established trading rights with the Natives. Americans, imbued with the idea of "manifest destiny to overspread the continent," considered the land west of the Rockies to be their natural right for settlement. Both nations fumed and fussed and even threatened war but wiser heads prevailed. In June 1846, the Oregon Treaty was signed. This gave the United States possession of the Pacific Northwest south of the 49th parallel, and extended the boundary "to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island; and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca's straits to the Pacific Ocean. This settled the big issue, but it was unclear who owned the San Juan Islands. There are two channels which separate the continent from Vancouver Island - Haro Strait and Rosario Strait. The Americans put the line to the west of the San Juans in Haro, and the British placed the border in Rosario Strait giving them possession of the islands. Both sides claimed the islands as their own.
CThe Hudson's Bay Company had posted a notice of possession in 1845, and in 1851 established a salmon-curing station on San Juan Island. Two years later, it established Bellevue Farm and had thousands of sheep grazing on the eastern end of the Island. In 1853, the territorial legislature of Oregon incorporated the Island into Island County. By 1859, there were about 25 Americans living on San Juan Island. Neither side recognized any rights by the other, and disputes between settlers often broke out amid short tempers. And then Cutlar shot the pig.
The Overreaction to the Crisis
The American Side
CWhen the British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, the American settlers petitioned the US Army for protection. The commander of the Department of Oregon was Brig. Gen. William S. Harney, who happened to harbor a noted dislike of the British.
Brig. Gen. William S. Harney
CCHe sent a 66-man company of the 9th US Infantry, under Capt George E. Pickett (of later Civil War Fame) to San Juan Island. They occupied a site just north of the Bellevue Farm and the Hudson Bay Company wharf.
Capt Pickett and the American Camp in 1859
The British Side
CJames Douglas was Governor of the Crown Colony of British Columbia. He was enraged by the presence of American soldiers on what he considered the British soil of San Juan island. He sent three British warships to confront and dislodge the Americans, but with instructions to avoid an armed conflict if possible.
Gov. James Douglas
CPickett's men, armed with rifles, were facing British warships, with 61 cannon. However, Pickett refused to budge. For two months, the British force continued to grow. Rear Adm. Robert L. Baynes, commander of British Pacific naval forces, arrived. After a quick assessment of the situation, he declared, he would not "involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig." He constrained his men from any action or provocation.
Rear Adm. Baynes
CCBy August 10th, American reinforcements of 64 men arrived. All were now under the command of Lt. Col. Silas Casey, but they were greatly outnumbered by the British force. Commander of the Department of Oregon Gen. Harney ordered in additional reinforcements, now protected by an earthen redoubt and 14 cannons. They were now opposed by five British warships carrying 167 cannons and 2,140 troops -- Royal Marines, artillerymen, sappers, and miners.
CCPres. James Buchanan was shocked when word of the international crisis reached him in Washington, DC. It was incomprehensible that American and British forces could face each other over a crisis precipitated by an irate farmer. He sent Gen. Winfield Scott, commanding general of the U.S. Army, to investigate and negotiate a solution. "It would be a shocking event if ... two nations should be precipitated into a war respecting the possession of a small island," said the instructions to Gen. Scott.
Gen. Winfield Scott
CCGen. Scott and Gov. Douglass reached an agreement whereby a token force from each nation would remain on the island until a treaty could be negotiated. Amer. Brig. General Harney was officially rebuked and reassigned due to his rash actions. American Lt. Col. Casey, and his men, were replaced by others under a different officer. In 1860, British Royal Marines established a camp at Garrison Bay on the northwest coast of San Juan Island.
English Camp, 1860's
CCThis joint military occupation continued for twelve years. Relations between the troops were good, with joint social and athletic events common. In 1872, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany (a trusted friend of both the British and an American ambassador) settled the question in favor of the US, establishing the boundary in the middle of Haro Strait so the San Juan Islands are an American possession to this day. In 1872, the Royal Marines left English Camp and in 1874 the last US troops left American Camp. Peace came to the San Juans but the tale of the military confrontation is remembered to this day - and the only casualty was a pig.
--most of the information for this historical summary was derived from information supplied by the US National Park Service
English Camp, Today
Today's Interpretive CCEnglish Camp and American Camp - Redcoat and El
CCThe National Park Service maintains interpretive centers at both sites. The English Camp has easy access for boaters who anchor in Garrison Bay and take their dinghies to the Park's dock. It is a fascinating glimpse into events and societies long past.
SundSun Sundown and Sunrise at English Camp
Then and Now
The Blockhouse and Original Timbers
The Barracks, Part of the Original Rock Chimney, and Remains of the Oven
Photo of the Officers' Quarters, the Site Today, and the View of Halcyon
CCThree sets of officers quarters and a barn were built on a narrow shelf with a commanding view of Garrison Bay. Junior officers and the surgeon lived here.
Photo of the Quarters (with Capt. Delacombe and family on the steps), El on the Site, Rock Wall built by Royal Marines
CCThe first Commanding Officer of the Camp, Capt. George Bazelgette requested a fine house on the hill above the camp. His house on the lower level needed repairs and was much too small to entertain visiting American officers. Marines hauled rocks, up the hill, to build retaining walls and wheelbarrows of sand, gravel, and shell midden to level the home site.A contractor from Victoria built the home. Before completion of his new quarters, he was replaced by Capt. W. A. Delacombe, and his family.
The Hospital and Storehouse
The Shell Midden Beneath the Camp
CCThe site of English Camp was a winter camp for Native people for more than two thousand years. They left a huge refuse pit of clam shells, called a midden, from generations of clam dinners. The British leveled the midden and constructed their camp atop the midden.
CCThe British Commander decided to have a formal garden constructed at the camp so his wife would feel more 'at home' at the isolated post. The tradition is maintained today by the Park Service and the garden is one of the tourist highlights of a visit to the camp.
White-crowned Sparrow and American Oystercatcher
CCBirdlife is always interesting for us to observe, afloat or ashore. There is an Osprey nesting near the barracks and the Park Service has a telescope set on the nest to aid observation.
CCDuring the summer season their are many activities scheduled at both American and English Camps and it is worthwhile to check the programs to see if any interest you. The Park Service does an excellent job with these historical parks and they are a nice addition to cruising in the San Juan Islands.
(06 - 07)
Top | Home