The flag of the state of California was adopted on April 30, 1911. It is a rectangular flag with a white background. The flag is known as the “Bear Flag” because it features a bear on a patch of grass in the center of the flag. Above the bear image, in the upper left corner is a red lone star. Below the bear reads “California Republic” and a red horizontal stripe lines the bottom edge of the flag.
The Bear Flag’s origins date back to 1846, when California was part of Mexico and known as Alta California. Tensions were building between Mexicans and Americans in Alta California as Americans settlers began moving in masses to the region. Americans residing in California became increasingly concerned that Mexican government officials would act against them.
Tensions came to a peak in 1846 when U.S. explorer John C. Fremont and a group of about sixty men snuck into Mexico and built a fort on Gavilan Peak in March 1846. Fremont eventually retreated, leaving California for a few months, during which the United States declared war on Mexico.
Fremont returned to California in June 1846, and on June 10, he and a small group of Americans living in the San Francisco Bay area captured Mexican Lieutenant Francisco Arce and his horses. The American insurgents then traveled to Sonoma, gathering several more Americans to participate on their way, seized control of the area, and took several Mexican men as prisoners. During this time, the American insurgents created the “Bear Flag” as a banner for their operation and began calling themselves the “Bear Flaggers.” The Bear Flag revolt ended on July 9, 1846 when a U.S. flag was raised in Sonoma. California officially became part of the United States in 1850.
The original version of the bear flag was slightly different than the current flag. The white background and red stripe along the bottom of the flag were present in the original version. The red lone star in the upper left corner is significantly larger on the original flag. The bear is orange in the original version and is placed in the upper region of the flag without a patch of grass underneath. “California Republic” appears higher on the flag in the original version.
The Bear Flag continued to be used by native Californians, particularly by the Native Sons and Native Daughters of the Golden West (NSGW and NDGW, respectively). As a result of their advocacy for the Bear Flag to be adopted as California’s first State Flag, the flag became official in 1911.