San Juan Island National Historical Park has two areas: American Camp on the southeast end of the island and English Camp on the Northwest end of the island. Tom and I work at English Camp so you will hear a lot more about it in the coming weeks. But I thought I would spend a little time today describing American Camp.
After Lyman Cutlar shot the pig, American Brigadier-General William S. Harney, commanding the Department of Oregon, dispatched 66 American soldiers of the 9th Infantry to the island. These soldiers were under the command of Captain George Pickett (yes – the same man who led “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg). They set up camp on the beach on the south end of the island on July 27, 1859.
In response, the British sent three warships under the command of Captain Geoffrey Hornby to counter the Americans. The situation continued to escalate until American General Winfield Scott arrived to negotiate a joint occupation of the island. The Americans would have a force of less than 100 men with no cannons and no fortifications on the south end of the island. The British would occupy a similar camp on the north end of the island.
The British and American governments tried to work out a treaty about who owned the island, but were unsuccessful. Eventually the ownership dispute was settled by international arbitration in favor of the Americans, but it took twelve years. During this time the American and English camps were occupied by soldiers and marines from the respective countries. The American Camp had 15 different commanding officers.
Today American Camp is a beautiful, 1,900 acre prairie on the south end of the island. There are three historic buildings including Pickett’s house. The buildings are set back from a half-finished redoubt that was abandoned after the negotiated peace. The redoubt is the highest point in that part of the park and has some amazing views of Mt. Baker in the North Cascades and the Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On very clear days you can even see Mt. Ranier 120 miles away. Hiking trails and wildlife fill this beautiful area.
Tom and I head to American Camp once a week or so for hiking or to do research at the ranger office in the Visitors Center. The Visitors Center is tiny but has running water and heat, which is a step up from English Camp. We love to hike the trails and enjoy watching the huge ships in the Strait.