Painful Truth: History made by pigs and potatoes

A war almost started not far from here, thanks to the shooting of an errant hog.

One of the most popular genres of science fiction is the alternate history story.

What if Napoleon won at Waterloo? What if the South won the U.S. Civil War? What if the Spanish Armada had invaded Elizabethan England?

From those questions, the authors spin out tales where the Roman Empire still rules or a steam-driven British Empire straddles the 21st century globe.

The more I learn about real history, the less I feel the need for the alternative variety.

Consider the history of British Columbia alone.

Did you know we almost went to war with the U.S. over a single pig in the Gulf Islands?

Back in 1859, when Canada was but a drunken gleam in John A. Macdonald’s eye, Great Britain controlled the colony of British Columbia, and the United States controlled what was then known as the “Oregon Country,” including modern Washington State.

What wasn’t clear was exactly who owned all those fiddly little islands between the mainland and Vancouver Island.

No one had drawn a line yet snaking between Saltspring and Saturna, Orcas Island and San Juan.

But settlers turned up. Instead of aging hippies in Volkswagen vans and retired dentists building summer homes, back then it was mostly farmers.

On San Juan Island, American farmer Lyman Cutlar shot a pig he found eating his potatoes. Said pig belonged to Hudson’s Bay Company worker and British subject Charles Griffin.

Griffin and Cutlar had words. The Brits threatened to arrest Cutlar. Cutlar called in the U.S. military, because why not escalate a situation involving a dead pig and some lost spuds?

U.S. soldiers arrived on San Juan. Vancouver Island’s colonial governor, James Douglas, sent in the Royal Navy. (A local admiral wisely refused to get into a shooting war over a pig.)

Both sides eventually jointly occupied the island, and despite some shouted insults, no one ever fired a shot. For a dozen years, the biggest military conflicts were the annual athletic competitions in which the Brits and Yanks competed with one another.

Eventually, in 1872, an international tribunal drew the border, and San Juan was officially American.

That’s just our local history, real and set down in the maps. It’s not even nearly as odd as the tale of the stranded Japanese samurai who wound up as mercenaries in colonial Mexico – maybe next time for that tale.

Just Posted

Abbotsford goes up 2-0 on Langley

Pilots win both games on home ice, series now shifts to Langley

Kodiaks begin best-of-seven series strong

The Kodiaks opened their quarter-final playoff series by defeating the Delta Ice Hawks on home ice.

Heritage proposal for Aldergrove fire hall at a ‘standstill’

The Alder Grove Heritage Society faces a delay in knowing the fate of the fire hall due to tenants slated to live in the building until 2020.

VIDEO: Langley hosting high-flying fun at annual gymnastics tournament

Action runs Friday through Sunday at the Langley Events Centre fieldhouse.

BREAKING: Plecas won’t run in next election if legislature oversight reforms pass

B.C. Speaker and Abbotsford South MLA says he feels ‘great sympathy’ for Jody Wilson-Raybould

VIDEO: Langley hosting high-flying fun at annual gymnastics tournament

Action runs Friday through Sunday at the Langley Events Centre fieldhouse.

Ammonia leak shuts down curling club in Nelson

It’s not yet clear when the leak was detected

Pavelski’s 31st goal helps Sharks top Canucks 3-2

Vancouver one point out of second NHL wild-card spot

Stabbing at Lower Mainland banquet hall sends man to hospital

RCMP says victim has ‘non-life threatening’ injuries, incident still under investigation

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual touching

Accuser went to police, interviewed by Britian’s Daily Telegraph

B.C. couple attacked with acid, slashed with knife in Vietnam

Warning, graphic images: Man has burns on 80 per cent of his body, slashed with knife

Northern B.C. First Nation clan says ancient tools found at pipeline work site

Archeologists from the Smithsonian Institute estimate one of the stones found dates back up to 3500 years

Most Read