Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands

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Connections

Connections

Like any kid (I’m still young at heart) I’m fascinated with connections, especially in relation to history. The BBC produced a ten episode documentary series, called ‘Connections’ with science historian James Burke, which demonstrated how discoveries, achievements, and world events were built from one another in an interconnected way leading to modern technology.

Here’s a story from 1859 to 1879 about Lyman Cutler, the famous shooter of the pig that led to an international crisis, that connects to the only legal case on San Juan Island to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. After his dastardly act of shooting the British pig, Cutler abandoned his potatoes and went into partnership with a large, unsavory character, Augustin Hibbard, in persuit of limestone of which there were several despots locally.

The partnership deteriorated with Hibbard first being a partner, then manager, then owner of the San Juan Lime Co. Lyman Cutler left the picture never to return.

Hibbard, no stranger to local law, as was to be had at the time, was joined in the business by small statured Charlie Watts. Partnerships aren’t the easiest of relationships, and Watts and Hibbard quarreled first about work ethics, with their final go-around being about “Miss Kitty”, an Indian woman. Hibbard, being considerably bigger than Watts, started a fight confident in its outcome. Watts, perhaps acknowledging his size as a detriment, brought out a four shot Derringer and settled the argument with three fatal bullets.

Watts was arrested by the military commander remaining on the island after the British left, and was charged with first degree murder. What followed was seven years of hand-ringing and buck-passing from the War Dept. to the JAG, who refused to touch it, to the US Attorney for Washington Territory who was assigned to prosecute the case in behalf of the US. Government.

After multiple delays worthy of your favorite courtroom TV drama, Watts was remanded to civil authorities and taken to Port Townsend where the jury found him guilty and sentenced him to hang. His attorney, Frank Clark, smart and persistent, appealed the sentence on a slippery loophole of an 1790 law limiting Federal jurisdiction, and got the conviction reversed.

Charlie Watts was immediately charged a second time by the Territory instead of the US Government, and despite his attorney’s appeal, was told the conviction would stand! He was transferred to Bainbridge Island in a high security lock-up, but let out of what amounted to as a dungeon prison occasionally for exercise and to work in a truck garden.

Charlie’s attorney then appealed to the US Supreme Court, but they ruled they would not review the case since it did not appear that any question of the Constitution, Treaty, or Statute of the U.S. was at issue. Back it goes to Port Townsend for orders to carry out the sentence.

In the mean time Charlie, while working in the prison garden, picked a moment when the guards were distracted and dashed for the beach where he found a boat and rowed off Bainbridge Island. Thus the seven year case ended, to date being the only legal case in the islands to go all the way to the US Supreme Court and back. Little Charlie Watts was never found.

Photo location: San Juan Island, taken not far from where the pig was shot by Lyman Cutler

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