"A Government, to be prosperous and ameliorating in it's tendency, must originate among it's people: it's officers should be it's servants, and it's glory it's common reward!"

William B. Ide, Commander of the Bear Flag Republic

This is a photo of the original 1846 Bear Flag. The flag was destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 while on display in a museum. The flag was designed by William Todd on brown muslin donated by a Californio woman.


ESTABLISHED: June 14, 1846





***The California Indian Era***

No one knows exactly when these Asian immigrants arrived into what is now called California or how many lived here when the Spanish arrived. Estimates range from 133,000 to 275,000 which establishes the fact that there were more indians in California than in any other part of the USA. With the exception of the Mojave and Yuma, they practiced no agriculture; they were hunter & gathers, living off the bounty of California. They gathered acorns, fished for salmon and trout, and hunted for deer and rabbits.They had at least 135 dialects and, although, they occasionally fought each other, they never developed a warrior society like the more famous Plains Indians.

***The Spanish Era***

After completing his disastrous 1769 expedition of California for Spain, in which over half the expedition died of malnutrition and scurvy, Gaspar de Portola wrote in his report that is the Russians wanted California, Spain should let her have it. By 1820 only 3,750 Spanish citizens occupied California and California was just a neglected and isolated part of a crumbling Spanish Empire. In 1822 Mexico had won its independence from Spain and by 1825 the Spanish Californians pledged loyalty to Mexico.

***The Californio Era and Revolts***

California had gone from a neglected, isolated colony of Spain to a neglected, isolated territory in the Mexican Republic. The Spanish Californians, called Californios, grew hateful of Mexico's rule when in 1831 Mexico appointed Governor Manuel Victoria. He attempted to rule California by the heavy hand of Mexican law and opposed the secularization of the Catholic Church's land in California to which the Californios would receive. An Californio army was raised and did battle against Mexican forces under the command of Governor Victoria. The battle was inconclusive but Governor Victoria was wounded and recalled by Mexico. A new Governor, Nicolas Gutierrez, is installed and in 1833 the Californios and the mission indians receive the Church's land and assets. Soon, the indians will sell or abandon their land holdings and the Californios will become in control of vast tracts of land and livestock.

By 1836 the Californios begin to concentrate on politics, again. Californios, under Jaun B. Alvarado's command, marched upon the capitol of Monetery and force Governor Gutierrez to surrender. The Governor and several Mexican officials are deported by the Californios back to Mexico. California is declared a "free and sovereign state" within the Mexican Republic with autonomy in its personal affairs. In 1837 Mexico concedes and Alvardo is officially declared governor of California. For the next 5 years, California does not receive any interference in its affairs from Mexico.

In 1842, Mexico makes one more effort to regain control over the rebellious California, by sending Manuel Micheltorena and an army of cholos (former convicts employed as soldiers). Micheltorena announced his new function as governor and then marched to Monterey. His army commits acts of rape, pillage, and looting against the Californios on the march to Monterey. Governor Alvarado is forced to surrender to Micheltorena, who regains control of California.

By 1845, the Californios-under Alvarado and Jose Castro's command, raise an army and engage in battle with Micheltorena. Micheltorena is defeated and leaves with his army for Mexico. Castro becomes military comandante of California and returns to Monterey and Pio Picos becomes governor of California and governs from Los Angeles.

***Californio and Anglo Relations Sour***

Anglos had been living in California for years and many had taken vows of loyalty to Mexico, the Catholic Church, and married into Californio families. Generally, things went well between the Anglos and Californios. Until a US military officer, John C Fremont, arrived in California in late 1845. Fremont and his force of 60 men were in California on a exploratory expedition. Instead of map-making, Fremont wanted to make mischief.
After making an agreement with Comandante Castro that he was only going to stay in the San Joaquin Valley for winter than head north to Oregon. Fremont loitered in the Santa Clara Valley then headed towards the coast and Monterey. When Castro demanded that Fremont keep his word, Fremont rode to Gavilan Peak then raised an US flag and vowed to fight to the last man to defend it. Castro then proceeded to raise volunteers and threaten Fremont's position. After 3 days and not a shot being fired, Fremont went north into Oregon.
Fremont had left California and California was left in turmoil...

***The Bear Flag Republic and Revolt***

Wild rumors spread in Fremont's absence. Rumors that an angry Castro was to order out all Anglos from California, Castro was organizing an army to do it by force, he had ordered the indians to destroy their homes, fields, and even massacre them. With relations quickly souring, Fremont rides back into California and encourages a group of American settlers near the town of Marysville Buttes to seize a group of Castro's soldiers and their horses that they just requisitioned from Mariano Vallejo in Sonoma. Another group, without Fremont's knowledge or support, decided that with the rumored threats of possible expulsion and violence against them--that it was time for action. They seize the presidio of Sonoma and capture Mariano Vallejo. As Vallejo was to sent Sutter's fort as a prisoner, William B. Ide was chosen Commander and Chief. He proclaimed the creation of the Bear Flag Republic.
After, the Republic was proclaimed, a flag was adopted. William Todd is credited with creating the flag from muslin donated by a Californio woman. Todd drew a a star (most likely to emulate the lone star on the Texas flag), a grizzly bear (the most powerful predator in California and an animal that stood its ground in a fight), and painted a red strip at the base of the flag with the words "CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC."
Castro was not amused and near the town of Olompai, a group of Bear-Flaggers routed a force, twice their size, that was sent by Castro to defeat them. Soon after, the Bear-Flaggers were able to place in the field a force of 250 while Castro could only muster 200.
For the Republic, things were going well...

***The United States Invasion and Occupation***

Until Fremont and his men arrived in Sonoma on July 5th. Fremont seized control of the Bear Flag Republic by making Ide sign a proclamation making Fremont the Commander and Chief of the Republic and it's military. He presses the Bear flag military, including Ide, into his unit and calls it the "California Battalion." Unknown to everyone in California, the US and Mexico are at war and US military invade and occupy Monterey on July 7th. On July 9th US forces reach Sonoma and lower the Bear Flag Republic's flag and replaced it with a US flag. As the Bear Flag was being lowered by US Navy Lt. Joseph W. Revere, grandson of Paul Revere, it gets caught several times on the flag pole. Witnessing this was midshipman John Montgomery who would later write to his family that the bear on the flag "came down grumbling".


Most accounts give credit to Gracia Montalvo's myth titled "Las Sergas de Esplandian" written in about 1510 to be the inspiration for the Spanish explorers giving California it's name.

Know ye that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very near the Terrestial Paradise and inhabited by black women without a single man among them and living in the manner of Amazons. They are robust of body, strong and passionate in heart, and of great valor. Their island is one of the most rugged in the world with bold rocks and crags. Their arms are all of gold, as is the harness of the wild beasts which, after taming, they ride. In all the island there is no other metal...
In this Island called California, which the great roughness of the land and multitude of wild animals, are griffins the like of which are not found in any part of the world...Any male who comes to the island is killed and eaten by the griffins...

History sources: "Pioneers of California: true stories of early settlers in the Golden State" by Donovan Lewis, "California: an illustrated history" by T.H. Watkins

This is the modern version of the Bear Flag. It is this version of the Bear Flag of 1846 that California designated as the official flag of California in 1911.


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