Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Pig War

San Juan Island, Straits of Juan de Fuca

We board the ferry at 9am to explore San Juan Island. Our destination is called Friday's Harbor. It's a pretty island, but the real estate seems wildly overpriced to us. We tour the island and have lunch in Friday's Harbor. The most pleasant surprise is that the ride back to Anacortes, Washington is free.

The Pig War was the culmination of a series of treaties that established the western boundary of the United States and Canada. The Treaty of 1818 divided all the land east of the Rocky Mountains along the 49th parallel. The land west of the Rockies and North of Mexico (then extending up to the 42nd parallel) was shared for purposes of exploration between the two entities (British North America and the fledgling United States).

The shared situation became increasingly uncomfortable. The militant American Democratic Party wanted to extend the boundary of the U.S. west of the Rockies up to 54 degrees, 40 minutes north latitude. The war cry of the time was "54/40 or fight". However, the Mexican/American war of 1846 diverted American attention from the Northwest and the western boundary was set at 49 degrees north latitude by the treaty of 1848.

The only fly in the ointment was the fuzzy maps of the straits of Juan de Fuca. The international boundary was agreed to be the middle of the strait, but there were straits on each side of the San Juan Islands, so both sides claimed the islands under differing theories.

Members of the Hudson Bay Company occupied the San Juan Island for the purpose of sheep farming and at the same time about 25 American settlers moved in and began clearing land for farming. In 1859, Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer, found a large black pig rooting in his potato garden. This was not the first occurrence. Cutlar was so upset that he shot and killed the pig. It turned out that the pig was owned by an Irishman, Charles Griffin, who was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company to run the sheep ranch.

Words were exchanged and Cutlar was threatened with arrest by the British. A company of American Marines was dispatched to prevent this and soon thousands of men and hundreds of cannon were staring at each other from opposite ends of the island. Both sides were under orders not to fire the first shot, so the soldiers had to content themselves with hurling taunts and insults.

In 1872, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany agreed to arbitrate the dispute. Wilhelm listened carefully to the arguments and then awarded the islands to the Americans. The only casualty of this 12 year conflict was one black pig.

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