(Another in my historical trivia posts – this is a cross-post from my book-blog. The Pig War features in my latest book, Deep in the Heart … along with a lot of other relatively unknown mid-19th century trivia.)
The Pig War was not actually an honest-to-pete real shooting war. But it did involve a pair of international powers; the Republic of Texas, and the constitutional monarchy of France. And thereby hangs the story of a neighborhood squabble between a frontier innkeeper and a gentleman-dandy named Jean Pierre Isidore Dubois de Saligny who called himself the Comte de Saligny. He was the charge d’affaires, the representative of France to the Republic of Texas, arriving from a previous assignment the French Legation in Washington D.C. He had been instrumental in recommending that France extend diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Texas, but one might be forgiven for thinking that some kind of 19th Century Peter Principle was at play . . . for Dubois turned out to be terribly undiplomatic.
Perhaps it was just the shock of arriving in the new capitol city of Austin, a ramble of hastily built frame shacks and log cabins scattered along a series of muddy streets along the scenic and wooded shores of the upper Colorado River; a city planned with great hopes and nothing but insane optimism to base them on. Dubois arrived with two French servants, including a chef, a very fine collection of wines, elegant furniture and household goods. Here was a man of culture and refinement, perhaps acclimated to America, but ill-unprepared for the raw crudities of the Texas frontier.
Initially, Dubois took rooms at the only hotel in town, a crude inn of roughly-finished logs owned by Richard Bullock, located at the present intersection of 6th and Capitol. In the days before cattle was king, pork was much more favored; Richard Bullock kept a herd of pigs – pigs which were allowed to roam freely, and eat what they could scavenge, along the muddy streets and in back of the frame buildings and log cabins set up to do the business of the Republic. Undaunted, Dubois, rented a small building nearby to use as an office and residence while a fine new legation was being built. He entertained in fine style – but was most especially plagued by Bullock’s pigs, which constantly broke through the fence around his garden, and helped themselves to the corn intended for his horses. The pigs even broke into the house, and consumed a quantity of bedclothes and papers.
That was the last straw: Dubois instructed one of his servants to kill any pigs found on the property that he had rented, which was done. Richard Bullock, outraged, demanded payment for his loss, which was indignantly refused on the grounds of diplomatic immunity. The matter escalated when Bullock encountered Dubois’ swine-killing servant one day in the street and thrashed him. An official protest was filed, and a hearing ordered by the Texas Secretary of State – but citing international law, Dubois refused to attend or allow his servant to testify. Richard Bullock was freed on bail – and when Dubois complained bitterly to Republic authorities he was told that he could collect his passport and depart at any time.
He left in a huff, and stayed away for a year – never having had the chance to actually live in the elegant residence which he had commissioned to become the official legation; a white frame house on a hill which is presently the only remaining structure from those early days. Richard Bullock became the toast of the town, and his pigs were celebrities, for of course the story got around. The fracas also put an end to a generous loan from France, and plans to bring 8,000 French settlers to settle on Texas lands – as well as a military alliance that would allow stationing of French garrisons in Texas to protect them.
What would Texas have been like, one wonders – if Richard Bullock hadn’t let his pigs roam and the French Legate had thought to hire someone to build a better fence?