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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Trail's end for Lyman A. Cutler
central figure of the (almost) Pig War of 1859

By Ray Jordan, 1974, from his book, Yarns of the Skagit Country
Transcribed by Larry Spurling

      Most readers, perhaps, are more or less familiar with the story of Lyman A. Cutler's part in the "Pig War" in which only one shot was fired in anger and the only casualty an unsuspecting pig. For those who have missed this bit of Northwest history, a short briefing is in order.
      [Ed. note: His last name was spelled Cutlar. Jordan was confused because the name was incorrectly spelled Cutler in many articles. We have corrected the spelling in the rest of the transcript, except in the case of the actual documents that were misnamed. Keep in mind that the records Jordan researched were handwritten, so he may have mistaken "a" for "e."]

(American Camp)
      This early photo of American Camp on San Juan Island is from a great resource site, This site, designed by Justin Sanders, is a real panorama, including a unique take on the Pig War.

      It seems quite well established that Cutlar participated in the British Columbia gold rush of 1858. Disappointed with the diggings, he came south to San Juan Island in 1859 and squatted on a claim that happened to be a choice part of Bellvue Farm [sometimes spelled Belle Vue Farm] , staked in 1853 by the Hudson's Bay Company for the dual purpose of establishing ownership for the Company and aiding Great Britain in her dispute with the United States over sovereignty of the San Juan Island group.
      Cutlar planted a patch of potatoes for which the Hudson's Bay pigs developed a fondness. Angered by repeated forays of the porker, he shot one which the manager of the Bellevue Farm claimed was a prize boar.
      Thus was triggered the "Pig War", which though it had its element of farce, could have ripened into a bloody drama between two great powers.
      After the pig-shooting episode, Cutlar became such a controversial figure in the community that acting upon the advice of his neighbors he left the island, and stepped out of history, or so it seemed, But where did he go; and what became of him?
      For the next fifteen years he seems to have left no trail in recorded events. Not until his death, as far as known, did he again appear in any public records, though doubtless he did in private ones as yet unearthed.
      A backward glance at part of Cutlar's history is found in the [Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties] (written in 1905) on page III:
      "It did not take the settlers of the Samish long to inaugurate public schools. As nearly as can be ascertained, the first school was held in 1873 in a house belonged to Mr. (Lyman A.) Cutler on his old claim east of the (Wm.) Wood place, afterward occupied by Mr. (Benjamin B.) Sampson" . . .
      The location of the Benjamin B. Sampson and [William] Wood homesteads, just south of Blanchard in Section 27, T. 36, R. 3, Skagit County, are well known and a matter of record. The establishment of the school mentioned above is in error by one year, unless the opening occurred before the death of Cutlar, as we shall see later.
      Again from the "History", (page 111):

      Mr Cutler, his pioneer associates on the Samish say, was the San Juan settler who precipitated the noted struggle between Great Britain and the United States for possession of the rich archipelago. Cutler, it is claimed, killed the pig over which the initial litigation immediately sprang up, then fled by boat to the mainland, finally making his way down the almost primeval Samish region to escape the officers.
      He died early in the Seventies upon his claim there, leaving no heirs so far as known. Among his possessions sold at the time to pay a few debts he left was the identical double-barreled shotgun of fancy English manufacture, which Cutler used to shoot the pig.
      This weapon came into the hands of David P. Thomas, one of Cutler's neighbors, who still resides (in 1905) near Edison, and is prized by him very highly as an object of historical interest.

      Acting on the hunch that since Skagit County was still a par of Whatcom County in the 1870s, and that perhaps the estate was probated, a visit to the Whatcom County Courthouse paid a long-awaited dividends.
      An old folder labeled "Lyman A. Cutler" was found that contained forty numbered documents, arranged under a W.P.A. project during the 1930s. All were in longhand. Some were mere scraps of tablet paper, and while some words and names were illegible, these papers proved a gold mine of information. Document No. I, we shall quote in full:

      Application for Letters of Administration Estate Lyman A. Cutler
      Filed April 29, 1874, Geo. A. Kellogg, Clerk.
      To the Hon. Probate Court, Whatcom Co., W.T.
      The undersigned will represent that Lyman A. Cutler, late a resident of Whatcom County, died on or about 27th day of April inst. Leaving property in said County subject to the administration — the jurisdiction of said Court. We therefore ask that letters of Adm. Be granted to him
      Who to the best of his knowledge the relatives of said deceased now live in the state of Michigan, and that he is now living a father, brother, sister in said State.
      All of which is respectfully submitted, Whatcom, April 29, 1874, (Signed) D.M. Whitehill

      In the Bellingham Bay Mail issue of May 2, 1874, appears the following item under "Deaths": "Cutler — At Whatcom April 26, L.A. Cutler, of Samish, Whatcom County, aged 40 years." (Mail came to the Samish Valley at this time through a post office at the village of Samish on Samish Island.)
      Found in the Bellingham Bay Mail of May 9, 1874: "Daniel Sullivan was appointed constable in place of L.A. Cutler, deceased, in Samish precinct."

(Indian Canoes)
Settlement in those early days of the northern part of Washington territory was usually centered on the islands and around the mouths of streams and rivers. Both the hardy outdoorsmen and the tenderfoot quickly learned from the Indians that the best and least expensive mode of travel was by canoes crafted from cedar. This excellent illustration from the Outdoor Odysseys site is just one of the treats that the site offers people who want to learn those travel routes by water.

      The above administrator's statement, and the notice in the paper, documents the time of death, and along with other records seem to indicate conclusively that Cutlar did not die on his Samish claim as told in the 1906 Illustrated History.
      Document No. 2 states that D.M. Whitehill was appointed administrator, and Document 3 reveals that three local men, Geo. C. Forbes, Samuel Branson, and Wm. Wood (who lived on the adjoining homestead west of Cutlar's) were appointed appraisers of the estate.
      Following, is a list of numerous pioneer possessions, which is interesting in that it gives an idea of the chattels important at that time. Parts of the handwritten document are almost illegible:

      1 Double baril Shotgun: $25.00; Block and Tackle: $5.00; 1 Cant Hook: $.50; 1 lot Carle? Ware: $1.50; 1 Revolver: $2.50; 1 Brace and Bit: $7.50; 1 Spirit Level: $.50; 2 Whetstones: $1.00; 1 High Drometer: $1.00
      2 Charts: $2.50; 1 Crosscut Saw: $1.00; 5 Drawing Knives: $4.00; 1 Compass: $2.00; 1 Lot of old Irons: $1.50; 1 Lot Shaving Tools: $1.50; 3 Books: $3.00; 1 Lot Nails: $2.00; 1 Water Flask: $.50
      60 pounds Salt: $.50; 3 Axes: $.50; 1 Long Handle Spade: $1.00; 1 Short Handle Spade: $.50; 1 Pick and Mattock: $1.00; 1 Oxe Yolk and Bows: $2.50; 1 Lot Calkers Tools: $.50; 1 Lot Carpenter Tools: $8.00
      1 Stove and Furniture: $15.00; 1 Grinding Stone: $3.00; 1 Thermometer: $.50; 1 Lot Hoop Iron: $15.00; 30 Thous. Shingles: $48.75; 36 Fruit Trees: $13.50; 1 House and Lumber: $75.00
      1 Lot Rails: $10.00; 3 Steers 40: $120.00; 3 Cows 25: $75.00; 1 Yearling Steer: $12.00
      Total Appraisal: $489.75

      Note the value of Axes, Stoves and Furniture, House and Lumber, and that Steers were valued higher than cows. ("The Double baril Shotgun" with which he shot the pig sold for $14.00 at the sale held on June 13, 1874.)
      Document 8, contains a clipping from the Bellingham Bay Mail giving notice of a sale of the Lyman A. Cutler estate "on Saturday, June 13, 1874, at 10 o'clock a.m., at the ranch of the deceased, in Samish" . . . "Terms, cash in gold." The sale was duly held, and among the numerous purchasers of articles listed in Document 21, is: "D.P. Thomas, Shot Gun, $14."
      The location of the claim that Cutlar occupied, and the date of his death, which appears to have been in a hotel at either Sehome or Whatcom is not so certain. Neither is that of his burial place, though there are strong indications. Among the items listed under "Bills paid in full" in Document 12 are: Hotel (no name), $25; J.N. Cunningham, M.D., $40; Dr. J.J. Barrow, $15; and Bellingham Bay Coal Co., $8.20. According to ads in the Bellingham Bay Mail of May 2, 1874, J.N. Cunningham, M.D. was a physician located at Whatcom, and John James Barrow, M.D. practiced in Sehome.
      Sehome was a thriving place at this time with the coal mines in full operation, and the above coal company had a large merchandising business there. Since Sehome and Whatcom wee close together, and a doctor from either place was available, it seems reasonable that a doctor from each place attended Cutlar.
      During 1874, in what is now Skagit County, with the exception of LaConner, hotels where a doctor was available, and roads, were nonexistent. However there did exist steamboat connections between Bellingham Bay, Samish Island, and LaConner, but it is logical that Cutlar could have been taken more conveniently to Sehome or Whatcom than to LaConner when his illness became serious.
      An interesting custom of the day is reflected in Document 26, which is a breakdown of the $8.20 paid the Bellingham Bay Coal Company as noted previously:

Sehome, W.T., May 31, 1874: Estate of L.A. Cutler, D.M. Whitehill, Esq., Adm.; Bought of Bellingham Bay Coal Co. — April 22 — Alcohol $.50; April 27 — Lumber for coffin $1.00; 6 yds. Muslin $1.20; 5 yds. Alpaca $3,75; 4-5/8 yds. Ribbon $1.12; 1 pkg $.13; 1 doz. Screws $.25; [Total]: $8.20 —Bellingham Bay Coal Co., (Signed) P.P.S. Baxter
      Document 27, explains the use to which the above articles were put:
Sehome, June 15, 1874, Received of D.M. Whitehill, Administrator of the estate of L.A. Cutler, the sum of Eight dollars for a coffin. (Signed) Chas. D. Pearson (a Whatcom man).
      As for the burial place, Document 29 seems to point to "Dead Man's Point," the usual burying grounds for Whatcom and Sehome at this date:
Estate of L.A. Cutler, Dec. To Gustavus Julien, for services in burying deceased by boat, $2.25. Helping dig grave and taking him to graveyard by boat and getting coffin, $3.50, for a total of $6.00. Received the within account this 15th day of June, A.D. 1874. (Signed) G.X. Julien (X, his mark)
      Gustavus Julien, or Julian, was a well-known boatman on Bellingham Bay at this period. A cryptic "1/2 IB [1B?] fee Co. $2.50," found scrawled between the lines in Document 12, under "Bills paid in full" might have been the number of the plot containing Cutlar's grave at "Dead Man's Point."
      According to the research of one historian, the first formal city cemetery was on "Deadman's Point" located near Poe's Point some distance southwest of Sehome and Whatcom on the Bay front.
      When it was learned in 1888 that the city did not actually own the property, due to a mistake in the deed description, forty bodies buried there between 1862 and 1888 were moved to the city-owned Bayview Cemetery in 1889. However, a check of the Bayview Cemetery record reveals only one Cutler interred thee, John A., who died in 1902.
      Again, another historian, Mr. [Percival] R. Jeffcott, interviewed an eyewitness who stated that "Dead Man's Point" was cut down by a hydraulic operation, during which he saw bones of unidentified dead washed out to sea. Perhaps Lyman A. Cutlar's remains now rest in Bellingham Bay.
      Though neither the name of the hotel in which Cutlar died, or that of his final resting place is mentioned in the existing filed documents, the weight of evidence is strong that his body was conveyed from a waterfront hotel at Whatcom, or possibly Sehome, by boat to the "Dead Man's Point" Cemetery.
      One pauses to ponder about this man whose uncomplicated act of shooting a pig, unexpectedly changed the course of his whole future, and caused a diplomatic furor felt round the world.

More Journal stories on the Pig War and background reading

Story posted on Feb. 26, 2005
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