Map of San Juan Island
As westward exploration expanded, it was common for land to have overlapping claims between Spain, Great Britain and the United States. This was especially common in the Oregon region, including present states of Washington, Idaho, Oregon, portions of Wyoming and Montana, in addition to British Colombia.
By the early 1800s, Spain had let go of their claims in the Oregon region, but the U.S. and Great Britain still had overlapping land claims. One particular region in competition was the San Juan Island, an island located between Washington and Vancouver Island. Great Britain attested that the island was legally theirs since the British-run Hudson’s Bay Company had operated trade and commercial activities before the American’s claim. The backbone of the American claim rested on their idea of “manifest destiny” and saw the British threatening their idea of expansion.
British Capt. Geoffrey Hornby
The Hudson’s Bay Company set up a post on the island around 1818. Not long after, American settlers took notice of the island’s fertile land and set up farms. Tension between the two mounted and on June 15, 1859, it erupted over quite a small matter. On that day, American Lyman A. Cutler killed a Hudson’s Bay-owned pig because it kept destroying his garden. The pig repeatedly disrupted Cutler’s potato patch and he discussed the issue with the pig’s owners but they did very little. After the pig’s death, the Hudson’s Bay Company demanded that Cutler reimburse $100 dollars for the slain pig. Cutler refuted that he would not pay $100 dollars for “a $10 pig.”
American Capt. George Pickett
Because Cutler refused to pay the fine, the Hudson’s Bay Company threatened to bring him to trial and sentence him under British law. Since Cutler is American, he sought protection from the U.S. government. The British sent five vessels, stationed them in the straits by the island, and were authorized to land if necessary. They were commanded by Captain Hornby. The U.S. dispatched troops commanded by Captain Pickett from Oregon. Both captains realized the situation would not end well if further military action occurred. Both governments agreed upon joint military occupation on the island until they agreed upon a finalized border. Great Britain gave up their claim on the island in 1873.
The Pig War resulted in one casualty – the pig.
[Zim’s Note: Captain Pickett is most known for his actions in the Civil War. During the Battle of Gettysburg, he, a Confederate Major General, led the Pickett’s Charge. The charge was a bloodbath, with over 50 percent of those who fought in it were either killed or wounded. Until his death, Pickett regretted having anything to do with Pickett’s Charge.]
New York Times, “State Department Recounts Tale of a Pig That Nearly Caused Conflict With Britain,” August 1, 1948.
New York Times, “A Pig Nearly Causes a War,” July 17, 1892.
“The Pig War” on the National Park Service website.
Photos: Pickett and Hornby