Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Pig War, 1859

All this talk of pigs and the culture wars got me thinking about times when actual living pigs have produced conflicts. I have a forthcoming review in the Journal of Social History of Virginia Anderson's excellent book Creatures of Empire, which charts the ways in which animals created conflicts between European colonists and Native Americans in British North America. For today's posting, though, I'm interested in another conflict, the Pig War of 1859 between the British and Americans in Oregon. Because I teach 19th century U.S. history I was aware of the conflicts between Britain and the United States over the Pacific Northwest, but somehow I'd never heard the tale of the pig killed by an American squatter named Lyman Cutlar on San Juan island on June 15, 1869. The pig was rooting in Cutler's garden, which was property he claimed under the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 in territory claimed by both nations given the ambiguity in the Oregon Treaty of 1846. The dead pig was owned by an Irishman named Charles Griffin who was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company. When the British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, Americans on the island called for U.S. military protection. The British, fearing further American occupation of San Juan Island, sent troops and warships, turning the incident into a major international crisis. Ultimately Gen. Winfield Scott was sent from Washington to negotiate a settlement, something important given the sectional tensions that were dividing the Union. An agreement was reached to jointly occupy the islands, an arrangement that lasted until a final settlement in 1872. The Pig War is commemorated at the San Juan Island National Historic Park and at an annual festival and encampment. Today's image is of a pig made by some guys and taken to the 2000 festival. You can read about their exploits, including their run-in with irony-deficient historical reenactors and park administrators, at pigwar.com.


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