THE PIG WAR

by GARY BROWN

It’s early in the morning of a July day and both Austin and the capitol grounds are already sweltering. The offices aren’t open yet and the horseshoe drive is quiet. Except for a few groundskeepers, I’m pretty much alone as I sit on one of the many benches on the capitol grounds. Alone, that is, except for a flock of pigeons that keep approaching me—probably anticipating some kind of food offering. They must be finding food somewhere because they certainly keep the network of capitol sidewalks messy.

That’s ironic because I’ve come to visit the French Legation when it opens in an hour or so. I’m particularly interested in the early days of the legation when hungry and messy animals caused a diplomatic uproar, suspension of diplomatic relations between France and the Republic of Texas, cancellation of a seven million dollar loan, and defeat of legislation that would have given France three million strategic acres of Texas land for military use.

Only in 1840 and 1841, the issue was pigs—not pigeons. The French have not had good luck with animals in Texas: a century earlier, they had nearly gone to war with Spain in east Texas over some chickens. This flap was with the newly independent Texans and is commonly referred to as the Pig War.

The new community of Austin in 1840 was not quiet like it is this morning and it certainly wasn’t a large urban area like it is today. But it was growing in the single year it had served as the seat of the Republic’s government. Congress Avenue was a muddy trail bordered by log cabins and wooden shanties.

Despite its modest beginnings, Austin had several notable residents. President Lamar and Ex-President Houston both had homes here. The Bullock House, Austin’s first hotel, was located where Congress Avenue crossed Sixth Street.

And, on a hilltop on San Marcos Street, the French Legation was nearing completion as the premier building in Austin—more elegant and spacious than the Texan capitol itself. It was to be the home of French Charge d’Affaires, Jean Peter Isidore Alphonse Dubois, Comte de Saligny.

But, pending completion of the legation, de Saligny had to lease quarters from Richard Bullock at Sixth and Capitol. The Bullock House was a series of rough hewn log structures furnished with handmade pioneer furniture and operated by the somewhat crude, no-nonsense frontiersman from Tennessee.

I’ve seen a lithograph of de Saligny and he appeared to have been a real dandy; pompous and self-promoting. It’s easy to see, just from the picture, how he and Richard Bullock would not have liked each other.

But de Saligny was not without connections in the new republic. As a member of the French diplomatic corps, his earlier reports from Texas had influenced France to extend diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Texas—recognition that the new government and Sam Houston both desperately needed.

And in 1840, the Republic was financially broke. Again, de Saligny appeared upon the scene to assist the beleaguered Texans. This time he was to lobby for a piece of legislation known as the Franco-Texian Bill. This bill, properly titled, "An Act to Incorporate the Franco Texian Commercial and Colonization Company", if passed by the congress in Austin, would charter 8,000 French families onto three million acres of Texas with French military rights to establish and maintain twenty military forts and garrison ten thousand French troops tax-free for twenty years. That represented, opponents pointed out, more troops than Santa Anna had ever commanded in Texas.

Richard Bullock took an immediate disliking to the pretentious little Frenchman but he was not alone. The crude frontier ruffians of 1840 Austin quickly took to ridiculing the Count of Saligny—or, as they referred to him, the No-Count of Saligny.

No less a personage than Sam Houston himself took liberties in insulting the charge d’affaires. When de Saligny visited Houston one day wearing French military decorations and medals, Houston reportedly removed his Indian blanket and, revealing his numerous scars, told the astounded Frenchman, "A humble republican soldier, who wears his decorations here, salutes you."

But if Houston was crude, he was also shrewd. It was Houston, not Lamar, who later pushed for congressional passage of the Franco-Texian Bill.

But it was Bullock who seems to have galled (no pun intended) the Count. As soon as possible, de Saligny moved out of Bullock’s hotel and into the elegant French Legation atop the hill overlooking the capitol building.

And elegant the it was—hardware and elaborate millwork was imported from France along with servants and a Parisian chef. The Kitchen boasted foods that most Texans couldn’t pronounce and the wine cellar was probably the best to be found west of New Orleans. The bedrooms were furnished with French furniture of the period and fine linens.

The twenty-one acre estate included a fenced garden growing, among other crops, corn to feed the legation’s horses. It was truly the showpiece of early Austin and designed to serve as a governmental and social center for the city’s political elite that, incidentally, didn’t include Richard Bullock.

And so Bullock, who didn’t like de Saligny anyway, wasn’t overly impressed when the charge d’affaires moved into the French legation. Nor does he seem to have been overly concerned when his hogs moved into the legation with de Saligny.

Bullock’s hogs immediately established a daily routine of rooting through the wooden fence around the legation and feasting on the corn growing there. The hogs—and the Count’s anger—became the laughing stock of frontier Austin.

Things continued to deteriorate. At one point the hogs even got inside the legation and ran wild—eating the expensive imported linens in the bedrooms and even official French governmental communiques from the Count’s own bedroom. Today, copies of de Saligny’s posted diplomatic papers are missing five reports—allegedly lost as fodder for Bullock’s hogs.

Finally, the Frenchman had had enough. The legation servants were instructed to kill any hog found on the legation grounds and in February, 1841, Eugene Pluyette did so.

An enraged Bullock attempted to seek reparations for the lost hogs only to learn that the French were invoking diplomatic immunity from Texas laws. Not prone to protocol and formalities, Bullock approached Pluyette in downtown Austin and whipped him most undiplomaticaly.

On February 19, 1841, the Texas Secretary of State, J. S. Mayfield, received an official protest from the French over the incident. Two days later, Mayfield received another communique that Bullock had again threatened Pluyette and, fearing the innkeeper was going to kill the French servant, the secretary ordered a judicial hearing for February 22.

De Saligny refused to appear before a Texas court of law and forbade Pluyette to testify either insisting, instead, that ‘the Laws of Nations" be applied to punish Bullock. That must have raised a few mugs in toast around Austin’s numerous saloons.

The judge, in absentia, found sufficient evidence to indict Bullock. At this point, Texas politics got involved, and the issue became officially the "Pig War" and an international issue.

Ex-President David Burnet, always opposed to anything involving Sam Houston, had also grown tired of the pompous Frenchman. The fact that Houston was backing the Franco-Texian bill in Congress was enough to cause Burnet to get involved. Bail for Bullock was immediately posted by John Chalmers, who also happened to be the Texas Secretary of the Treasury. Bullock used the occasion to attempt an assault on de Saligny himself and the situation was really turning ugly.

When de Saligny complained about the course of Texas law, he was told by Secretary of State Mayfield on April 5, 1841, that "…you can obtain your passports when you choose to demand them." Meanwhile Bullock’s hogs continued to roam unimpeded throughout Austin looking for corn and the innkeeper had become the toast of the town.

Convinced that crude Texas law was an affront to the dignity of France, de Saligny left Austin for New Orleans effectively suspending diplomatic relations between the Republic and France for a year.

De Saligny, true to his word, used his influence with his brother-in-law to defeat the French loan to Texas. The Franco-Texian Bill, after passing the Texas House on January 23, 1841 was never addressed by the Senate and died through inaction. No French soldier ever was garrisoned in the Republic of Texas as a result of de Saligny’s initiative.

The only true casualties of the "Pig War" were the hogs killed by Pluyette—estimated between five and twenty-five—and the resulting injuries suffered by the servant at the hands of Bullock.

When Houston returned to the office of President, he made "satisfactory explanations" and requested that de Saligny return to Austin. In April of 1842 Jean Peter Isidore Alphonse Dubois, Comte de Saligny returned to the French Legation but by then his health was failing and he left again for France in July of that year.

The Pig War appears to have damaged de Saligny’s diplomatic career although he continued to play minor roles in Texas after annexation and later in Mexico where he married and had a child. Involved heavily in Mexican political intrigue, he was accused of financial fraud and was recalled to France in 1863. He never held another diplomatic post and died in Normandy in 1888.

Bullock continued to live in Austin, unpunished, after the affair. His hotel became know as Swisher’s Hotel after 1852 and was renamed again in 1858 as Smith’s Hotel.

The surviving hogs grew fat around Austin. Despite their annoying behavior they achieved celebrity status at the expense of the ridiculed Count of Saligny and his "Law of Nations".

But back to the present. It’s nearly time for the French Legation to open its doors to the public now so I break away from my thought and stand up from my park bench. The pigeons lounging around the bench in hopes of obtaining food scatter as I start walking away. I watch where I step because of the mess they have left.

"No problem," I tell myself, "it’s an Austin tradition."