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When the Bear First Flew

Our current state flag flies side by side with the Stars and Stripes
Today I learned that my home state used to be its own country. Any guesses on how long the great nation of California was in existence? All of about 24 days. Yes, I realize that that is not even a month but it is an interesting story nonetheless.

The year is 1846 and the story is of California being conquered not once, but twice by the Americans. California was Mexican-controlled at the time, but without a strong presence of Mexican authority. Californios (no, not a type of cereal but rather those who were born in California) knew that others such as the United States had their eye on the state. The number of Americans who were settled in California was small but growing. A group of them decided they wanted to take over the state and make it an independent republic. On June 14, thirty-three men stormed the Sonoma "fort" where the most powerful Californio, General Mariano Vallejo, lived. Vallejo was not too concerned and didn't even put up a fight. He knew that Mexican rule was not very strong, and was actually hoping the United States would come take control. The American rebels arrested Vallejo and sent him to Sutter's Fort.

Surprised at how easy their victory was, the Americans were at a temporary loss as to what to do next. Some people suggested looting the fort, but one of the men-William Ide-stepped up and made a plea for peace. They decided instead to raise a new flag over the plaza to show they had taken over.

The flag was made from a piece of white cotton and had a grizzly bear painted on it. The bear was meant to be intimidating although many amused Sonoma natives thought it looked more like a pig. In the upper corner they painted a star to show California's support of Texas, which had also been fighting for independence from Mexico. I guess we were just imitating the Lone Star State, but I won't tell my Texas friends that. At the bottom of the flag were a red band and the words California Republic. For all you California residents out there, does this sound familiar? Our current state flag is modeled after the original Bear Flag (with a more refined grizzly that hopefully doesn't look so much like a pig).

After the flag was raised and the republic was declared, William Ide took control as the first and only president of the nation of California. So the name Ide may not be quite as familiar as that of George Washington. Okay, I'll be honest-I had never heard of him until now, even though I live in California. Irene and I did manage to visit Ide's home up in Red Bluff in the north of the state. Although he may not have achieved great fame, rest assured that good old William indeed had a nice little place by the Sacramento River.


Home Sweet home! What I have missed about California...

Captain John C. Fremont, a famous western explorer, arrived in Sonoma and announced his support of the Bear Flaggers. Unknown to everyone at the time, the United States in its desire for more land had declared war with Mexico. Before the new republic could really take hold, the American Navy arrived and raised the United States flag. The Bear Flag was taken down, although some people said it came down "grumbling." Fremont's party and the California settlers under his command were taken into naval service under Commodore Stockton to help capture the rest of the state. So much for the independent republic. After the end of the Mexican War and discovery of gold in 1848, California was well on its way to becoming the 31st state of the union.

Yet as I mentioned before, the bear flag is still the state symbol and flies over the capitol in Sacramento. And although William Ide didn't quite make it into our history books, there are other names from that time that I see around me.

I live near Fremont Road and Fremont High School, where one of my best friends Shauna went to school. Vallejo and Stockton are cities not so far away. I never really gave a second thought as to where those names come from. But hey, you learn something new everyday-especially when you are a U.S. trekker! Of course, I wonder what California would be like if it still was its own independent republic. Or what would happen if the state decided tomorrow to go after its freedom again and raise a new flag? If you were declaring your own nation, what kind of flag would you want to fly over it? Knowing me, I would probably make something disgustingly cheesy and happy. Who needs the Bear Flag Republic when you can have Neda's Sunflower Nation? It's a good thing I'm not in charge, huh?

But back to the matter at hand. What would the country of California look like today? California does have the largest population in the U.S.-we even have more people than Canada. (let me tell you, the traffic definitely shows it). The city of Los Angeles itself has a bigger population than 25 of the other states. If California was its own nation, it would have the 6th largest economy in the world (placing in between England and Italy). Plus, you can't forget all the crops that are grown here; this state is the leading producer in the U.S. of such crops as lemons, strawberries, broccoli and garlic (we have a garlic festival in a nearby town called Gilroy where you can try such things as garlic ice cream!). California is also the only producer in the country of such yummy foods as grapes, almonds, artichokes, olives and kiwi. So does this mean I think California should secede from the United States? Should we take all of our millions of people and distance ourselves from the rest of the U.S.? Should we hoard all of our wealth and our crops and sit around eating California cheese and sipping California wine while munching on a handful of California almonds and comparing garlic breath?

Something tells me that may not be the best idea. We can keep our bear flag flying, but hey, there are some pretty cool perks of having those Stars and Stripes as well.


Please email me at: neda@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - The Alamo's top tall tales
Nick - A dreamer dodges the border patrol
Becky - Henry David Thoreau, busted! And a nonviolent political tool is born
Nick - The winning, er, uh, wresting away, of the West
Stephanie - The King Ranch, just another slice of corporate American pie?
MAD - English only? No, nyet, nein!