Pig War: 12 Cool Facts

Did you learn about the Pig War when you were in history class? For some odd reason, I doubt it.

But the Pig War IS a part of United States history and every person should have some knowledge of this war that we were involved in.

  • How many humans were killed?
  • Who won?
  • Where was it fought?
  • Who were the leaders?

Well today, I am going to hopefully answer those questions and more. This is Pig War: 12 cool facts. And before the question arises, no this is not about the Bay of Pig’s Invasion which was an attempt to take Fidel Castro to his knees in 1961… And it did not work.

No, the Pig War happened much earlier in time. And I must say, most wars have sadness attached because of the deaths involved. But when you learn about the Pig War, you may just laugh… I did!

Pig War Fact #1: When

The Pig War occurred from June until October, 1859.

Pig War Fact #2: Who

This war was between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Pig War Fact #3: Where

The war was held on the San Juan Islands in between the State of Washington and Vancouver Island.

Pig War Fact #4: Why

Both Englishmen (The Hudson Bay Company) and Americans had settled on the San Juan Islands. It really was not clear at that time if these islands were British or American because 2 straits passed by the islands.

There were debates but it had not come to anything else, until…

An American farmer (Lyman Cutlar) who settled on San Juan Island discovered a large pig owned by an Irishman named Charles Griffin. The pig was rooting Lyman’s garden eating his tubers. It had happened before, so he shot and killed the pig. This angered Griffin who demanded Cutlar pay $100. Griffin only agreed to pay $10.

The English tried to arrest Cutlar, but his neighbors called for military protection from the States.

It was now war.

Pig War Fact #5: American Troops Sent

General William S. Harney, Commander of the Department of Oregon received the call for military protection and immediately dispatched 66 soldiers from the United States 9th Infantry to San Juan Island. The leader of this group of soldiers was George Pickett.

Pig War Fact #6: The British Response

Britain considered San Juan Island hers. And the arrival of American troops meant that a response must be made. The British in Canada responded by moving 3 warships off the San Juan Island coast.

George Pickett claimed there would be another Bunker Hill if the British attempted coming ashore.

Pig War Fact #7: Which Waterway Would Determine

The debate about ownership of the San Juan Islands had been going on since 1846, but it was essentially minor in both the eyes of the British and Americans. But, San Juan Island was a great military post if truly considered.

The debate was when the treaty was signed over Oregon, which waterway would be the divider:

  • Haro Strait would give the land to the British
  • Rosario Strait would favor the Americans

Pig War Fact #8: Escalation

Tensions rose…

In August of 1859 there were 461 Americans with 14 cannons and 2,140 British on 5 warships with many cannons and guns.


No shots were fired.

Pig War Fact #9: Refusal Of An Order

The Governor or Vancouver Island, James Douglas, ordered Rear Admiral Robert Baynes to send British Marines ashore to battle the Americans, but Baynes refused the order.

He said going to bloodshed over a pig was utter foolishness.

Pig War Fact #10: Washington And London In Complete Surprise

The leaders of both nations quickly met to bring order to this war over a dead pig. They agreed that until a settlement could be made, they would end this war by each side leaving just 100 men each on San Juan Island.

The British camped on the North end of the island and the Americans on the South end.

Pig War Fact #11: For Over 10 Years

Those camps stayed in place for over 10 years… And the troops often visited each others camps and drank extreme amounts of alcohol.

The Americans and British decided to have Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm I decide the outcome.

His decision…

Rosario Strait was the line and the British had to go. Now, San Juan Islands are a part of the State of Washington.

Pig War Fact #12: The Only Place Where Americans Lift A British Union Jack

In remembrance of the Pig War, every day, members of the National Park Service of the United States raise the British Union Jack where the British camp was located.

The whole area is a National Park and visited quite often. I highly recommend a vacation to San Juan Island National Historical Park.

Final Thoughts

How many wars do you know of where no shots were fired, no bodies buried?

The Pig War has both… Well maybe the pig was buried, but I doubt it. He had those potatoes in him and I am sure that pig was very tasty.

It was a war we can all look back on and have a laugh about.

Let’s hear your thoughts.

You can leave them below and do share this war story with others please…

Thank you.

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chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “Pig War: 12 Cool Facts”

  1. Just a slight correction. The Haro Strait was favored by the Americans, as it was the western most channel between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The Rosario Strait was favored by the British as it was the eastern channel. Kaiser Wilhelm and his advisers made the correct decision, as the Haro Strait is the widest, deepest and easiest to navigate of the two choices.

    I am a NPS ranger stationed on San Juan Island.

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