People fight over the strangest things and sometimes it takes very little to spark tensions into full-on rioting. Today we bring you stories about the Hatfields and McCoys, the Pig War, the War of the Stray Dog, the Eggnog Riot, the Toronto Clown and Firefighter Riot, the War over a disgusting seven-year-old severed ear, and the brilliance of the Great Sausage Duel.
The Hatfields and McCoys
The feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys is a famous one known by nearly everyone. The two families lived along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River with the Hatfields on the WV side and the McCoys on the Kentucky side. The feud lasted for 28 years between 1863 and 1891.
Tensions started between the prosperous William Anderson Hatfield, known as “Devil Anse,” who was a successful timber merchant and employed dozens of men, including some McCoys, and Randolph “Old Ranel” McCoy.
The first event in the feud was the murder of Randolph’s brother, Asa Harmon McCoy. Now both families—for the most part—had fought in the Civil War on the side of the confederacy. But then there was Asa who had served in the Union Army and so was seen as a traitor, even by some of his own family. He was killed by the Logan Wildcats, a local militia group whose members included Devil Anse and as well as other Hatfields. While some have concluded that his murder set the stage for the feud, most historians now see this incident as a standalone event.
Then there’s the pig incident. The theft by a Hatfield of a pig belonging to the McCoys is reputed to have really been the spark to set fire to the smoldering tensions between the families. The subsequent trial took place in McCoy territory but was presided over by a cousin of Devil Anse Hatfield. It hinged on the testimony of star witness Bill Staton, a McCoy relative married to a Hatfield.
Then there was a romance between a young Hatfield and a young McCoy and soon after the feud would fester into a full blown clan war lasting nearly thirty years and resulting in many more courtroom battles, several beatings, hangings, and shootings bringing the blazing feud’s death toll to 13 Hatfields and McCoys.
Many say that was a lot of fighting and death over something that started with an argument over a pig but I truly believe that the beginning lay in something much more profound. The Civil War was by all accounts, the bloodiest conflict in American history even to this day. Even now in modern times we are well aware of the effects war has on the fighting men yet we are still ill equipped to provide the assistance needed to help the veterans return to a healthy civilian life. How much more then were the men of the two Appalachian families affected by the horrors they had seen and the fighting they had done only to return back home and be expected to put aside their internal conflicts and resume everyday life? The origin of the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud was (I’m convinced) a direct result of the War and the lasting effects it had on the Hatfield men and the McCoy men who found an outlet for it in the animosity they had for each other.
Speaking of pigs…
The Pig War of 1859 https://www.historylink.org/File/5724
Did you know that the United States and Great Britain almost fought a war over a pig? Well, not exactly a pig, it was really over which country would gain possession of the beautiful San Juan Islands which are in the northern part of Puget Sound just off the coast of Washington State.
The Treaty of Oregon in 1846 established the boundary between the U.S. and British Canada at the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It also ceded all of Vancouver Island to the British. However, it didn’t make clear which country would possess the San Juan Islands which lie in between the mainland and Vancouver Island. For the next thirteen years, both countries claimed the islands as their possession.
In 1854 the British owned Hudson Bay Company set up a sheep farm in the islands. Soon after, American settlers began making claims and clearing land for their own farms. Incidents of verbal shouts and threats among settlers and government representatives from both countries spouted from time to time. However, tensions reached a boiling point on June 15, 1859 when American farmer Lyman Cutler shot and killed a pig belonging to a British settler Charles Griffin. It seems the pig was destroying Mr. Cutler’s potato patch. Cutler told Griffin what he had done and offered to pay him $10 for the pig, but Griffin claimed that the pig was worth at least $100. British authorities on the island told Cutler that he had to pay the $100 or face trial. This greatly angered the American settlers on the islands to the point that on July 4, fourteen of them stormed the British customs collector’s office and ran an American flag up his pole.
Word of this incident soon reached local military officials of both countries. U.S. Army Capt. George Pickett (who would later gain fame as a Confederate General) arrived in the San Juan Islands with some twenty soldiers. He set up a camp and claimed the islands for the U.S. This greatly enraged the British commander Governor Douglas who was also the vice admiral of the Royal Navy Fleet anchored at nearby Victoria. He called for an equal number of British marines to come to the islands which they did on August 3, though they stayed aboard ship. It looked like an actual shooting fight could break out at any minute. More American troops arrived until there were over 400. More British ships arrived too, but their sailors did not disembark. The British were well aware that opening fire on the American could have disastrous results, but they also didn’t want to give up control of these islands. By the end of the summer, tensions began easing even though both sides were still building up their presence.
Because of the distance involved, it was not until September that the American and British governments learned they had almost gone to war on San Juan Island. (The telegraph was in use locally on the East Coast and in England, but wires were not yet strung across the continent, much less the ocean. Representatives of both governments decided to jointly occupy the islands until an agreement could be reached. This had the unintended consequence of creating a lawless zone as neither civil authority was actually in charge. Trouble-makers found their way to the islands and vice operations of all kinds ran unchecked. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, priorities shifted away from the San Juans. The American and British military units stationed there became friendly with one another and worked together to rid the islands of vice.
After the Civil War ended the U.S. and Britain agreed to appoint an arbitrator to settle the dispute. Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany was selected as arbitrator in 1872. After appointing three geographers to study the matter, he ultimately decided in favor of the United States thus settling the matter and ending the Pig War
Now for a different animal…..The War of the Stray Dog 1925 History.com
In one of the strangest conflicts of the past hundred years, a dog inadvertently triggered an international conflict. The incident was the culmination of a long period of hostility between Greece and Bulgaria, which had been at odds for more than ten years. Tensions finally boiled over in October 1925, when a Greek soldier was shot after allegedly crossing the border into Bulgaria while chasing after his runaway dog.
The shooting became a rallying cry for the Greeks, who soon after invaded Bulgaria and occupied several villages. They were about to begin shelling the city of Petrich when the League of Nations intervened and condemned the attack. An international committee later negotiated a ceasefire between the two nations, but not before the misunderstanding had resulted in the deaths of some 50 people.
The Rite of Spring Riot 1913
Can you imagine classical music leading to violence? Well on May 29, 1913 composer Igor Stravinsky introduced his new ballet called The Rite of Spring at Paris’ Champs-Elysees Theatre. Accounts vary as to exactly what happened, but it appears that the trouble started soon after the curtain lifted and the first notes began to play. Audience members hissed and jeered at the performers, and some hurled objects at the stage. Other members of the audience began yelling at the hissers to be quiet. While the orchestra was continuing to play, fist fights broke out between the rival spectators. Top hats were smashed and canes were used as weapons. The fight soon poured out into the street where one man had challenged another to a duel. Quickly the police arrived and made arrests. So what lead to this outburst? Some say that the crowd was jarred by the unusual sounds and choreography, but others say that the disturbance was pre-planned by enemies of Stravinsky.
As you can imagine there are a lot of conflicts arising from the partaking of alcohol. Here’s just a few.
The St Scholastica Day Riot of 1355
On February 10, 1355—St. Scholastica’s Day—two university students in Oxford, England, complained to the owner of the Swindlestock Tavern about the low quality of the wine being served. When the tavern owner responded with “stubborn and saucy language,” (can you imagine!) the students threw their cups at the man’s head and beat him up. This seemingly minor bar fight sparked three days of bitter rioting between the Oxford townspeople and university students. The fighting reached a bloody climax on February 12, when a mob of some 2,000 townspeople descended on the university’s academic halls and beat, stabbed and even scalped several students before chasing the rest out of town. When the dust finally cleared, 63 students and 30 townspeople lay dead. After an investigation, King Edward III levied harsh fines and penalties against the town of Oxford. For several hundred years afterwards, the town’s mayor was forced to march to the university church each St. Scholastica Day and hand over 63 pennies—one for each student killed.
The Eggnog Riot of 1826
The “Eggnog Riot” of 1826 might be history’s most extreme example of a holiday party gone wrong. The problems began on Christmas Eve, when cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY were having their traditional end of the year party. Even though there was a ban on alcohol, some of the cadets, including future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, managed to sneak in enough booze to concoct some rather potent eggnog. Revelers were consuming the strong batch well into the night and by the early morning they were becoming noticeably rowdy. When faculty members tried to put an end to the party, the school’s North Barracks erupted into chaos. Cadets barricaded themselves into this room and then began smashing furniture and crashing windows. One even threatened his superior with a drawn sword. By dawn, the eggnog had run out and the cadets began to sober up, taking stock of the damage they had done. Nineteen rioters were charged with disorderly conduct, and 12 were expelled. Jefferson Davis managed to dodge a court martial, but only because he’d been ordered to his room and passed out before things got out of hand.
And the funniest… The Toronto Clown and Firefighter Riot 1855
In July 1855, a traveling circus called S.B. Howes’ Star Troupe Menagerie stopped in Toronto, Ontario, for a series of shows. On the night of July 12, several clowns went to a tavern that was rumored to be a brothel. The tavern was also a hangout for a volunteer firefighter brigade, the Hook & Ladder Firefighting Company. Both groups were pretty rowdy; the clowns with the show were the men who set up and took down the circus tent, while the firefighters had a reputation for brawling. Exactly how the trouble started is unclear. One version of the story says that a clown cut in line, another story says that a hat was accidentally knocked off the head of the boss clown. Regardless of how it started, a brawl broke out, and two firefighters were badly injured. The fire brigade retreated, and the clowns were victorious that day.
At that time in Toronto, there existed a fraternal organization called the Orange Order, which included a lot of firefighters and police officers. Word of the fight spread through the ranks of the Orange Order, and the next day, several showed up to confront the circus performers. When members of the Hook and Ladder showed up, mayhem broke out. All the tents, including the big top, were pulled down and set on fire. Wagons were overturned and destroyed. The clowns were also mercilessly beaten. The chief of police, who was also an Orangeman, took his time sending out officers to help, and when they did arrive on the scene, the officers didn’t do much to help the circus; they simply watched the destruction and the beatings. The riot only stopped when the mayor showed up. He personally pulled an axe out of the hands of a firefighter who planned on killing a clown with it. The militia had to be called in, and the circus folk were allowed to grab their belongings that weren’t destroyed. The riot was one of the major events that led to police reform in the city of Torono.
Stay away from alcohol kids!
And now for some truly bizarre conflicts!
The Battle for Los Angeles 1942
The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, also known as the Battle of Los Angeles is a strange occurrence from World War II. Less than three months after Pearl Harbor, on the night of February 24, 1942 a disturbing report was called in to local authorities that 25 Japanese airplanes had been spotted approaching the city. Immediately air raid sirens sounded and a blackout was ordered. Hollywood searchlights now were repurposed for searching the dark skies in hopes of spotting the invading fliers. The 37th Coast Artillery Brigade started firing at these supposed aircraft hovering over the city. More than 1400 shells were fired, though no planes were shot down. However, the noise and debris of the shelling caused considerable panic on the ground. At least five civilian deaths were attributed to the chaos resulting from the firing including two heart attacks.
It had been rumored at the time that the Japanese had figured out how to launch airplanes from submarines. There was also a theory that Japan had a secret base in Mexico. Due to lack of any clear explanation by government authorities, these rumors persisted throughout the war. However, in 1983, the Office of Air Force History released their findings after a thorough investigation of the incident. They concluded that there never were any Japanese planes over Los Angeles. The objects seen in the sky on the night of February 24, 1942? Weather balloons!
While the military eventually attributed the incident to "war nerves" and the sighting of an errant weather balloon, ufologists have speculated for years that our guns were actually firing at extraterrestrial spaceships they had seen on their radar. This theory provided the inspiration for the 1941 Steven Spielberg film: Battle: Los Angeles that was loosely based on the event.
The Interrupted Battle of the Third Mithridatic War 7- B.C.
For this one we are going way back, back to the Third Mithridatic War (I wasn’t even aware of the first two) This was the last in a series of wars between the Roman Republic and the army of Mithridates VI King of Pontus and Armenia Minor. The time was approximately 70 B.C.
The location of this “Battle that wasn’t” was in Phrgia in what we know today as northern Turkey. The Romans under the command of Lucius Licinius Lucullus arrived with some 32,000 soldiers. The forces of Mithridates was reportedly even larger. Tensions were mounting as the forces of these enormous armies were approaching each other on a broad plain. According to eyewitness accounts, just as the soldiers were approaching each other, “the sky suddenly split apart, and a large ‘silvery-hot’ meteor resembling a gigantic hogshead bombarded the battleground between the two armies.” The rattled soldiers on both sides decided that this was not a good day to fight and thus withdrew from the field without either side suffering any loss.
The Romans ultimately eventually emerged victorious in 63 B.C. after Pompey the Great succeeded Lucullus as the commanding general.
Some humorous battles include…
The War of Jenkins Ear 1738
In 1738, a British sailor named Robert Jenkins displayed a severed, decomposing ear before the members of Parliament. In his testimony, he stated that a Spanish coastguard officer had sliced off his ear seven years earlier as punishment for smuggling. “Such outrageous treatment!” shouted the MPs. Soon the British declared war on Spain, beginning what became known as the “War of Jenkins’ Ear.”
In reality, Spain and England had been angry with each other for nearly forty years. Jenkins’ missing ear merely served as a convenient catalyst. The conflict had its roots in territorial disputes over the border between Spanish Florida and British Georgia, (Known as the Florida – Georgia Line) Fighting began in late 1739, and continued for two years in Florida and Georgia, with neither side emerging as the clear victor. The conflict later merged with the more expansive War of the Austrian Succession, which would not end until 1748. (You know, this war’s just not getting enough notice, let’s merge with another war!)
Great Sausage Duel of 1865
Rudolf Ludwig Carl Virchow was a remarkably interesting German man. Extremely well rounded in his interests and his passions, Virchow was a physician, anthropologist, pathologist, biologist, writer, and politician. He is known as "the father of modern pathology". His colleagues referred to him as the "Pope of medicine".
Rudolph Virchow was alarmed at the fact that a lot of Germans are consuming sausages that were being produced in less than sanitary factories. A lot of the meat being sold from these factories was infected with Trichinella parasites that caused many Germans to be inflicted with trichinosis. The symptoms of which are diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting which can lead eventually to death and a large number of Germans were in fact dying from this.
Virchow who was very active in politics, was promoting government intervention to force the sausage makers to clean up their act. This costs money and the current Prussian Chancellor, Otto Von Bismark did not agree on spending money for that. He instead was really big on defense and funneled a lot of the country’s money to that end. Virchow was outspoken with condemnation of Bismarck's excessive military budget.
To quote an 1893 publication,
At the end of a particularly severe attack, Bismarck felt himself personally affronted, and sent seconds to Virchow with a challenge to fight a duel. The man of science was found in his laboratory, hard at work at experiments which had for their object the discovery of a means of destroying trichinæ, which were making great ravages in Germany. “Oh,” said the doctor, “a challenge from Prince Bismarck, eh? Well, well, as I am the challenged party, I suppose I have the choice of weapons. Here they are!” He held up two large sausages, which seemed to be exactly alike. ” One of these sausages,” he said, ” is filled with trichinae—it is deadly. The other is perfectly wholesome. Externally they cannot be told apart. Let His Excellency do me the honor to choose whichever of these he wishes and eat it, and I will eat the other.” Though the proposition was as reasonable as any duelling proposition could be, Prince Bismarck’s representatives refused it. No duel was fought, and no one accused Virchow of cowardice.
He reminds me of Vizzini in Princess Bride, with the two poisoned cups of wine. ”Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line.”
But Virchow was much more clever.
To end on a positive note…..The Christmas Truce of 1914
On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of fighting during WWI for the celebration of Christmas. But the warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire. But some of the soldiers along the Western Front declared their own unofficial truce.
On Christmas Eve troops from both sides could be heard singing Christmas carols to each other across the lines. The Germans even had a brass band joining in from time to time. Then at first light on Christmas morning some German soldiers emerged from their trenches, tentatively crossed no-man's-land, and approached the Allied lines calling out in English “Merry Christmas.”
At first the Allied soldiers thought it was a trick but then realized the Germans were unarmed. They too climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the Germans. The men continued to sing Chistmas songs as they shared presents of cigarettes and plum puddings. There was even a friendly game of soccer.
Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.
The momentary show of yuletide goodwill happened during the first Christmas of the Great War and sadly was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof of the shared humanity among soldiers of both sides.
Remnant Stew is created by me, Leah Lamp. Dr. Steven Meeker and I research, write and host each episode. Audio is produced by Phillip Sinquefield who does what he can to make us sound good. Our theme music is by Kevin MacLeod with voiceover by Morgan Hughes.
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