Residential Boarding Schools

Chemawa Boarding School, Students at Desks in 1928, Oregon Historical Society.

The recent discoveries of bodies at Indian residential boarding schools and mission schools in North America and Canada, has forced the U.S. government to reckon with its role in this tragic history. Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the position of Secretary of the Interior, is pushing her department and the U.S. government to acknowledge the disturbing history surrounding the boarding school system.  A recently released report that named the 408 boarding schools that were established to assimilate Native children and to strip them of their cultural heritage identifies the deaths of over 500 children, and that list is expected to grow. 

The boarding school movement became popular in the late 1860s, when reformers turned their attention to the plight of the Native population. The reformers believed that with proper education the Indigenous population could assimilate into society. The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 allowed the federal government to establish reservation boarding schools where students were removed from their families for months with limited contact or mandated to attend day schools which offered minimal education and worked with boarding schools to transfer students for more advanced studies. Many Native children also attended federally funded mission schools established on the reservations that discouraged cultural practices in favor of Christian doctrine.  

In the 1850s Territorial Governor George Stevens negotiated treaties with Coast Salish tribes and educational provisions were included in the treaty language.  For example, Article 14 in the Point Elliot Treaty of 1855 includes an education clause that states the U.S. government will, “…establish an agricultural and industrial school, to be free to children of the said tribes and bands in common with those of the other tribes of said district, and to provide the said school with a suitable instructor or instructors.”  This pledge was not enacted and many Coast Salish children were sent to the Catholic mission school in Tulip, WA, the Stickney Home Mission School for Indians in Lyden, WA, or Chemawa Indian School in Forest Grove, Oregon. 

Attendance at the schools was mandated by the U.S. government with school policies directed and overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  At these schools, children were stripped of all things connected to Native life. Their hair was cut, they were forced to wear uniforms, lived under military style regimes, punished for speaking their native languages, and contact with family members was restricted or denied.  Survivors of the schools described harsh conditions, experiences of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and limited access to medicine and food. As a result, many students died with their parents learning of their deaths only after they had been buried in unmarked graves at school cemeteries.  

By the 1960s public education had replaced the boarding school system in the United States and Indigenous children enrolled in schools that focused on American nation state narratives, a continuation of the assimilation practices found in residential schools.  Coast Salish students encountered institutional racism in public school settings, especially in the 1970s when the Boldt Decision created a climate of open hostility in the Puget Sound surrounding fishing rights. Some Indigenous parents sought out Chemawa Residential School as a possible alternative option to the racism their children faced in public school settings. By that time, Chemawa had become a site where Indigenous students could seek out educational opportunities and also embrace their cultural heritage. Today, the four remaining boarding schools still run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs encourage their students to explore Indigenous history and cultural traditions. 

Sources:

Fonseca, Felicia. “US Finds 500 Native American Boarding School Deaths So Far.” Associated Press, May 19, 2022. 

Marker, Michael. “Indigenous Resistance and Racist Schooling on the Borders of Empires.” Paedagogica Historica 45, no. 6 (2009): 757–72.

Marr, Carolyn. “Assimilation Through Education: Indian Boarding Schools in the Pacific Northwest.” University of Washington Libraries, American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Collections, Topical Essays. https://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/marr.html

Salmon & Lummi Fishing Rights

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Full View of Lummi Native American Fishing Canoe with Reef Net, Bellingham, WA, approximately 1930-1933.

Prior to European contact the Coast Salish people had unlimited access to fishing resources within the San Juan Archipelago and surrounding straits. They practiced reefnet fishing which used two canoes anchored in the water that held a large submerged net between them at the lip of an artificial reef. The reef, made from nettle bushes and wild grasses, passively funnels fish over the net and into canoes with the assistance of a smaller net.  After the fish are collected in the canoes, the fishers hand sort the haul. This is a sustainable fishing practice because unwanted bycatch is released unharmed back into the sea. Specific reef netting areas were linked to kinship groups and plentiful runs of sockeye salmon allowed everyone to share in the abundance. Salmon reefnet fishing is one example of the rich indigenous culture linked to the Pacific Northwest coastal region.  

In the 1850s Coast Salish communities were forced to give up millions of acres of traditional lands during treaty negotiations that relocated many to reservations in North America reservations and reserves in Canada.  On the U.S. side of Coast Salish territory, tribal leaders maintained rights to their fishing and hunting cultural traditions and Coast Salish people were recognized as some of the most skilled traditional fishers in the world by early commercial operators. Indigenous fishing practices fit nicely into the industry’s early needs and Native communities within the Puget Sound regions, especially the Lummi Nation, provided labor for the commercial fishing industry. As independent laborers, Lummi fishers were able to increase their haul above subsistence needs while working to supply commercial canneries.   

By the late 1800s, Euro-American entrepreneurs increasingly challenged the Lummi Tribe’s control of their fishing resource with the introduction of new fishing practices. The use of the “fish trap,” a long lead net that turns runs of fish into a trap where they can be removed, reduced the need for independent commercial fishers. The traps were most effective in reefnet locations, and when placed in front of Native gears, it rendered them ineffectual. As a result, the Lummi became effectively excluded from participation in the industry. The Lummi people did not passively accept the appropriation of the fishery by canneries, and sought assistance from the federal government to preserve the fishing rights protected by their treaty and in 1897 they took their claim to court.  Government policy during this time focused on assimilation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs discouraged traditional economic activities like fishing for more civilized practices such as farming.  The local Indian agent was tasked with turning the indigenous population into farmers and did not assist with exerting their fishing rights, and Native fishers were relegated to subsistence fishing on the reservation. 

When Native people were the most cost-effective means of procuring salmon they were included in commercial practices, but once technology changed they were denied access. In subsequent years fishing managers restricted reefnet fishing to protect salmon runs and Native fishers often ignored the restrictions, were arrested, and argued that treaties gave them the right to fish Puget Sound waters. In the 1960s, Native communities engaged in nonviolent activism to regain their rights and 1973, with the support of the federal government they sued the State of Washington.  Federal district court justice George Boldt issued a ruling on United States v. Washington in 1974. The treaty contains the language, “The right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians, in common with all citizens of the territory.”  Boldt interpreted the term “in-common” to mean the tribes were entitled to 50 percent of the harvestable catch and he ruled that tribes had the right to manage their fishing independent of state laws and regulations. The Boldt decision had a lasting impact because it reinforced the notion of tribal sovereignty and validated the legal language within treaties. After the ruling was issued, the tribes were given a legal right to co-manage the Puget Sound fishing industry, which had been devastated by development and logging.  Further examination of the decision shows that the state has a legal obligation to protect fish habitat to ensure tribal fishing rights persist, and this has resulted in a tribal voice on new and persisting land-use issues. 

Sources:

Boxberger, Daniel L. “Ethnicity and labor in the Puget Sound fishing industry, 1880-1935.” Ethnology 33, no. 2 (1994): 179-191.

Cudmore, Alyssa A. “Shifting Baselines in the Fishing Industry of the Lummi Nation: A Study of Declining Expectations.” (2009). https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1319&context=wwu_honors 

Norman, Emma S. “Finding common ground: Negotiating downstream rights to harvest with upstream responsibilities to protect—Dairies, berries, and shellfish in the Salish Sea.” Global Environmental Politics 19, no. 3 (2019): 77-97.

Nora Jewell

Census Records, Disputed Islands 1870, U.S. Federal Census, Washington State Archives.

Washington State territorial laws and the social hierarchy present within the San Juan Island region during and after the water boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain is a theme of historian Katrina Jagonisky’s research. Within the book Legal Codes and Talking Trees, Jagonsiky recounts the tragic history of Nora Jewell and her family’s experience navigating settler-colonial laws as the region transitioned from traditional Coast Salish territory, disputed borderland, and American territory.  Inidgenous women, during this time period, had to fight for sovereignty over their bodies, children, and property, and Nora Jewell’s story is an example of those struggles.

Nora was born to Fanny and Peter Jewell in 1866, when American and British soldiers jointly occupied their San Juan Island home. During the boundary dispute, San Juan Island was a borderland territory and the laws governing the region were in question. As a result, Peter, a Danish immigrant, and Fanny, a Strait Salish woman, married and had children as laws were being written that prohibited similar relationships within the Washington Territory. The family’s story was not a unique on the island as many immigrant settlers, Kanaka (Hawaiian) residents, and British citizens intermarried with indigenous women. Even though she lived under the shadow of an international boundary dispute, Nora had an ordinary homesteading life on the island with limited interventions from the territorial or federal governments. When the boundary dispute ended through arbitration, the United States took control of San Juan Island and residents were under the jurisdiction of territorial laws.  San Juan County was established in October of 1873 and within the next few years Nora would lose her father and be named his sole heir. 

When Nora was born, she was considered illegitimate under Washington Territorial anti-miscegenation statutes which, beginning in 1854, invalidated mixed-race unions.  However, between 1865 and 1866, legislators chose to recognize mixed-race children born out of wedlock due to the large number of white men wishing to bequeath property and surnames to their children.  Jagodinsky wrote that this, “…offered legislators an opportunity to uphold the white patriarchy – making whiteness and property inheritable by citizen men’s children – without acknowledging Indian wives’ rights to fair treatment, inheritance, or maternal custody.” In 1868 race was excluded from marriage statues, but not retroactively and Fanny’s legal right to Peter’s estate was not recognized. Faced with the possibility of losing her younger children to legal guardians – because the law did not recognize Indigenous maternal custody – Fanny most likely left San Juan Island for British Columbia but the records are unclear. It is known that, after the death of her father, Nora was placed under the guardianship T.W. Boggess, a widowed homesteader, and not with her maternal aunt Ellen Jones who had a farm on the island with her German husband.  

In 1877 Nora was removed from Boggess’s care and placed with James F. Smith, another homesteader who lived with his wife on property not far from the Jewell farm.  Smith was tasked with clothing, feeding, and educating Nora.  While under his care, Nora reported that she was pregnant as a result of repeated assaults and described her experience with Smith as field, domestic, and sexual servitude. Nora’s mixed race status made her vulnerable within the Washington territorial system but also granted her the right to file charges and testify against a white man. She was granted a legal venue and, at the age of fourteen, told her story to a jury of white men. During the trial Smith insinuated that Nora was of loose moral values and that her deviant behavior was due to her Indigenous heritage.  Nora’s reputation was questioned during the trial but her Uncle, Fred Jones, and the Puget Sound region sheriff swore oaths to Nora’s moral character.  Smith was acquitted and Nora married E. Hitchens, a forty-one year old farmer from England living on Orcas Island. There is no record of the child, which most likely did not survive.  Nora’s marriage, soon after the trial, was a convenient arrangement, and she left Hitchens a few years later. In the end, Nora returned to San Juan Island to claim her property and, after selling the Jewell farm, she had the finances required to live independently. After selling her family’s property, Nora lived in a rented room and worked as a dressmaker in Tacoma, WA.

Nora’s story is an example of the struggles women with cross-cultural identities had to navigate in early Washington Territorial history.  She had access to privileges such as property rights but that privilege could not protect her from abuse. Nora also had access to legal protections but her mixed-race background meant that her character was questioned in court. Her childhood ended in tragedy, but Nora’s powerful decision to identify an abuser demonstrates how one woman was able to use territorial laws to challenge her guardian’s presumed power. 

Sources:

Jagodinsky, Katrina. “A Tale of Two Sisters: Family Histories from the Strait Salish Borderlands.” The Western Historical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 27-49.

Jagodinsky, Katrina. Legal Codes and Talking Trees: Indigenous Women’s Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854-1946. Yale University Press: New Haven, 2016.

Mrs. Pickett

The story of George Pickett and his second wife, an Indigenous woman, is a known aspect of Pacific Northwest History, but it is also the subject of misinformation.  Author and researcher, Candace Wellman was determined to correctly illuminate the hidden history of cross-cultural marriages, like the Picketts, within her books Peaceweavers and Interwoven Lives.  In Interwoven Lives, Wellman, corrects the history surrounding the second Mrs. Pickett by rejecting the myths that labeled her a “Lummi lover” or claims that she was a Hiada “princess” named Morning Mist.  In fact, her personal name was never shared by her son, James Tilton Pickett, or friends and she was always referred to as Mrs. Pickett, the fort commander’s wife. 

William Walter, the second foster parent of Mrs. Pickett’s son Jimmie, stated that she was of Alaskan Indian descent and Haida, but without complete records it is impossible to confirm these claims. If she was Kaigani Haida of Prince Wales Island, her people were described as intelligent and strong, and early travelers wrote of the beauty and strength of their women.  Her family most likely settled near Semichoo in Northern Whatcom County where her father could work for the Hudson Bay Company.  This is where she would have met General George Pickett upon his arrival to the region in the late 1850s. Intermarriage was not uncommon, and American military officers married Native women as forts opened in the western territories. For Mrs. Pickett, intermarriage had been practiced within her community since Russian settlement and marriage to newcomers was a common occurrence. 

George Pickett entered the military as a second lieutenant and served in the Mexican American War and in the Texas frontier where he was promoted to captain. He married his first wife, Sally Harrison Minge, in 1851 and she died that same year during childbirth.  Pickett then served in the Washington territory where he commanded the construction of Fort Bellingham. While serving in the region Pickett entered a society where prominent white men married Indigenous women. Wellman wrote, “Picket could not avoid noticing that companionship was easily available only with the young indigenous women. The community had no eligible Euro-American women.”  

The couple met seven months into Pickett’s command.  She was a young attractive teenager with dark hair and eyes and he was a thirty-one-year old widower.  Not much more is known, but witnesses claim that Pickett wanted a legal marriage. In 1857 the Justice of the Peace married them after a tribal gift exchange ceremony. This would have been an illegal marriage because territorials laws prevented civil officials and clergy from officiating interracial marriages. Not long after, officers under Pickett’s command began marrying young women from the Swinomish village south of Bellingham Bay. 

James Tilton Pickett Courtesy of Wikimedia Foundation

The couple resided in Bellingham and Mrs. Pickett became pregnant by April 1857 and their son, James Tilton, was born on New Year’s Eve.  The exact date and cause of Mrs. Pickett’s death is uncertain because no record was kept. It is known that she died a short time after the birth of her child and that she was the first Indigenous women interred in a local “white” cemetery.  After her death, George Pickett sent his son, along with $100, to a couple in Olympia. When he went east to participate in the American Civil War, he never saw Jimmie again.  After his father’s death in 1875, Jimmie began corresponding with his third wife, Sallie Corbell Pickett. She acknowledged that Jimmie was the son of George Pickett but she insisted he was illegitimate with no inheritance rights. Jimmie fought back because anti-miscegenation laws changed to legitimize the mixed-race children of common-law marriages, and the family settled out of court.  Before his death in 1889, Jimmie had become a successful artist and illustrator for the Portland Oregonian and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 

Sources:

Scott D. Sagan, and Samuel K. Sagan. “Pickett’s Other Charge; On the 150th Anniversary of Gettysburg, a Look at the Family Secrets Its Officers Kept.” The Wall Street Journal. Eastern Edition. 2013.

Wellman, Candace. Interwoven Lives Indigenous Mothers of Salish Coast Communities. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2019. 

Intermarriages

Graignic Family on Boat, City of Paris, San Juan Island, circa 1870-1889, Washington State Rural Heritage, San Juan Island Historical Museum.

Intermarriage is a common theme running throughout the history of Pig War and the water boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britian.  For example, two important players in the events surrounding the military standoff and joint occupation of San Juan Island: Lyman Cutler, the American settler that shot the Hudson Bay Company pig and George Pickett, the American General that stationed troops on the southern end of San Juan Island, were married to indigenious women. In fact, the 1870 U.S. census of San Juan Island recorded ten Indigenous women married to white men, one Native woman married to black man from Canada, and six Kanaka (Hawaiian) men with Indian wives. This group of interracial couples accounted for a signifant number of island’s civilian residents.  Early male settlers on San Juan Island lived outside the social restrictions of traditional society and Indeginous women proved to be ideal domestic partners with extensive knowledge of natural and seasonal resources of the region. The Indigenous women who chose to enter into interracial marriages were navigating a changing world where the land they lived on transitioned from Salish territory to a disputed borderland. 

Beginning in 1854, Washington’s territorial legislatures agreed to invalidate mixed marriages but anti-miscegenation was short-lived and the statute was rolled back in 1868. The years following the Indian wars in early Washington Territorial history, the Office of Indian Affairs had been working steadily to isolate Native people in reservation communities on the Washington mainland. The goals were to achieve a separation of Native people from the “influence” of unsavory whites and to assimilate Native Americans as subservient members of mainstream society.  Due to the prevalence of intermarriage between Indigenous women and white men, the process of controlled assimilation was compromised and resulting mixed-race children threated the goal of separation. The laws created to limit intermarriage also threatened to disinherit mixed-race children. Between 1865 and 1866, amendments put forward by territorial legislatures legitimized the mixed-raced progeny of white men while also limiting parental rights of their Indigenous mothers. 

Intermarriage is a common occurrence throughout the history of settler-colonialism because the first wave of settlers were men who claimed the bodies, progeny, and homelands of the Indigenous women. This is particularly true of the San Juan archipelago, where Euro-American explorers and settlers claimed a superior right of ownership over the region and used treaties to pressure Indigenous compliance, relocation, and marginalization. The American myth includes an image of a white female settler working the land in Washington territory.  In reality, the first marriages in the region were cross-cultural alliances and economic partnerships. As mentioned, intermarriage on San Juan Island was a common practice but as white settlement increase those families would fall outside the norms of local society and marriages of white men to full-blood Coast Salish women almost completely ended.  Interracial couples were forced to navigate racist laws that limited the spousal and parental rights if Indigenous women.

Sources:

Jagodinsky, Katrina. “A Tale of Two Sisters: Family Histories from the Strait Salish Borderlands.” The Western Historical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 27-49.

Jagodinsky, Katrina. Legal Codes and Talking Trees: Indigenous Women’s Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854-1946. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

Wellman, Candace. Interwoven Lives Indigenous Mothers of Salish Coast Communities. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2019.

Wellman, Candace. Peace Weavers: Uniting the Salish Coast through Cross-Cultural Marriages. Washington State University Press, 2017.

Lasting Impact of the Water Boundary Dispute

Lena Thomas Graignic and Son, Peter. Lena whose Indian name was Skichliss, with son Peter, Circa 1870-1879. Washington State Rural Heritage

In the 1800s the San Juan archipelago was a strategic point of imperial expansion and colonial interest that resulted in a 26 year boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain. In the end, the U.S. gained control of the islands and the final result had a lasting impact on the region’s Indigenous population. The San Juan Islands are part of the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people including the Lummi Nation, the Samish Indian Nation, and the Saanich Nations. It is important to acknowledge that the Coast Salish are not one collective ethnicity, but an anthropological grouping of people based on linguistic similarities and past and persisting similarities and connections.  Though divided into many distinct language groups and hundreds of villages, they shared important cultural elements including networks of intermarriage and economic cooperation, elaborate ceremonies, and highly stylized art expressed through wood carving.  Access to the region’s material abundance encouraged the Northwest Coastal communities to develop wealthy, complex, and stratified societies. 

Coast Salish communities were forever impacted by European expansion into the Northwest region as colonizing nations claimed a superior right of ownership over the land. Epidemics and raids by unrelated Northern tribes diminished their numbers and many established settlements on the mainland, traveling back to the islands for seasonal harvests. For example, before the British and Americans settled San Juan Island it was the location of a Coast Salish winter village, and evidence shows that a plank longhouse stood there until it was dismantled by British troops during the joint military occupation.  

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as European, British, and American interests overtook the region and their trade ships and colonists began to arrive, Native community ties remained strong. The colonies established by the United States and Great Britain asserted legal authority over the land it claimed and they attempted to isolate the Native people onto small reserved tracts.  However, while under colonial rule, Salish speakers and their descendants continued to associate with each other based on concepts of kinship and local customs, rather than government edicts.

Ambiguous language in the Oregon Treaty of 1846 brought the ownership of the San Juan Island into question resulting in a non-violent military standoff, joint occupation, and 26 year boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain. The boundary dispute ended through an arbitration agreement that was argued and decided upon thousands of miles away by the German Kaiser.  During the water boundary dispute those who inhabited, settled, or claimed land on San Juan Island lived under and followed laws that were always in question.  However, once the joint occupation ended the islands became American territory and lands were opened to homestead claims and Washington territorial laws. Some British settlers chose to remain, while others left for Vancouver Island.  For example, many of the Kanaka settlers and Belle Vue Sheep Farm workers relocated because American laws were more restrictive in regards to land ownership, citizenship, and voting rights for Native Hawaiians. 

Beginning in 1854 territorial Governor Isaac Stevens negotiated treaties with Native tribes in Western Washington aimed at obtaining land for the incoming homesteaders and isolating indigenous people to tracts of land, but included provisions that protected cultural hunting and fishing rights. Until the late 1800s, Native fishers were active in the commercial fishing industry but their rights were usurped by Euro-American investors that overtook their reef net fishing sites with new technology and the federal government that promoted assimilation and agriculture over cultural hunting and fishing. Those who lived off the reservation, found themselves navigating laws that prevented property rights, intermarriage, and parental rights. 

When reflecting on the upcoming 150th anniversary of the arbitration decision, one can see how the water boundary dispute is an example of the imperialistic ambitions, colonial consequences, and political compromises often made throughout American history.  Two powerful nations came close to war over vague language within a treaty, political and economic desires, and military interests. However, war was avoided through a joint desire to avoid conflict and for a peaceful resolution.  It is also important to acknowledge that the Northern Coastal boundary between the U.S. and Great Britain was drawn on top of the traditional homelands of Native communities. Claims were made to things like water, fish, and land which had a lasting impact on those who thrived and persisted long before European explorers encountered their shores. 

Resources: 

Jagodinsky, Katrina. “A Tale of Two Sisters: Family Histories from the Strait Salish Borderlands.” The Western Historical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 27-49.

Lyall, Gordon Robert. “From Imbroglio to Pig War: The San Juan Island Dispute, 1853-71, in History and Memory.” BC Studies, no. 186 (2015): 73.

Miller, Bruce Granville. Be of Good Mind: Essays on the Coast Salish. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007.

Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. New York: Viking, 2001.

Wellman, Candace. Interwoven Lives Indigenous Mothers of Salish Coast Communities. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2019.

Arbitration Explained

In 1872 two colonial powers, Great Britain and the United States, peacefully agreed to end – through arbitration – the joint occupation of San Juan Island. Ambiguous language in the 1846 Treaty of Oregon, a boundary agreement between the two countries, led to confusion about the official water boundary and the ownership of San Juan Island. The treaty states “the United States shall be continued westward along the 49th parallel of North latitude, to the middle of said channel, and of Fuca’s strait, to the Pacific Ocean.” Because there are several channels leading from the Northern boundary at the 49th parallel and because none were mentioned within the treaty, both countries were able to place their own interpretations on the article. As a result, the territory became a disputed borderland and both countries began to establish more significant claims to San Juan Island. For example, the British owned Hudson Bay Company (HBC) established Belle Vue Sheep Farm on San Juan Island and American colonists were encouraged to settle the area. 

In the 1850s conflicts began to occur between Belle Vue Sheep Farm workers and American settlers that resulted in the theft of Belle Vue rams, the death of an HBC pig, a military standoff, and the 12 year joint occupation of San Juan Island. While military actions were taken on the island, American and British officials were offering proposals and counter proposals to resolve the water boundary dispute. The United States maintained that the disputed channel was intended to be the Haro Strait, while Great Britain believed that the Rosario State was the logical choice. British officials rejected the Haro Strait boundary because it would give the United States possession of several islands including the most important San Juan Island, and they advocated for the Rosario Strait because it gave them control over the entrance to the Puget Sound. Neither country wanted war but they were also unwilling to yield their claims to a region of economic and strategic value, and arbitration was suggested as a solution as early as December 1860.  However, those early attempts to resolve the dispute through arbitration were rejected by the United States because Great Britain insisted on introducing a third “middle” channel as the possible solution.   

The two countries finally agreed to proceed to arbitration in May 1871. German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, would make the final decision without appeal and he was directed to choose between the Haro and Rosario Straits. The removal of the third “middle channel” option was a diplomatic victory for the United States.  At the arbitration hearing, each side had the opportunity to present their case and U.S. representative, George Bancroft, presented a strong argument that demonstrated why the Haro Strait was always the intended boundary because the Rosario Strait was identified as an insignificant channel on the leading maps of the world. The British representative, Admiral James C. Provost presented a much weaker argument that the Rosario Strait was safer for navigation and more commonly used. To ensure that the final decision was impartial, Kaiser Wilhelm presented the evidence to a joint commission of three eminent German Judges and he used their decisions to rule in favor of the United States. The final ruling was issued on October 21, 1872 and British troops withdrew from San Juan Island on November 22, 1872. After 26 years of maintaining an amicable, yet tense relationship, an official survey was conducted on March 10, 1873 and four charts that showed the exact location of the boundary line were drawn and signed by British and American officials. 

Resources:

Dunbabin, John PD. “Haro or Rosario? Maps, Navigation, and the Anglo-American North-West Water Boundary Dispute, 1846-1872.” BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly 186 (2015): 39-72. (Image)

Lyall, Gordon Robert. “From Imbroglio to Pig War: The San Juan Island Dispute, 1853-71, in History and Memory.” BC Studies, no. 186 (2015): 73.

Tunem, Alfred. “The Dispute Over the San Juan Island Water Boundary.” The Washington Historical Quarterly 23, no. 1 (1932): 38–46.

Tunem, Alfred. “The Dispute Over the San Juan Islands Water Boundary (Continued).” The Washington Historical Quarterly 23, no. 4 (1932): 286–300.

Vouri, Mike. The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay. Seattle, WA: Discover Your Northwest, 2013.

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