The Pig War

 Posted by at 1:00 am  Nick's Blog
May 112017

Note: This story is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery.

The United States and Canada have enjoyed a long and friendly relationship. Our boundary with our neighbors to the north is the longest unguarded border in the world. But there was a time when a lowly pig almost brought the two nations to battle and had troops from both sides facing off with each other for more than a decade.

As is usually the case in such events, the pig actually played a very small role in a much larger controversy, but it was the excuse both sides needed to give them a reason to act.

It all began in 1859 on San Juan Island, now part of Washington state. A treaty in 1846 had established the border between Canada and the United States and decreed that the dividing line between the two countries would be the channel around San Juan Island. But there was one little problem – there were actually two channels, one on each side of the island! If the line was extended down Rosario Strait, San Juan Island would be Canadian Territory and fall under British control, but if the line followed Haro Strait, the island would be American. Citizens from both countries had settled on the island, and the Canadian Hudson Bay Company had a presence as well.

American authorities, demanding the British pay taxes, had come to San Juan Island at one point and attempted to seize a flock of sheep owned by the Hudson Bay Company to be sold at auction to satisfy unpaid taxes. What followed was a comedy of errors. No one stopped to consider that the sheep, being loyal British subjects, might object to this move. Or maybe the sheep just were not too enthused about riding in a rowboat and some Indian canoes the tax men had commandeered. Whichever the reason, the sheep butted the officials, ran off in every direction, and left the deputies red faced and frustrated.

Englishman Charles Griffin was employed by the Hudson Bay Company and stationed on San Juan Island. A hot tempered, red headed Irishman, Griffin raised pigs and felt his animals should be allowed to forage freely wherever they chose to. His neighbor, American Lyman Carter, took objection to the hogs rooting in his potato patch, and complained several times about the animals getting into his garden. Griffin brushed off his neighbor’s complaints in a less than friendly manner.

Things came to a head on June 15, 1859, when Lyman Carter looked out his window and spotted one of Griffin’s pigs in his garden again. He stepped outside and shot the animal dead. With tempers short on both sides at the time, British authorities threatened to arrest Carter and take him to Vancouver Island for trial. The Americans responded by calling on the army for help, and soon a detachment of soldiers commanded by Captain George Pickett arrived.

Not to be outdone, James Douglas, the British governor of Vancouver Island, dispatched three warships to the island, under Captain Geoffery Hornby. Probably no two more unsuited military leaders could have been chosen to deal with the situation. Reports are that both men were stubborn and unwilling to compromise or back down. Both sides refused to relinquish their positions, and reinforcements arrived until the American military presence totaled about 400 men, while the British had five warships and some 2,100 troops anchored just offshore.

For the next twelve years the battle lines were drawn and it looked like hostilities could break out at any minute. Fortunately, cooler heads eventually prevailed and the two nations agreed to an outside arbitrator. In 1872, German’s Kaiser Wilhelm I made the final ruling, deciding in favor of the Americans, and the British forces finally withdrew from San Juan Island. The war that wasn’t a war was over, it’s only casualties some bruised egos, one destroyed garden, and a dead pig.

Today visitors to San Juan Island National Historical Park in Friday Harbor on the island can learn about the war that almost happened over a pig, as well as even more about the history of the region. For more information call 360-378-2615 or log onto the Internet and visit the park’s web site at

It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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