The Day California Became a Republic For 25 Days
In Sonoma California, June 14, 1846, a group of U.S. settlers proclaimed the Republic of California in what was Mexican territory. For 24 sweet days, the Republic of California was an unrecognized and poorly organized breakaway state covering much of the western United States.
When it failed, everyone moved to Silicon Valley to invest in tech startups. There were a few years in between those events, like 150 or so, but it’s basically the story of California.
For all the aspirations of the People’s Republic of California, the Mexican-American War would steal their thunder. The state of California would take elements of their rebellious flag for the state flag in later years. Surf companies would borrow that same design for cool t-shirts.
In other words, in true Californian style, the Republic was an interesting idea that had no legs to it, but that didn’t stop everyone else from monopolizing the best parts of it.
When the settlers of modern-day Sonoma first painted bears on flags in the name of revolution, there were already a growing number of westwardly mobile Americans taking up residence in the area.
Sure, it was Mexico technically, but it wasn’t like Mexico today. There was no population density, not outside of settlements like (big inhale) El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula. That’s what folks used to call L.A.
Back then, there was no border patrol making sure everyone had a passport. There were no walls of any sort, but if there had been, they would have been built north to south, keeping the Americans in the east.
The Mexicans knew Europeans had settled in northern parts of Mexico. They were already suspicious of these settler’s intentions, that they had no intentions of becoming Mexican citizens, but were part of the American reconnaissance forces.
Mexico already suspected those settlers would try to claim the western coast as part of the United States. What they didn’t see coming was the establishment of something apart from the United States altogether.
Bear Flag Revolt
Mexico was already braced for war. In 1846, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. Some of the American residents in California feared a (to put it in modern terms) pre-emptive strike from Mexico.
Goaded to action by a mouthy young officer, John C. Fremont, 30 settlers led by William Idea and Ezekiel Merritt surrounded the home of Marian Vallejo. He was the retired Mexican General living near Sonoma.
Ide arrested Vallejo, then he and Merritt declared California an independent republic. They painted a red bear and a star on a makeshift flag made from a cotton sheet.
The star was a nod to the Lone Star Republic of Texas. The bear was a nod to the many grizzly’s seen around the state, an uncompromising creature who took what he wanted.
Bigger Events Afoot
The Bear Flag Revolt started on June 14, but the United States had declared war on Mexico back on May 13, the same year. The Bear Flaggers didn’t know that a much larger battle had eclipsed their efforts.
The goals of the Bear Flaggers and the larger United States were the same, to make California free of Mexico. By July 9th, many of the men in the revolt joined the soldiers of the U.S. Army on the front lines against Mexico.
Everyone knows how that war ended. California joined the United States as a state in 1850, but it wasn’t until 1911 when the bear flag came back. Similar to the original, the state of California bear flag featured a bear and a star, with a red stripe along the bottom. It even bears the words “California Republic.”