Robin Camille Davis
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California's Bear Flag

August 31, 2010
Tags: history

This is a photo of a photo of the original California flag, raised in Sonoma in June 1846. It was created for the Bear Flag Revolt, a 26-day rebellion staged by Anglo settlers in California against the Mexican government (since CA was Mexican territory at the time). An independent "California Republic" was declared, with a president (William B. Ide) and everything. It was all a big to-do and hullaboo, but the rebels soon found out that the US had declared war on Mexico over a month earlier.

Bear Flag rebels: "Oh."

And US forces soon occupied the territory. The president of the short-lived California Republic ended up enlisting as a private. Following a series of battles and sieges, California was ceded to the US in January of the following year. The Bear Flag Revolt's "sole legacy" (according to a pretty smug Wikipedia) was the flag itself.

The bear on the flag has been redrawn as variously stantat (standing either on four feet or up on two like some kind of bear-person) or en passant (walking, likely toward freedom and/or crippling budget deficits). The red stripe, originally painted with a mixture of berry juice and brick dust, has remained. The early bears look pretty pathetic, more like marmots than anything fierce or intimidating. Thankfully the bear's been redone.

More on the various flags of California here at this website curated by a retired history teacher.