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“Some War. Some Pig” – The Pig War

(Quote by Mike Vouri, “The Pig War,” University of Washington Press, 2013).

Mike Vouri , The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay (2013)

Recently Our EWU Digital Humanities class read the wonderfully written book “The Pig War,” by author Mike Vouri. The book discusses the in-depth situation about the war, which was deemed as “the bloodless war.” I found this book to be absolutely amazing, because I actually no idea what the “Pig War” was! Essentially, the Pig War occurred over A man named Lyman Cutlar. whom shot a Berkshire bore that belonged to the Charles Griffin and the Hudson Bay Company. During this time, the San Juan Islands were under the join occupation of the British and the United States. This was the result of confusing language and ambiguity in the language of the Treaty of Oregon of June 15, 1846. As Vouri states in the book, “the boundary was set on the 49th parallel, from the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island then South through the channel to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and west to the Pacific Ocean” (Vouri, pg. ix). The confusion arose from “channels,” because “there was two: Rosario Strait and the Haro Strait and San Juan lay in-between” (pg. ix). Naturally, the result was that both sides (U.S & Great Britain) laid their claims on San Juan.

Charles Griffin

Ironically that 13 years later, on the same day of the same month, this dispute would be revisited by the acts of Cutlar shooting the bore of Charles Griffin. Both sides, the British and the United States would spent insane amounts of money, and engage in essentially a war of letters. in order to try and engage in justifications for why the island belonged to either the U.S., or Great Britain. Keep in mind, this was the time period of “Manifest Destiny,” where the Pacific Northwest was a “canvas to paint a Jeffersonian vision of democracy” (Vouri, pg. 16). What I found most interesting of the Pig War, was its conclusion. Kaiser Wilhelm (Emperor William I) of the German Empire (new at that time) and a three-man commission was the ones that settled the disputte. The Kaiser and the commission awarded the islands the United States. The final conclusion was that “The Haro Strait touches Vacouver Island,” whereas “The Rosario Strait does not” and that the “Haro Strait was the southerly channel dividing Vancouver island from the mainland cited in the Treaty of 1846” (Vouri, pg. 250). When our class had asked Vouri if the German Empire got it right, he reached the conclusion that “Yeah, I think they got it right” based on all of the profound evidence he has gathered over the years.

English Barracks – located at Garrison Bay, taken from Mike Vouri’s book “Pig War Standoff at Garrison Bay” (pg. 160).
Dr. Larry Cebula, “EnglishCampTour,” Youtube.com, – see 4:29 for discussion and viewing of the English Barracks Building!

What I am most interested in, when it comes to the discussion of the “Pig War” and the San Juan Islands, is the Barracks, located in English Camp. The Royal Marines landed on San Juan Island on March 23, 1860. The location of the camp was at Garrison Bay, because the “bounty of fresh water, timber, and stone provided natural resources critical to establishing and maintaing a military camp” (Vouri, pg. 211). The conflict between started military occupation on the island of San Juan, which was often justified as “deterrent against Native American raids and attacks,” but it most certainly was preparation in case either side declared battle. As referenced in the video above (EnglishCampTour by Dr. Larry Cebula) The English Camp barracks building included “a kitchen, photos of the world and adventures taken by soldiers who traveled there from China, uniform make-up, and rot-iron beds” (Dr. Larry Cebula, Interpretive Sites at English Camp). The Barracks building is essentially a historical site that contains a lot of history within it, it’s practically a storage unit of rich history and Europeans perspectives of exploration into the Pacific Northwest. The Barracks building itself also went through a “series of phases.” How many phases did it go through? How was the location of the barracks strategic? How what was life life in the barracks? What kinds of historical artificacts are all in there? (in more detail) These are the many questions I have.

The Pig War is such an interesting topic because I did not know anything about it. Now that I have learned about this event, I hope to provide research that will shed more light on this event, and more specifically, the English Barracks on Garrison Bay. In the words of Mike Vouri, who has been researching this topic since 1998 (perhaps longer than that) “there is always more to learn on the topic of San Juan.”

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