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Home / Learning Our World / Member Stories (41) / 5-8 (18) / Student (15) / North America (15) / Environments: Coastal (4)


San Juan Stories

Leegends from the San Juan Islands

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A young rumrunner had been spotted by the coast guard, who had immediately given chase. The young man had a smaller-bottomed boat that was slightly slower and the guards were closing in. The smuggler quickly neared an island, passing easily over a large reef. The guards had almost caught their prey, and were only thinking of the chase. They charged directly after him and were thereupon stuck on the reef. Their boat was too low to move safely. The best they could do was to shake their fists in defeat. Our cocky friend wheeled around and headed back toward the guards for a parting shot. As he passed them, he lifted his shirttails, exposing his backside. Ever since, that troublesome reef has been appropriately called “shirttail reef.”

In our world there are millions of stories. A fraction of them concern the San Juan Island chain, such as the story you just read. Stories from the San Juans are great to read and listen to, considering they are never boring. Why not sit back and read more stories from the San Juans?

This is a story of a war, and the Pig that caused it (with the help of a Brit and a Kentuckian, that is….). The Brit’s name was Charles Griffin. He was a Hudson Bay Company man who released 1,350 company sheep, as well as a couple of his own pigs, to graze on San Juan Island. The Kentuckian was Lyman Cutlar, who had the misfortune of putting his home directly in the path of the pigs. He also, rather foolishly, decided to plant a potato garden. The pig was a Berkshire boar who liked potatoes a little too much and went into Cutlar’s garden a few too many times. On June 15, 1859, Lyman Cutlar blasted that boar to Kingdom come. Griffin, to whom the pig belonged, was not pleased. Cutlar had already told Griffin to “keep your pig out of my potatoes.” Griffin simply replied, “It’s up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig!”

None of this would have had any consequence, except that the U.S. and Britain had both laid claim to the San Juans. Thus, when the British threatened to arrest the pig-killer, he called to his country for help, which came in the form of the army. Both sides grew without anyone actually fighting until the U.S. had 461 men and the British had a whopping 2,140, with five warships to boot. The big issue was: who owned the San Juans? After twelve years of debating, it was finally put to the Kaiser of Germany to decide. England’s queen was confident that he would choose her country because he was her cousin. Surprisingly enough, he declared it American and the British retreated. Thus ended the most bloodless war in American history. The single casualty was that of a pig in a tater patch.

Now, if you live alone in a lighthouse on the San Juans in the 1800s you don’t get much excitement. So, when something exciting does happen, it makes for a great story. One lighthouse, however, got plenty of action: Turn Point.

Edward Durgan became the keeper of the lighthouse on Stuart Island in 1896. One stormy night in February 1897, he and his assistant were having a perfectly normal evening when they heard distress signals! Risking life and limb in freezing waters, they rescued every passenger from the sinking Enterprise, a couple miles from shore. Durgan was a hero, and even got himself a plaque.

Native Americans also told many stories: about animal spirits, trees, and, how islands were formed. When the world was new, Destruction and Tatoosh Islands were married and had many children together. Unfortunately, they quarreled often so Tatoosh decided to leave. She gathered her children in a boat and began paddling. The further she went, the angrier she got at her husband. She got so angry that, upon looking at her children, she saw only her husband and threw them overboard saying, “You will only grow up to be like your father.” After going a bit further, she found a good place and settled there. She is still there today, at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Her children are where she left them: they are the many rocks at the Point of Arches.

Stories are wonderful and the San Juans are full of them, as is the entire world. Go out and find some stories of your own, it isn’t hard. Just remember, with all good stories, that’s how it was and that’s how it is.


Community Question

Do you know any legends of the San Juans?

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