Things were tense on the West Coast in 1846. California was Mexican territory, but American settlers were a growing population. Mexico had reason to worry. They had already lost Texas to rebellion. When word reached California that a Mexican-American war was approaching, the California Americans were concerned the Mexican army might strike them first.
American army officer John Fremont was in California with a few soldiers, there to explore and make surveys. With his encouragement, the settlers formed militias and prepared to revolt. About 30 Americans took control of the Mexican outpost of Sonoma, and declared California an independent republic. They made a flag from a cotton sheet and paint, displaying a grizzly bear, a lone red star, the words “California Republic,” and a stripe at the bottom. From that point on, the rebellion was known as the Bear Flag Revolt.
The rebels won a few skirmishes. Then Fremont took command of the Bear Flaggers, occupying San Francisco. Within a week, American forces controlled California.
In 1850, California joined the Union as the 31st state, but the Bear Flag of the California Republic lived on. Its original form is still flown, and in 1911 it was modified and adopted as California’s state flag.
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