By: Ben Ford
The Bear Flag Revolt led to California’s independence from Mexico, but it began on the morning of June 14, 1846, as a very Sonoma-centric revolution.
With a motley crew of revolutionaries, sometimes mistaken for pirates, a makeshift flag with a hand-drawn bear and a retired Mexican general inviting his captors inside for drinks, where else could the Bear Flag Revolt have begun but Sonoma?
The 55th annual Bear Flag Celebration will begin 11 a.m., Saturday, June 10, at Sonoma Plaza at the Bear Flag Monument. Click here for details.
Stories vary from account to account, but most agree on the basic details of the Bear Flag Revolt.
A small group of Americans, worried Mexico would push them out of the then-Mexican territory of California, decided to take action after meeting with U.S. Army Brevet Capt. John C. Fremont with a 62-man exploration expedition.
On the morning of June 14, 1846, 33 Americans, many of them roughly dressed mountain men, arrived in Sonoma, home of an abandoned Mexican military outpost. The men surrounded the home of retired Mexican Gen. Mariano Vallejo, who invited a group of the men inside and servants served drinks.
Negotiations went on at length, and Vallejo, who favored annexation of California by the United States, told the men he supported their cause. However, the men believed they were under orders from Fremont to take him captive.
An early leader of the California revolt, William Ide, urged the small group of men in Sonoma to start the Republic of California. A makeshift flag with a red stripe at the bottom made from the donated section of a petticoat, and with a badly drawn bear that looked more like a hog, flew over the outpost. But the Bear Flag rallied about 100 Californians from across the region, and when Mexico attempted to retake Sonoma on June 24, 1846, the revolutionaries won, suffering two dead to Mexico’s five or six casualties.
Less than a month later, on July 9, the U.S. military occupied the Sonoma outpost, and the Republic of California ended. The U.S. military marched throughout California planting the flag, with more fighting occurring between officers than with the Mexicans, according to many accounts.
The Bear Flag Revolt moved California one step closer to becoming the 31st state in the Union on September 9, 1850.