Texas History 101
How some hogs turned things into a mess between the Republic of Texas and France.
After the Texas Revolution of 1836, the Republic of Texas was a free, sovereign country until it was absorbed into the United States of America in 1845. But during those eight years, a row broke out over a couple of roving hogs. That quarrel was called the Pig War.
By 1840, Austin was declared the seat of the Republic of Texas. In those days Congress Avenue was little more than a dirt road and the “city” could be called anything but urban. But Austin wasn’t that meager. President Mirabeau B. Lamar and former president Sam Houston both lived in Austin, and the Bullock House (Austin’s first hotel, owned by Richard Bullock) was up and running. The French Legation sat on a hilltop on San Marcos Street, and although it wasn’t completed, the building was larger and more elegant than the Capitol.
The Legation symbolized France’s support for and recognition of the recently freed Republic. Naturally, a new country needs money. So in an effort to raise capital—and sustain ties with France—the Franco-Texian Bill was sent to Congress on January 12, 1841. The bill allowed for eight thousand French families to live on three million acres of Texas. The bill also stipulated that the French military had rights to establish and maintain military forts in Texas for 10,000 troops tax-free for twenty years.
Shortly after the bill reached the House, the French Legation structure was completed. The chargé d’affaires, Jean Peter Isidore Alphonse Dubois, Comte de Saligny of France, moved out of Bullock’s hotel and into the elegant 21-acre estate, which was bordered by lush gardens. De Saligny lived luxuriously—servants, elaborate furnishings, and fine cuisine. There was only one problem with the Legation: inadequate fencing.
Apparently, some hogs from the Bullock Hotel’s plantation had followed de Saligny when he moved from the hotel to the Legation. These unknowing pigs—they were feasting on the corn grown for the stables of horses—uprooted fences, tore up the decorative gardens, and enraged de Saligny to no end. Finally, he had had enough and in February 1841 ordered any hog found on the estate to be shot. Eugene Pluyette, one of de Saligny’s servants, shot the next hog to make an appearance at the Legation, marking the beginning of the Pig War.
Upon word that the Frenchman had shot his hog, Bullock became enraged. But when he sought reparation for the slain animal, the French invoked immunity to Texas laws. Consequently, the next time Bullock saw Pluyette in downtown Austin, Bullock whipped him hard in front of many spectators, embarrassing the unnerved Frenchman. On February 19, 1841, Texas Secretary of State J. S. Mayfield received an official protest from the French, which—after more threats to Pluyette from Bullock—prompted Mayfield to call a judicial hearing on February 22. De Saligny, however, refused to appear before a Texas court and forbade Pluyette from doing so either, claiming Pluyette was exempt under Laws of Nations. Although Bullock was indicted for whipping Pluyette, the ruling was merely a slap on the wrist and Bullock’s bail was promptly paid by the Secretary of the Treasury, John Chalmers.
On April 5, 1841, de Saligny claimed that anything could be obtained in Texas by the virtue of brute force, not civil French justice. Disgusted by Texas, de Saligny fled Austin for New Orleans. De Saligny made sure that France would not loan money to the Republic of Texas and that the Franco-Texian Bill would never pass the Senate (the bill had passed the House January 23, 1841). De Saligny eventually lost his stature in politics and was recalled to France, where he died in 1888.
All in all, it was a short war for Texas. The only casualties were the hogs killed by Pluyette (a number that varies from 5 to 25, depending on the nationality of the person you ask) and de Saligny’s ego. But the Pig War should not be forgotten. It was, actually, a factor in which country the Republic of Texas decided to join. In the end, French pomp and Texian roughness steered Texas toward the United States, but let us not forget the few proud, hungry pigs that made history.