Sunday, November 4, 2007

An Exceedingly Annoying Affair

So far, cool heads have prevailed regarding the touchy issue of just what national jurisdiction San Juan Island and its herds of Hudson’s Bay sheep belonged to. A bit of grease gets thrown onto the fire when the brand new state of Washington decides that San Juan Island should fall under the purview of newly formed Whatcom County. Hudson’s Bay farm manager and Deputy of the Peace, Charles Griffin had just been told by his colonial office “I have to authorize you to continue to treat those Islands as part of the British Dominions” when he was paid a visit by Whatcom County’s Sheriff Barnes.

In October of 1854 Sheriff Barnes gave Griffin the choice of paying $80.33 in back taxes or facing a sheriff’s sale. Initially, Griffin paid him no heed. Barnes left only to show up again with a crew of armed “bidders” who, after having rowed to the Island in 3 rowboats proceeded to have a moonlight sheep auction on the beach purchasing 40 Hudson’s Bay sheep. After a considerable struggle to load the sheep (10 escaped) into the 2 boats and an Indian canoe they were just shoving off early in the morning when Griffin and a posse of Kanakas (some said with knives) attempted to stop them. The Kanakas and Griffin gave up the pursuit recognizing that with drawn pistols the Americans had a superior show of force. Or so it seemed, as the Americans fell to their oars they glimpsed the Beaver, a well-armed Hudson’s Bay steamer out of Victoria.

Governor Douglas appraised the incident: “an exceedingly annoying affair”.

reference: Vouri, The Pig War, pg 33-37

William Holman Hunt ~ Strayed Sheep ~ Oil on canvas ~ Tate Gallery, London.

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