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The Pig War

by Clay Coppedge
As 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 Republic. 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 him senseless.

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
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