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20 Interesting Pig War Facts

by Sankalan Baidya
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20 Interesting Pig War Facts

Wars are never good but certain wars fought back in history do give us a moment or two of laugh despite the fact that at least someone or something lost life. One such war is the Pig War of 1859. Though considered as a war, the Pig War was never really a war in truest sense because not even a single bullet was fired. So, what’s the funny aspect of this so called Pig War and why at all is it named after a pig? That’s what we intend to learn today in this list of 20 interesting Pig War facts.

Interesting Pig War Facts: 1-10

1. The British Empire and the United States confronted each other over a boundary dispute. San Juan Islands was the territory around which the dispute began because the territory turned out to be a military strategic point.

2. Such boundary disputes were pretty common on the wake of westward exploration and three countries that were commonly involved in such disputes were Spain, United States and Great Britain. They frequently disputed over the Oregon region which back then included parts of British Colombia, certain areas of Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

3. However, the Spaniards stopped their claims in Oregon region by early 1800s but the British Empire and the United States were unable to let go off their claims and San Juan Islands remained the most sought after prize for both the nations.

4. The Americans claimed the territory based on their idea of ‘manifest destiny’ and the British on the other hand claimed the territory based on the fact that British-operated Hudson’s Bay Company had commercial and trade activities in the territory before the Americans started claiming it their own.

5. The tensions between the two countries started mounting until something weird happened in 1859. In between, the Oregon Treaty was signed in 1846 on June 15 but neither of the countries were happy with the same. The Oregon Treaty divided the Oregon Country/Colombia District between the two nations.

6. Since 1846, the two countries were involved in several non-military disputes over the Oregon Treaty. While the two countries kept confronting each other, the Hudson’s Bay Company had already started operating on the islands and converted it into a sheep ranch.

7. By mid-1859, 29 American settlers moved into the territory and started farming operations because the lands were pretty fertile.

8. On 15 June, 1859 – exactly 13 years after the Oregon Treaty was signed – one American settler named Layman Cutlar (who claimed land under Donation Land Claim Act) found a big black pig happily munching on his tubers.

9. That wasn’t really the first time Cutlar notice his garden ransacked by a pig but this time the pig really go on his nerves and Cutlar lost his patience. He pulled out his gun, aimed and shot! The poor pig was doomed and died on spot!

10. In an upsetting swing of events, it turned out that Cutlar had killed the pig of Mr. Charles Griffin – an Irishman employed by Hudson’s Bay Company for operating the sheep ranch. It was not just the only pig Griffin owned. There were several others and Griffin had always allowed them to roam around freely.

Interesting Pig War Facts: 11-20

11. Cutlar and Griffin were pretty good neighbors until the tragic loss of Griffin’s pig. On a good note, Cutlar offered a compensation amount of $10 to Griffin but unsatisfied, Griffin demanded $100.

12. This demand by Griffin made Cutlar say that the pig was trespassing on his lands and that he should not really pay a single dime to Griffin and said that ‘It was eating my potatoes’. To this Griffin replied, ‘It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig’.

13. Griffin reported the incident to British authorities and Cutlar faced the threat of getting arrested. The rest of the American settlers weren’t happy about the possibility of Cutlar getting arrested and they called the American army for protection.

14. Brigadier-General William S. Harney dispatched a unit of 66 soldiers from the 9th The soldiers were sent to San Juan Islands under Captain George Pickett.

15. This military move by the Americans was not taken lightly by the British. Brits were afraid that Americans will start occupying the San Juan Islands. To prevent that from happening, the British Royal Navy sent 3 warships with Captain Geoffrey Hornby as the commanding officer.

16. The military escalations kept happening until by August 10, 1859, the Americans were all set with 16 cannon and 461 soldiers while the Brits geared up with 5 warships mounted with 70 guns and boarded by 2,140 men but neither of the two sides fired a single shot until then. The local commanding officers of either side gave clear instructions to their men that no one should open fire until the opponents opened fire first.

17. While both the American and the British soldiers faced each other prepping up for a possible war, no one from either side fired a single bullet. Both sides passed offensive and insulting comments to each side hoping that the opponent will open fire. This never happened though.

18. Soon this tension or crisis news reached London and Washington. The then US President James Buchanan immediately ordered General Winfield Scott to negotiate with the British command in order to avoid the war over the death of a pig. This was a smart move because internal sectional tensions in America were mounting up gradually which would eventually wind up into the Civil War.

19. General Scott reached San Juan in October and started negotiating with Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Islands, James Douglas.

20. The negotiations ended up successful and Great Britain and United States mutually agreed on joint military occupation until proper settlement could be achieved. Both the British and the American army were reduced to 100 on either side with the British camp established on San Juan’s north end and American camp on the south end.

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So, the Pig War derived its name from a doomed pig that was shot dead. The war actually never happened despite mobilization of forces. It is really funny to know how a petty issue like this can actually lead to a crisis as big as the Pig War. The Pig War is also known by other names like ‘the Pig and Potato War’, ‘the Pig Episode’, ‘the Northwestern Boundary Dispute’ or ‘the San Juan Boundary Dispute’. However, the Pig War is still the most preferred name for the war that never truly happened.

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Sources: 1, 2

Image Credits: 1, 2

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