I wrote this about 10 years ago. It came up on the thread about the Pacific Northwest and I decided to put it up here for fun. When I get a minute I'll explain how I came to write this. Parts 2 and 3 will follow below.
SAN JUAN ISLAN
WASHINGTON TERRITORY (DISPUTED)
JUNE 15, 1859
Lyman Cutlar awoke to the sound of laughter. Outside the cabin some one was finding something very funny, the deep guffaws continued as he climbed out of bed. His Indian wife stirred slightly as he got up and went to the open window. He looked out to see Jacob, a colored servant from the Hudson Bay Company’s farm, astride a horse, pointing and laughing at something in his garden. Then he saw the pig. The big tusker was in his potato patch, rooting out tubers to its heart’s content.
“Damnit, “ he yelled at the black man, “I’ve told you people to keep that thing out of my garden!”
Jacob turned to look at him, then turned back to laugh at the pig.
This was more than Cutlar could stand. The pig had been destroying his crops for days. He’d written the company, then gone to Belle Vue farm, the company’s outpost on the Island to confront Griffin, the manager.
They’d almost come to blows.
The two men were a distinct contrast in dress and styles. Cutlar was a tall thin, unkempt Yankee with a wild beard. He’d been on the Island only a few months, he’d tried his hand at mining, and was hoping to hear about another strike. This looked like a good place to wait until something else turned up. Griffin was a short dapper Englishman, wearing a business suit, in contrast to the American’s overalls. He had been here for years, working the Hudson Bay Company farm, and turning it into a respectable enterprise.
“That boar is eating me out of house and home, it’s your obligation to keep your pig out of my potatoes.”
Griffin had responded with “It’s your obligation to keep your potatoes out of my pig! And if you can’t do that stop squatting on company land.”
“That is not company land, it’s mine under the Homestead Act.”
“Your Homestead Act doesn’t apply because you’re on British soil, you ignorant Yank!”
At that point a couple of workers come up.
“Need some help Mr. Griffin?”
“Show this lout back to his shack.”
“Don’t bother,” Cutlar growled, “I know the way.”
And now here it was, eating his ‘taters again.
He picked up his long Kentucky rifle, and stepped out the door. Lining the pig up in the sights, he pulled the trigger.
With a sharp BANG and cloud of powder smoke the gun spat lead. The pig fell over with a thud. Startled and frightened Jacob took off at a gallop toward the company farm.
The next day, Cutlar was lounging in front of his cabin, although in later reports the British would refer to it as a shack. He saw Griffin, accompanied by several of his men coming up the sloping path toward him.
“You killed my pig!”
“Yes I did and I’m glad of it.”
“That was a prize Berkshire boar. It was company property and you need to pay for it!”
Cutlar thought for a moment. Perhaps, to avoid a fight he should offer to compensate Griffin for his loss.
“I can give you a dollar.”
Griffin looked as if his head would explode, he turned red, and huffed in anger. “I said that was my prize boar, how dare you shoot it and insult me on top of damage me?”
“I’d just as soon shoot you as that pig!” Cutlar was now also turning red.
“I demand one hundred dollars now!” Griffin shot back.
Cutlar laughed and spat at Griffin’s feet.
“There’s your hundred dollars.”
Griffin pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “Lyman Cutlar, this is a warrant for your arrest, for trespassing on company land, and killing a pig, which was company property. Come with us.”
“You can’t arrest me! I’m an American.”
“And you’re on British soil. Come along, no need to make this difficult.”
Cutlar looked at the men with guns that now had him surrounded, and gave in to the inevitable.
Major George Pickett, 9 th Infantry put the letter down. It was a petition signed by all twenty-five Americans on San Juan Island. They reported that one of their number at been arrested on trumped up charges and taken to Victoria to stand trial. A British warship had landed troops on the island. The Americans were demanding protection. He glanced at the young naval officer sitting in his office with him, then at his aide.
The problem was that the British refused to concede that the island was American territory. The Treaty of Oregon specified that the boundary was “The middle of the channel that separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island.” The larger and obvious channel was Haro straight, to the west of the Island. But the British insisted that it was the smaller Rosario straight to the east of the Island. Now perhaps the issue would be settled.
“Who else has seen this?”
“No one, Sir.” Said Lt. James Forsyth, his aid. “However there are a lot of rumors floating around. And the mail packet has already gone south. “
“Well we may have to be ready to take some kind of action.” He looked again at the naval officer, “If we have to land troops, what do the British have in area of this dispute to oppose us? Give me a complete run down.”
“Yes sir. They have two steam frigates the Tribune and Plyadies, each with thirty-one guns. The corvette Satellite, twenty-one guns, and the gunboat Plumper, twelve guns. Lastly there is an old third rate ship of the line, HMS Ganges. She mounts either seventy-two, seventy-four or eighty-four guns. Total of about two thousand men, although only about four hundred are marines capable of fighting on land. “
“What can we match them with?”
“USS Massachusetts is the only warship in Puget Sound at this time.”
“Um twelve guns?”
“Thirteen, we’ve added a pivot gun forward.”
“James, what can we oppose the marines with?”
“Companies D and H of the ninth. About two hundred men.”
“Long odds, but as they say no glory in fighting when you have the enemy outnumbered. Prepare to send a relief expedition out to San Juan. Can’t have them arresting citizens on our own land can we.”
The two men jumped up, saluted and left with a chorus of “Yes sirs”
The dapper Virginian began composing a letter to General Harney in Fort Steliacoom, forwarding the letter from San Juan Island and outlining his intention to move his troops. He also requested reinforcements, both land and navy. Perhaps now he would have something more important to do than sit in a Godforsaken fort at the end of the world.
General William Selby Harney looked up from Pickett’s letter. It was several days old, and numerous rumors had proceeded it. People were saying that several Americans had been arrested and taken to Victoria, and their homes burned. It seemed that there was a bit of truth to the rumors.
“Pleasonton!” he bellowed. “Get your ass in here!”
Captain Alfred Pleasonton, Harney’s aid rushed in a saluted. Stood stiffly at attention, wondering what abuse he was about to be subjected to now.
Harney was a big man, over six feet tall, with blue eyes, red complexion, red hair (although starting to gray) and a temper to match. He had a full, unruly beard. Pleasonton, in contrast was small, and fair. Like many who knew him he hated and feared the General.
“I’m going to be calling for reinforcements to deal with this situation up on San Juan. I need to know what I’m up against. “
Pleasonton stood at attention, trying to figure out what was expected of him.
“It says here that this ship Ganges has seventy-two or maybe seventy-four or maybe eight-four guns.”
“Well, which is it?”
“I’m not sure, I’m not a navy man, sir.”
“I’m asking the navy to send up ships from Astoria and I have to tell them what I need. Go find out about this ship now!”
Pleasonton turned and marched out, “I’ll write the British admiral and have him clarify that for you,” he thought as he left the room.
Harney got back to work. This mess had gone on long enough, and he for one wasn’t going to let those damned British push him around for one more second. He wrote out an order confirming the transfer of Pickett to San Juan, then set about marshalling reinforcements.
ABOARD SS JULIA
The little mail ship chugged through the narrow passages of the San Juan Islands at four knots, its stern wheel thrashing the water into white foam. Astern the Massachusetts plodded along in their wake. Ahead, the little revenue cutter Jefferson Davis led the way, maneuvering around the rocky hazards. It was late afternoon and they were nearing San Juan Island itself and the planned landing area. The shores were mostly deserted, covered with thick stands of timber.
Sergeants moved among the men, making the preparations. Pickett nodded in satisfaction. His men were ready. He had nearly two hundred embarked on the three ships, plus four cannon to be taken ashore, as well as ammunition, food, tents, and the hundreds of other items needed to establish a post. The ships rounded a bend and he could see the shores of San Juan Island ahead.
Ashore Griffin watched from a safe distance as the ships stopped offshore. Long boats were dropped to the water and supplies loaded. He could see cannon being brought ashore. Clearly the Americans were here to stay. He turned and scurried home, where he dashed off a note to Governor Douglas.
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
TWO DAYS LATER
AMERICANS INVADE SAN JUAN
Governor James Douglas set the newspaper down. And picked up his cup of tea. On the other side of his desk sat a dour man in the uniform of a Rear Admiral.
“Admiral Baynes, we must act immediately to protect British interests in the San Juan Islands.”
“You are hereby ordered to proceed to San Juan Island and land your marine force. It is my belief that these Yanks can be pushed off the island with a sufficient threat. They won’t have the stomach for a fight.
“Yes sir. I shall proceed immediately. May I have a free hand to operate to prevent the Americans from reinforcing the island?”
“Certainly, I would not presume to tell you how to do your job.”
“Thank you sir.”
“I would like to see your plans before you set out.”
Baynes sighed as he left the Governors office. He knew that he was going to have a landlubber telling him what to do, no matter the promise.”
Douglas leaned back in his chair. It was time to do something about these Americans. A few years back a bunch of them had sailed over to San Juan Island in the middle of the night and rounded up a flock of sheep. They’d claimed that they were seizing them to settle a tax debt owed to Whatcom county.
Before they’d set off on this expedition they’d fortified themselves with a good dose of whiskey. As a result they had trouble getting the sheep into the boat and ended up chasing them all over the island and waking everybody up. It almost came to blows then, before the diplomats smoothed things over.
But the diplomats had still reached a long term decision. Well, he’d do it for them.
Harney’s plans were now complete. The twenty-four gun steam frigates Susquehanna and Mississippi were on their way up from Astoria. The Massachusetts, having dropped off Pickett’s troops was on its way down to help with the transport of more troops. All reports indicated that the British were preparing a counter move, to put troops of their own on the island. He was going to have to be ready.
Pleasonton knocked and entered the room.
“Have you arranged more transport, and what are we sending up there?”
“Yes sir, I have transport, the Constitution…”
“Good God! What is she doing here?” Harney interrupted.
“Not THAT Constitution, sir. It’s a steamer. We have another steamer, the Northerner available. The Julia, Jefferson Davis and Massachusetts are on their way down here. We are sending up companies A, C and I of the 4 th Infantry and the 3 rd Artillery. About five hundred men when it all gets there.”
“Very good, you shall accompany the men when they go up. I will need to stay here to co-ordinate command.”
There was a pause in the conversation. Then Pleasonton spoke again.
“Sir, if I may be so bold to speak, shouldn’t we wait for orders before rushing in all these troops?”
“Bah! It will take four weeks at least for my report to get to General Scott. That long for his reply to get back. We can’t wait two months.”
“See to the preparations. I want Pickett reinforced as soon as possible.”
Pleasonton saluted and left.
Douglas looked over Baynes’ plans. The marines would be landed on the Northwest side of the Island to establish a camp. The Americans were no established on the Southwest side of the Island. There was sufficient distance to insure that the troops would not be taken under fire as they landed. With luck they might not even be spotted until they had time to dig in.
Baynes planned to guard the Admiralty Inlet with the Plumper, to stop any ships coming up out of Puget Sound. The Tribune, Plyadies and Satellite would patrol the eastern end of the Straight of Juan de Fuca, to block the American ships that were undoubtedly coming up from Oregon or California.
“I don’t see the Ganges on this plan.”
Baynes sighed, here it comes.
“Governor Douglas she’s unsuitable for work in confined waters. She’s better off left here.”
“Nonsense man, she’s the biggest ship in your fleet. Put her off that American camp. They get a good look at all those cannon and perhaps they might think twice.”
“That’s an order.”
Baynes turned to his aid, “See to it.”
“Aye Aye, Sir.”
The aid saluted and left.