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Sonoma Bear Flag Revolt

The infamous Bear Flag Revolt—in which a California Republic was first declared—took place in the town of Sonoma.

In the mid-1800s, American Pioneers were pouring into California in search of paradise. And, as more and more newcomers came, tensions grew between them and the established, Mexican, residents. The settlers were always jittery that they would get kicked out at any moment, and rumors were always flying around that Mexico was on the verge of doing just that. In the summer of 1846, another such rumor started making the rounds. This time, a ragtag group of settlers got together and decided to confront General Vallejo, who was in charge of much of what is now Sonoma County.

They rode into Sonoma and surrounded his house by the plaza. The leader of the discontents went in to talk terms. He didn’t come out. Several hours later, another man went in to investigate. He didn’t come out. Finally, a third man went in, and discovered the problem: General Vallejo had offered his two would-be captors some of his good brandy and wine and the three men were sitting around drinking. But, eventually, they returned to the situation at hand. And Vallejo and several of his family members were kidnapped and taken to Sacramento.

In the meantime, the rebels who stayed in Sonoma proclaimed a “California Republic.” They made a flag out of some unbleached cotton they found. And a man named William L. Todd, who seems to have been a nephew of Abraham Lincoln, created an image of a bear using some paint he happened upon. (Some of the bystander said the bear looked more like a pig.) The bear flag flew over Sonoma for 22 days. But the conflict became a part of the larger Mexican-American war. And when the United States eventually won, Mexico ceded California to the U.S. The original flag was later destroyed in the 1906 Great Earthquake. But, its spirit lives on. California ended up adopting the bear image for its state flag and it can be seen flying throughout California today.