Republic of California
The acquisition of California by the United States was the result of one of those spasms of territorial expansion that seemed at certain periods to take hold of the American body politic. It had been for several years a foregone conclusion in the minds of the leading politicians of the then dominant party that the manifest destiny of California was to become United States territory. The United States must have a Pacific boundary, and those restless nomads, the pioneers of the west, must have new country to colonize. England or France might at any time seize the country ; and, as Mexico must eventually lose California, it were better that the United States should possess it than some European power. All that was wanting for the United States to seize and appropriate it was a sufficient provocation by the Mexican government.
The Bear Flag Republic of 1846 has been accorded much attention — perhaps more than the episode merited — but this was not the first California republic. One of the most brilliant and dashing representatives of the Hispano-Californian days was Juan B. Alvarado, who became dissatisfied with the almost anarchic conditions of the Mexican rule in 1836 and placed himself at the head of the first California republic. But this was short-lived, as indeed was the Bear Flag Republic of later date; for Alvarado prudently made overtures to the Mexican central government, and was in a little while formally recognized as legitimate governor.
After the adoption of liberal colonization laws by the Mexican government in 1824, there set in a steady drift of Americans to California. At first they came by sea, but after the opening of the overland route in 1841 they came in great numbers by land. It was a settled conviction in the minds of these adventurous nomads that the manifest destiny of California was to become a part of the United States, and they were only too willing to aid destiny when an opportunity offered. The opportunity came and it found them ready for it. Jedediah Smith led the first trapping party overland to California in 1826. This was significant as signalizing the historic extension of the American frontier and as typifying the great westward movement in the development of the United States. Of even more profound significance to later civilization was the entrance into California of the first regular overland immigrant train, in the year 1841. Indeed that year marks the departure from "the States" of two parties, leaving Independence, Missouri, May 6, and breaking the way to California by separate routes.
The first party, under Captain Bartleson, comprised sixty-nine persons, including men, women, and children. They opened the trail by way of Salt Lake for a series of immigrant trains to California that is quite unprecedented in the world's history. The second division proceeded by the middle or Santa Fe route to the Los Angeles country, under the leadership of William (Billy) Workman, afterwards for many years a prominent citizen of Los Angeles.
The first gold found in California is said to have been picked up near Saugus, about thirty miles northwest of Los Angeles, in the year 1834. It is certain that gold in small quantities was found in the Los Angeles region as early as 1841; and there are several distinct records of the presence of gold previous to the epoch-making discovery by James Marshall 24 January 1848.
On the 14th of June, 1846, a body of American settlers from the Napa and Sacramento valleys, thirty-three in number, took possession of the old castillo or fort at Sonoma, with its rusty muskets and unused cannon. William B. Ide was elected captain of the revolutionists who remained at Sonoma, to “hold the fort.” He issued a pronunciamento full of bombast, bad English and worse orthography. He declared California a free and independent state, under the name of the California Republic.
A nation must have a flag of its own, so one was improvised. When the Thirty-three Immortals in Pueblo Sonoma, 14 June 1846, found themselves a full-grown State with no flag to fit it, they made one, as they had made their commonwealth — immediately and with the material at hand. The result was the Bear Flag. It was a domestic production, and it was not inglorious, if home-made.
It was made of a piece of cotton cloth, or manta, a yard wide and five feet long. Strips of red flannel torn from an old petticoat that had crossed the plains were stitched on the manta for stripes. With a blacking brush, or, as another authority says, the end of a chewed stick for a brush, and redberry juice for paint, William L. Todd painted the figure of a grizzly bear rampant on the field of the flag. The natives called Todd’s bear “cochino” — a pig; it resembled that animal more than a bear. A five-pointed star in the left upper corner, painted with the same coloring matter, and the words, “California Republic,” printed on it in ink, completed the famous bear-flag.
In the knightly diction of heraldry the Bear Flag is: A grizzly passant on field argent; star at right dexter point; legend "California Republic" in lower half; horizontal bar gules from base to base. The single star is a reflex of the lone luminary that lighted Texas in the night of her deadly struggle, and the red colonial bar along the lower edge of the white cloth represents the California Republic's single colony.
As an armorial bearing the bear is a suitable choice. Often he has been met on his eminent domain, and as a true native son, representative of the wild west, he qualified. His ordinarily mild manner and willingness to be let alone, also his latent prowess in argument when driven to the battle point, are well known. His high moral and physical standing in the animal settlements of the American continent made him socially fit for a place on anybody's flag. Los Osos — the bears — the Californians called the Americans.
Its adoption by the California Republic June 14, 1846, made its anniversary identical with that of the ensign that supplanted it, as June 14, 1777, Congress adopted the thirteen stars and the thirteen stripes as the national flag. Its adoption by the Native Sons, June 8, 1880, makes it the standard of their order, and its adoption by the Legislature, March 3, 1911, makes it the State Flag.
The California Republic was ushered into existence June 14, 1846, attained the acme of its power July 4, when Ide and his fellow-patriots burnt a quantity of powder in salutes, and fired off oratorical pyrotechnics in honor of the new republic. It utterly collapsed on the 9th of July, after an existence of twenty-five days, when news reached Sonoma that Commodore Sloat had raised the stars and stripes at Monterey and taken possession of California in the name of the United States.
Commodore John Drake Sloat with his squadron had beaten Admiral Seymour's British fleet in the sea-race from Mazatlan, but the Yankee naval officer was lying at anchor in the harbor of Monterey, hesitating to take possession of the port and the entire territory. He had heard rumors of war being on between Mexico and the United States, but he feared to move before he had received official confirmation of the news. And well he might hesitate. His predecessor, Commodore Ap Catesby Jones, four years previously, placed in like position, had raised his flag over the old adobe custom house in that city, and had to haul the colors down the next day, learning that he had been too abrupt. His indiscretion brought about his recall, to appease angry Mexico. Hence Sloat's timidity. As a matter of fact, the two republics were then at war. though this was unknown on the Pacific coast.
Captain John Charles Fremont — the famous "Pathfinder" — surveying across the continent, had received secret instructions from the administration — instructions that were verbal and have never been filed or published—to use his own judgment, taking all responsibility, even concealing the participancy of the National Government, and forestall any occupancy of California by France or Great Britain. He sent the Bear Flag party to Sonoma, and when Sloat heard of the work in that pueblo and of Fremont's actions in other portions of the territory, he concluded that the "Pathfinder" was acting officially. Then the naval commander took possession of Monterey and directed Montgomery in the "Portsmouth" to possess Yerba Buena, also to raise the American ensign at Sonoma.
Sloat was severely reprimanded by the Navy Department, the administration holding that his timidity with the British fleet in the vicinity ready to work in conjunction with the annexation scheme of the Mexican government, jeopardized the claims and intentions of the United States. Alas, poor Sloat. He was punished for doing too little, while Jones received the same punishment for doing too much—on the same job.
Alex Abella wrote: "... a band of thieves, drunks and murderers hoisted a home-made flag and declared themselves in revolt from a government that had welcomed them. Instigated by an expansionist neighboring power, the rebels aimed to take over completely and impose their language, culture and mores on the land. The revolt succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. .... Ezekiel Merrit, was described by historian H.H. Bancroft as “an unprincipled, whiskey drinking, quarrelsome fellow.” Known as Stuttering Merrit, he was a thief who in 1848 reportedly stole 200 pounds of gold from his business partner. William Todd, who designed the flag, came from a family of Kentucky slave owners (his aunt was Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln's wife). The group's first lieutenant, Henry L. Ford, was a U.S. Army deserter who had impersonated his brother to escape detection. Sam Kelsey, the second lieutenant, along with his brother Ben, was a genocidal maniac who killed hundreds of Pomo Indians in Clear Lake. Americans visiting their ranch reported that “it was not an uncommon thing for them to shoot an Indian just for the fun of seeing him jump.”"
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