Wandering Through Washington, Part II

After stuffing ourselves on blackberries in Concrete, it was time to move on further west to Anacortes for a visit to two more parks. The first one was Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve (NHR) on Whidbey Island.

Ebey’s Landing was named for one of the first settlers to stake a claim under the 1850 Donation Land Law which offered free Oregon Territory land to anyone who would homestead it. Colonel Isaac Ebey homesteaded here for 6 years, until his death. He had declared it a paradise with rich, fertile soil.

Ebey’s Landing NHR was created to preserve the earliest European settlements on Puget Sound, like those of Colonel Ebey. The area is a working rural community, with lots of privately owned farms that are still being worked today. Coupeville, the main town of the area, maintains the look of an 1800’s seaport town. Though it has a nice museum, the downtown area is very touristy with loads of quaint little shops to browse and spend way too much money in.

We walked along the Bluff Trail for a little and got a few pictures of the Puget Sound and beach.

Next up was the San Juan Islands National Historical Park. This was the most interesting park to get to. It is an archipelago of islands between British Columbia and Washington. There are no roads to it. You have to either fly in or take a boat. Since we don’t have a boat or a plane, we bought ferry tickets.  As we rode on the ferry to San Juan Island we saw cormorants, sea gulls and dolphins. It was definitely a fun trip.

Upon arriving we had to take a bus to our destination, the American Camp.   Once at the American Camp we learned about a border dispute caused by the shooting of a pig in 1859. But first, some background.

Spain, Great Britain and the U.S. all explored the area and laid claims to the Oregon Territory in the late 1700’s, which at that time consisted of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and parts of Wyoming, Montana, and British Columbia. The Spanish dropped out by 1800, and the British and Americans agreed to joint occupation in 1818. In 1849, the Treaty of Oregon was signed which assigned the borders to the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the channel separating Vancouver Island from the mainland. But the negotiators did not know the ‘channel’ was composed of two straits and the San Juan Islands. Both sides wanted the islands because of the quantity of sea life and farming land there.

In 1853, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a sheep farm on the island’s southern shore. By 1859, 18 Americans settled in the same area which the British believed to be illegal. On June 15, 1859, an American, Lyman Cutlar, shot a pig that he found in his garden.  Unfortunately the pig belonged to the HBC.

Things quickly escalated, and the U.S. and Britain almost started a war based on a pig being shot. The British dispatched 3 warships and 400 Royal Marines. Americans sent 461 soldiers. But cooler heads prevailed and within about 2 months, both sides thinned out their soldiers to 100 each. The Americans built their encampment on the south side near the pig incident, and the English built their camp 13 miles north.

In 1871, the border question was decided by European court and the arbitrator Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany decided that the Vancouver Island was to remain British and the San Juan Islands were to be American.  The British left the island the next year.

During those 12 years of joint occupation, the two sides got to be very friendly. They had parties and dinners together, traded for goods, etc. The American’s camp was very primitive because the Civil War was going on and there was no money or supplies for them. The English made their camp very comfortable. They were only a few hours sail from Vancouver and their supplies.

The islands themselves are also part of the San Juan Islands National Monument which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There are several towns, businesses, restaurants, kayak and whale watching tours, etc. Bicycling around the islands is doable, but keep in mind the islands are not flat. There are a few lighthouses if you are into those. If we had time we would have made our way to the Cattle Point Lighthouse.

It was a good visit. The ferry ride, while fun, made for a long day. The ferry took an hour there and ninety minutes coming back. But it was worth it. It was nice to hear of a border dispute being resolved amicably and not having to be fought about.

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