The Pig War – October 1859

In regard to foreign affairs, the States quarreled with The British Empire over their boundaries in northwestern North America in the archipelago of the San Juan Islands. The conflict was called The Pig War because it started with the killing of a pig!

On June 15th 1859, an American farmer who had moved onto the island found a pig eating the potatoes in his garden. This was not the first time so Cutlar took aim and shot the pig, killing it. The pig was owned by an Irishman, Charles Griffin, who also had several other pigs which he allowed to roam freely. Cutlar offered $10 to Griffin to compensate for the pig, but Griffin demanded $100. Following this reply, Cutlar claimed that he should not have to pay for the pig because it had been trespassing on his land. “It was eating my potatoes.” he said, “It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig” replied Griffin. When British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, American settlers called for military protection but no shots were exchanged and it became famous as a bloodless conflict with no human casualties. In fact during the years of joint military occupation, the small British and American units on San Juan Island had a very amicable mutual social life, visiting one another’s camps to celebrate their respective national holidays and holding various athletic competitions. Park rangers tell visitors that the biggest threat to peace on the island during these years was “the large amount of alcohol available.”