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The Story of the California Republic Bear

The Story of the California Republic Bear

If you’ve explored our store here at United Streets of Art, you’ll note that one of our themes on our leather passport holders, phone cases, cool luggage tags and other merchandise is the California Republic bear. The story of this bear is fascinating and has a long history…

The bear flag is the official flag of California State. In its current form, it was adopted by the California State Legislature as the official flag in 1911. The history of the flag, however, goes back much further than this.

There was an event in June and July 1846 called the Bear Flag Revolt. Prior to this time, California was Mexican territory. The Mexican government had been concerned about the upcoming Mexican–American war, and there was an influx of American immigrants into California; the Mexican government suspected they would seek to annex California to the Union.

A small group of American immigrants mounted a rebellion against the Mexican government of the region, staging a revolt in Sonoma which was a primarily defenseless Mexican outpost, and proclaimed Alta California to be an independent republic. (Ironically, the Mexican general who was captured and made a prisoner of war, Mariano Vallejo, was a supporter of American annexation). The Bear Flag was raised by the insurgent Americans in Sonoma, and the area to the north of San Francisco Bay became an unrecognized breakaway state.

No civil structure was ever established in the republic, and within weeks the American military came in and took over, occupying California. California became part of the Union in 1850, by which time the state had been lost to America by its original Mexican owners.

The original Grizzly bear flag was designed by Peter Storm prior to June 1846. Later versions were designed by William Todd, cousin of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. The bear resembled an American black bear more than a Grizzly.

California Republic Flag

Original Flag

The bear on the modern version of the flag is said to have been modeled on Monarch, the last Californian Grizzly bear in captivity. Monarch was captured in 1889 at the behest of William Randolph Hearst, moved to Woodwards Gardens in San Francisco, and ultimately resided in Golden Gate Park zoo until he died in 1911. His remains were mounted and preserved.


The bear flag also features a lone red star. This represents the Lone Star of California, a flag dating to 1836. The bear represents strength and unyielding resistance – which made California what it is today. The star represents sovereignty, red courage and white background purity.

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