Pig War

From Academic Kids

Military history of Canada
Military history of the United Kingdom
Military history of the United States
ConflictPig War
PlaceWashington-British Columbia border
ResultSan Juan Islands awarded to the United States
United States Canada
461 2,140
none 1 pig

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 Canada. It is so called because the only casualty was a pig.

The border between United States and Canada was fixed on June 15, 1846 by the Oregon Treaty as being "along the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's 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 the United Kingdom claimed sovereignty over the San Juan Islands.

Exactly 13 years later, on June 15, 1859, this ambiguity lead 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 Dept. of Oregon, initially dispatched 66 American soldiers of the 9th Infantry under the command of Captain George 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 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".

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 "British 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.

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

The Pig War is commemorated in San Juan Island National Historical Site.

See also: Aroostook War, the "Northeastern Boundary Dispute"


This conflict became the basis for an episode of the animated series Hey Arnold! titled "The Pig War".

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