a Republic, Texas was hard to get along with. The Mexican government
already knew this, of course, but the French would find it out soon
enough when they sent Alphonse Dubois de Saligny to Austin
in 1840 to help determine if France should recognize the young upstart
He wasn’t a Count but he called himself one so we will too.
Ironically, in light of his general snootiness, Saligny – or rather
The Count – is known to history as a prime participant in what came
to be called the Pig War.
Austin in 1840 was the new
capitol of Texas and had a population of 856 but Congress Avenue was
just a muddy trail lined by wooden shanties and cabins. The most imposing
building was not the new capitol but the French Legation, an elegant
and spacious structure that was in its final stages of construction.
The Count planned to make the French Legation his home and headquarters
while he oversaw the establishment of a Franco-Texan commercialization
and colonization company. The Franco-Texian bill called for a hefty
French loan to the Republic and three million acres of land for the
French to settle 8,000 families and build 20 forts and garrisons manned
by 10,000 soldiers. Opponents of the bill pointed out that this was
more troops than Santa Anna ever had in Texas.
While the French Legation was being finished, Saligny took temporary
headquarters at the Bullock complex, a series of log structures owned
by a hard-edged frontiersman from Tennessee named Richard Bullock,
who hated pretension in all its forms but cared a great deal for his
pigs. The two men never cottoned to each other and both were happy
to part company with one another when the Frenchman moved to another
dwelling not far from Bullock’s structure.
That’s when the real trouble began. Once Bullock’s pigs learned that
Saligny grew corn to feed his horses they compromised the integrity
of wooden fence that surrounded his garden and began taking liberties
with the corn. The pigs soon expanded their attention to the house
where Saligny stayed and where they ran wild and revealed themselves
to be the most indiscriminate of gourmands, making meals out of expensive
imported linen and important papers to Saligny from the French government.
The Count was shocked, appalled and outraged at these transgressions
but he didn’t get a lot of sympathy in frontier Austin
or from the government of the Republic. In fact, people in Austin
had taken to calling him “No Count Saligny.” He had paid the teamster
who hauled his possessions into Austin
with $300 of counterfeit bills, and he also decided that he didn’t
have to pay Bullock for staying at his place either. People in Austin
liked the pigs a lot more than they liked Saligny.
The bogus count took matters into his own hands, sort of, and ordered
his butler, Eugene Pluyette, to shoot the pigs on sight, which he
did on Feb. 11, 1841. When Bullock sought damages for the loss of
his pigs, Saligny invoked diplomatic immunity and the “Law of Nations”
in response. Bullock’s own response was to find Pluyette and beat
The French filed a formal protest and asked for a judiciary hearing.
A judge, in absentia, found sufficient evidence to indict Bullock.
John Chalmers, Secretary of the Texas Treasury, personally paid Bullock’s
bail. The Count moved to New Orleans and stayed there for a year,
issuing dire missives to Texas the whole time. His own government
was a little embarrased by Saligny and offered him only token support.
Eventually, a deal was worked out that allowed Saligny to return to
Texas without much undue embarrassment.
The French never loaned Texas millions
of dollars and the landscape was never dotted with French forts. For
that, we can thank Bullock’s rampaging pigs.
The pigs that Pluyette shot were the only casualties of the Pig War,
unless you count the injuries that Pluyette sustained at the hands
of Bullock and the major disruption of diplomatic relations between
France and Texas. The incident does seem
to have derailed Saligny’s career, though he comes to us now as someone
who would have derailed his career with, say, chickens if the pigs
hadn’t come along. He engaged in very little diplomacy after that
and was eventually called home to France after he was accused of financial
fraud in Mexico.
Bullock and his pigs became Austin
celebrities. Bullock’s structure became known as the Swisher Hotel
and later the Smith Hotel. His surviving pigs thrived and prospered.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
January 1, 2011 Column