California State Flag: History, Design, Trivia
DATE FIRST USED
California State Flag
June 14, 1846 (officially adopted 1911)
The Bear Flag
A white field with a red, five-pointed star in the canton and a brown grizzly bear facing toward the hoist side with all four paws on a green grass plot and head and eye turned slightly toward the observer; a red stripe forms the length of the flag at the bottom, and between the grass plot and the red stripe appear the words "California Republic" in upper-case letters.
Symbols: A California grizzly bear and a single red, five-pointed star. The bear symbolizes strength and unyielding resistance; the star was a reference to the California Lone Star flag, which itself referenced the lone star on the flag of the Texas Republic.
Colors: White, red, light brown, dark brown, and green.
Proportions: The size of the bear is 2/3 the size of the hoist width.The hoist or flag width is two-thirds of the fly or flag length; the red stripe width is one-sixth of the hoist width. The height of the condensed gothic letters, as shown on the representation, is one-half of the red stripe width and they occupy a lineal space of two-thirds of the fly length with the beginning and ending letters of the words equidistant from the fly ends.
The use of the word "Republic" on the Golden State's flag may seem curious, but review California's contentious history and the reasons behind it become immediately clear. California had been part of Mexico since Mexican independence in 1821, as the department of Alta California (it was previously under the control of Spain). In 1836, rebels captured Monterey and declared California "a free and sovereign state." While this rebellion against Mexico ultimately failed, it did inspire the design of California's first flag, The Lone Star Flag. This design featured a single red star on a white background, and was inspired by the flag of the Texas Republic.
The exact creation date of the Bear Flag is unclear. William L. Todd, a nephew of Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd, designed the first Bear Flag, and U. S. Naval Lieutenant John Missroon reported the flag's existence as of June 17, 1846. In a 1878 letter, Todd states that the star was drawn using blackberry juice and was an homage to the California Lone Star Flag.
On June 14, 1846, a small band of settlers marched on the Mexican garrison at Sonoma and issued a proclamation, declaring California to be a republic independent of Mexico. This uprising became known as the Bear Flag Revolt. The flag only flew until July 9, 1846, when it was learned that Mexico and the United States were already at war (see Legends, Controversies, and Trivia section below). Soon after, the Bear Flag was replaced with the American Stars and Stripes. The State Legislature finally adopted the Bear Flag as the official state flag in 1911.
Within the state of California, the Bear Flag should occupy a position of honor when displayed (except in the instance when it is displayed along with the United States flag). It should be raised briskly and lowered slowly. It is customary to only display the flag from sunrise to sunset. If displayed at night, it should be illuminated. The flag should not be carried flat or horizontally, and should always be attached to a staff. The flag should never be used to cover a display, speaker's desk, or platform. When displayed alongside the U.S. flag from a separate flagpole, both flags should be of equal size and the flagpoles of equal length. The U.S. flag should be raised first and lowered last. The Bear Flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as will permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
LEGENDS, CONTROVERSIES, AND TRIVIA
On July 9, 1846, Navy Lt. Joseph Warren Revere arrived in Sonoma and lowered the Bear Flag, replacing it with the Stars and Stripes. This flag was given to young John E. Montgomery (who would later write in a letter to his mother "Cuffy [the bear] came down growling.") In 1848, Montgomery returned with the U.S.S. Portsmouth to the East Coast, bringing the historic flag with him. In 1855 it was returned to California, gifted to California's two senators at the time, John B. Weller and William M. Gwin. The Bear Flag was donated to the Society of California Pioneers on September 8, 1855, and was preserved at the Society's Pioneer Halls in San Francisco until it was destroyed on April 18, 1906, in the fires that followed the great San Francisco earthquake. Today, a replica hangs on display in the Sonoma Barracks, or El Presidio de Sonoma. There is also a statue in the plaza of Sonoma, California, commemorating the raising of the flag, the Bear Flag Monument.
The bear that inspired the design of California's current Bear Flag was modeled on the last wild California Grizzly Bear in captivity, named Monarch. It was captured at Samhain by reporter Allen Kelley at the behest of California newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and subsequently moved to Woodward's Gardens in San Francisco. After Monarch's death in 1911, the bear was preserved at the California Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park.