If only all wars could be resolved this peaceably. Back in 1859, a lot of people thought San Juan Island, Washington, was a fine place to settle. (They do today, too, but that’s another story.) The natives who’d fished, hunted and gathered for millennia had been shoved aside by the Spanish, British and Americans, and now the Americans and British both claimed land rights. Prickly times.
One fine day an American, Lyman Cutlar, shot an English pig that rooted once too often in his potato patch. You don’t go shooting Her Majesty’s pigs without paying the prie. British authorities made threats, the U.S. Army charged in, the Royal Navy responded with warships. Fortunately they were ordered to fire only if fired upon. There matters stood for 12 solid years. The island was under joint military occupation, and everybody got along, more or less.
In 1871, the problem was sent to a third party: Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm I decided in favor of America, and in 1872 England ceded the island. Thus ended the last territorial conflict between the U.S. and Great Britain, a war with one casualty, a potato-loving pig. Now the English Camp and the American Camp, at opposite ends of San Juan Island, are parks for visitors, with walking paths, guided tours, and gift shops.
There’s a whole lot more to see and do on the largest of the San Juan islands. Trying to check out all the interesting spots is a challenge; Friday Harbor gets a blog post of its own. On the edge of town is the San Juan Historical Museum, 8 buildings on 1.6 acres. This is not your standard display of dusty old stuff behind glass. It’s more like a step into a living past, with furnishings just as they probably looked in the farmhouse. There’s a 2-room log cabin where a family of 11 lived, a carriage house, and even the first jail in the county.
The 1894 jail, used until 1971, has 3 tiny frontier-style cells, and as I peer in I feel a smidgen of sympathy for those rum-runners and smugglers who snuck sheep’s wool in from Canada. More commonly, drunks were tossed into these cells. Once, during Prohibition, thieves broke into the jail. They filed through locks and stole 6 cases of the hooch the sheriff had stored inside.
Heading northwest, I spot San Juan Vineyards, where some good wines are produced from various grapes, including those grown here–Madeleine Angevin, Siegerrebe, and Pinot Noir. Twice a year, Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, the owners hold Barrel Tastings, and in October customers love to come help with the picking and enjoy the Harvest Festival. Unfortunately, it’s not happening today, so I move onward to Sculpture Park, an unusual place worth a stop. The park has more than 100 intriguing pieces of statuary in metal and stone, with 19 acres of trails winding among them.
Finally I get to Roche Harbor, at the far tip of the island. What a lovely place. Without the signs and old kilns, I would never know it used to be a lime-producing site where they burned 32 cords of wood a day to make industrial lime. Now it’s a resort with a world-class marina, luxury lodgings, a quaint hotel, a spa, and artists’ shops. I just wander around and drink it all in while flags flutter in the breeze and sailboats come and go.
Later I’ll go to Vinny’s Ristorante. I know the seafood and pastas are excellent but am not sure if they serve pork. If they do, I might have a taste, with a glass of wine, and drink a toast to the pig who started a war in which nobody was killed.