Americans and the Bear Flag Republic by Ella M. Sexton
While Spain owned Mexico and the two Californias, the Missions were at
their best and grew rich in stores of grain and in cattle and horses.
Almost all the people were Spanish or Indians, and they lived at the
Missions or in ranches near by. But when Mexico in 1822 refused to be
ruled by Spain, Alta or Upper California became a Mexican territory,
and, later on, a republic with governors sent from Mexico. The Mission
Padres did not like the change, and thought that Spain should still
own the New World. Before long it was ordered that the Missions should
be turned into pueblos, or towns, and that the Padres were no longer
to make slaves of the Indians. The missionaries were to stay as
priests, and to teach the Indians in schools, but the Mission lands
were to be divided so that each Indian family might have a small farm
to cultivate. From that time the Missions began to decay and were
finally given up to ruin.
Then Americans began to come in, the first party of hunters and
trappers travelling from Salt Lake City to the San Gabriel Mission.
All kept talking of the rich country where farming was so easy, and
they wished to have land. But the Mexicans and the native Californians
did not believe in allowing the Americans, as they called all the
people from the Eastern states, to take up their farming lands and
hunt and trap the wild animals. So there was much quarrelling. But the
Americans still poured in, got land grants, and built houses.
In 1836, though Alta California declared itself a free state, and no
longer looked to Mexico for support, Mexican rule still continued. The
United States had wanted California for a long time, and had tried to
buy it from Mexico. The fine bay and harbor of San Francisco, known
to be the best along the coast, was especially needed by the United
States as a place to shelter or repair ships on their way to the
Oregon settlements. England also wanted this bay, but the Californians
tried to keep every one out of their country.
Among the Americans who came overland and across the Rocky Mountains
about this time was John C. Fremont, a surveyor and engineer, who was
called the "Pathfinder." On his third trip to the Pacific Coast in '46
he wished to spend the winter near Monterey, with his sixty hunters
and mountaineers. Castro, the Mexican general, ordered him to leave
the country at once, but Fremont answered by raising the American flag
over his camp. As Castro had more men, Fremont did not think it wise
to fight, but marched away, intending to go north to Oregon. He turned
back in the Klamath country on account of snow and Indians, as he
said, and camped where the Feather River joins the Sacramento. It
is almost certain that Fremont wished to provoke Castro and the
Californians into war, and so to capture the country for the United
A party of Fremont's men rode down to Sonoma, where there was a
Mission, and also a presidio with a few cannon in charge of General
Vallejo. These men captured the place and sent Vallejo and three
other prisoners back to Fremont's camp. Then the independent Americans
concluded to have a new republic of their own, and a flag also. So
they made the famous "Bear-flag" of white cloth, with a strip of red
flannel sewed on the lower edge, and on the white they painted in
red a large star and a grizzly bear, and also the words "California
Republic." They then raised the flag over the Bear-flag Republic. Many
Americans joined their party, but when the American flag went up at
Monterey, the stars and stripes replaced the bear-flag.
At this time the United States and Mexico were at war on account
of Texas, and Commodore Sloat was in charge of the warships on the
Pacific Coast. The commodore had been told to take Alta California,
if possible; so, sailing to Monterey, he raised the stars and stripes
there in July, 1846, and ended Mexican power forever. The American
flag flew at the San Francisco Presidio two days later, and also at
Sonoma, Sutter's Fort, or wherever there were Americans. The flag was
greeted with cheers and delight. Then Commodore Sloat turned the naval
force over to Stockton and returned home, leaving all quiet north of
Commodore Stockton sent Fremont and his men to San Diego and, taking
four hundred soldiers, went himself to Los Angeles, where the native
Californians and Mexicans were determined to fight against the rule of
the United States. General Castro and his men and Governor Pico,
the last of the Mexican governors, were driven out of the country.
Stockton then declared that Upper and Lower California were to be
known as the "Territory of California."
In less than a month, however, the Californians in the south gathered
their forces again and took Los Angeles. General Kearny was sent out
with what was called the "army of the west," to assist Fremont and
Stockton in settling the trouble. Peace was declared after several
battles, and Kearny acted as governor of the new territory, displacing
Fremont. At last, by the treaty which closed the Mexican war in 1848
Alta California became the property of the United States, and Lower
California was left to Mexico.
From that time there was peace and quiet, and before long the
discovery of gold brought the new territory into great importance. The
rush to the gold mines brought thousands of men, and as no government
had been provided for the territory, Governor Riley in '49 called a
convention to form a plan of government.
This Constitutional Convention of delegates from each of California's
towns met in Monterey. The constitution there drawn up lasted for
thirty years, and under it our great state was built up. It declared
that no slavery should ever be allowed here, and settled the present
eastern boundary line.
The first Thanksgiving Day for the territory was set by Governor
Riley, in '49. The first governor elected by California voters was
Burnett, and in the first legislature Fremont and Gwin were chosen
as senators. Congress at last admitted California into the Union by
passing the California bill. On September 9, 1850, President Fillmore
signed the bill.
Every year on the 9th of September, or "Admission Day," we therefore
keep our state's birthday. At San Jose, in '99, a Jubilee Day was
held in remembrance of the beginning of state government fifty years before.