Pig War

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Pig War (1859-1872) - The Pig War (also called the Pig Episode, the San Juan Boundary Dispute or the Northwestern Boundary Dispute) was a confrontation in 1859 between American and British authorities, resulting from a dispute over the boundary between the United States and Great Britain. It is so called because the only casualty was a pig.

The Oregon Treaty of 15 Jun 1846 divided the Oregon Territory between the United States and Britain "along the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver Island, and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca's Straits, to the Pacific Ocean."

However, there are actually two straits which could be called the middle of the channel: Haro Strait, along the west side of the San Juan Islands; and Rosario Strait, along the east side. Because of this ambiguity, both the United States and Britain claimed sovereignty over the San Juan Islands.

Exactly 13 years later, on 15 Jun 1859, this ambiguity led to direct conflict: Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer, shot and killed a pig rooting in his garden. That pig was owned by an Irishman who was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company. A possibly apocryphal story claims Cutlar said to the farmer "Keep your pigs out of my potatoes!" The farmer replied, "Keep your potatoes out of my pigs!" When British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, American settlers called for military protection.

William S. Harney, commanding the Deptment of Oregon, initially dispatched 66 American soldiers of the 9th Infantry from Fort Bellingham under the command of Captain George E. Pickett to San Juan Island. When British authorities learned of this, three British warships were sent under the command of Captain Geoffrey Hornby to counter the Americans. The situation continued to escalate. By September, 461 Americans with 14 cannons under Lt. Colonel Silas Casey, were opposed by three British warships mounting 70 guns and carrying 2,140 men. During this time, no shots were fired; both sides wisely chose not to involve "two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig". Local commanding officers on both sides had been given essentially the same orders by their respective governments: defend yourselves, but absolutely do not fire the first shot. For several days, the British and U.S. soldiers exchanged insults, each side attempting to goad the others into firing the first shot, but discipline held on both sides, and thus no shots were fired.

In September, U.S. President James Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to negotiate with Governor James Douglas to resolve growing crisis. As a result, both sides agreed to retain joint military occupation of the island, reducing their presence to a token force. The "English Camp" was established on the north end of San Juan Island along the shoreline, for ease of supply and access; and the "American Camp" was created on the south end on a high, windswept meadow, suitable for artillery barrages against shipping. Today the Union Jack still flies above the "English Camp", being raised and lowered daily by park rangers, making it one of the very few places without diplomatic status where U.S. government employees regularly hoist the flag of another country.

This state of affairs continued for the next 12 years, when the matter was referred to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. On 21 Oct 1872 a commission appointed by the Kaiser decided in favor of turning the San Juan Islands over to the United States.

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