Unique in the history of the world is the true story of The Bear Flag Republic in California. From June 14, 1846, until the ninth day of the succeeding month of July, a period of twenty-six days, there existed in California what was, to all intents and purposes, a separate and distinct nation with a republican form of Government and a flag of its own emblazoned with a lone star and a painted image of a Grizzly bear. The official name of the Government was ” The Republic of California,” but it is popularly known as “The Bear Flag Republic.” The new nation was established by an armed force consisting of twenty-four men, and the entire history of the affair, short but vivid as it is, probably stands without parallel.
There is no chapter in the history of California that has a more familiar sound to the ear than the chapter of this “Bear Flag Republic,” yet the truth concerning it, not to speak of its intensely interesting details, is only vaguely familiar to most people. There is a great deal of misinformation extant in the minds of all except careful students and the historians themselves, concerning a good deal that appertains to the history of California, including both the stir-ring chronicles of the Argonauts and the Missions, but it is when we come to the chronicle of The Bear Flag Republic that we find, perhaps, not so much misinformation as the lack of information altogether. Everybody who lives in California and those who come to visit it, as well as those who read of it at a distance, have heard and know that there was once an uprising in which some Americans took part by raising a “bear flag” at Sonoma, following which there was more or less fighting with the native Californians. But that is about as far as the general information goes.
Moreover, it is found that among those who presume to be informed intelligently and as fully as may be on this famous episode in California’s history, that there is considerable dispute as to the real facts. The subject has been the theme of endless controversies. The descendants of the Mexicans who were known as “Californians” at the time of The Bear Flag Re-public say that the coup was merely a foray on the part of crude and irresponsible ruffians who had no high motive in view and who accomplished nothing by actions which they can call by no better name than depredations. On the other hand, the descendants of the early American settlers claim a high place in history for The Bear Flag Republic, and they celebrate each recurring anniversary of its establishment with much oratory, music and the firing of military salutes.
The purpose of this chapter in the present work is to tell the story as it occurred, without prejudice one way or the other, and to equip the reader with a clear and lucid understanding of this little, yet colorful and, in some ways, really important epoch in California’s history.
The episode of The Bear Flag Republic occurred in the summer of the year 1846 and it is essential in advance that conditions in California as they existed at that time be clearly understood.
The dawn of the year 1846 found California still a Province of the Republic of Mexico, with a white population of about ten thousand souls, all told. Included in this population there had come to be a considerable sprinkling of Americans, who were engaged in agricultural pursuits, lumbering and various kinds of trading. It is to be remembered that gold had not yet been discovered, except as note may be taken of the unimportant discoveries made in the south, nor was there then, in the minds of the people, any thought whatever of the possibilities of the existence of gold. The Americans who had drifted in from “The States” came sometimes as sailors, deserting their ships in the lure of the country, or they were men who had crossed the plains and the mountains to the east and north merely in search of undiscovered regions. But however it was that they came, they- were enamored of California and had neither thought nor desire to abandon it.
At this time the affairs of California as a Mexican province were in a very deplorable condition, indeed. Don Pio Pico was the Civil Governor, with his residence near Los Angeles. He seemed to have avoided Monterey, which was still the capital of the Province as it had been from the first settlement in 1769. The military authority was vested in Don Jose Castro, who held power under the title of Comandante General, his rank in the army being Lieutenant-Colonel of Cavalry. These two men were constantly at rivalry, scarcely ever agreeing upon questions of government or authority, and constantly squabbling over a division of an exchequer which was usually little bet-ter than impoverished. Pico, after the secularization and spoliation of the Mission establishments and estates, found himself with no other means of easy revenues, while Castro, as the head of the military establishments of the Province, would have found him-self put to his wit’s end to mobolize an army consisting of more than one hundred men.
It was plain to the Californians, as well as to the Americans and everybody else who were in the Province, that the Republic of Mexico was on its last legs, at least as far as holding possession of California was concerned. Both Pico and Castro appealed in vain, time after time, to the home government to strengthen their hands. It became at last fully apparent that Mexico was to lose California.
For a time Governor Pico and others indulged themselves in the vain hope that they might be able to set up an independent Government, with themselves at its head. Apparently, however, these hopes were soon abandoned and they settled down to the belief that either England, France or the United States would ultimately secure possession of California. Of these three possibilities, all regarded as evil by the Californians, American domination was the most distasteful alternative. There were many who would have welcomed the power of France, but the majority seemed to stand most in favor of England; among these was Pico.
Every day the air was filled with rumors and the people were constantly in a state of nervous excitement and discontent. That England was actively en-gaged with clear-cut and positive plans for the acquisition of California there was ample information, despite the fact that the Monroe Doctrine had been repeatedly reaffirmed. British warships continually hovered along the California coast, waiting for an opening and an opportunity to strike. To what ex-tent France actively engaged in these movements is not quite clear.
Well aware of everything that was going on, the Government of the United States was determined to acquire California when the time came for it to pass from the possession of Mexico. To this end it stationed at Monterey a very able, cautious and courageous diplomatic agent in the person of Thomas O. Larkin, and there appears also to be no doubt that the appearance in California of Capt. John C. Fremont, who was then an officer in the Army, attached to the Department of Topographical Engineers, was for a deeper purpose than that announced, which was that he had been sent out to survey the Rocky Mountain country and the Pacific Coast in the interests of travel and immigration. There was at least one point on which Pico, Castro and all the Californians of Spanish-Mexican origin agreed, and that was an in-tense distrust and hatred of Americans. So, in the midst of all this turmoil, dissension and uncertainty, the American population of California found itself very disagreeably bestowed. The American settlers soon found that they could not look to the Government of the United States to assist them in their aspirations to secure control of California. If they applied to the commander of an American warship that happened to be at Monterey, San Francisco or any other port, they were invariably told that no assistance could be rendered to them for the reason that Mexico and the United States were at peace. But it appears to be quite clear that the Americans were constantly in touch with Fremont and his little party of pathfinders, and that they never failed of a sympathetic audience in that quarter.
Nearly all the Americans living in California in the beginning of the year 1846 were located in the section of country adjacent to the Bay of San Francisco. At the little town of Sonoma, in the lovely valley of The Seven Moons, forty-six miles north of San Francisco, or Yerba Buena, as it was then called, was located what had been for a long time the only really effective Mexican military garrison in the Province of California. The garrison was in command of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. For several years General Vallejo had kept the garrison intact mainly through his own energies and from the proceeds of his private purse. He had at times some well-organized companies of soldiers.
In the summer of 1846 General Vallejo’s garrison had shrunk to a mere handful of men. Still, he was regarded as the representative of the military power of Mexico and his post was looked upon as a fortress. Just before dawn, June 14, 1846, Vallejo was rudely awakened from his peaceful slumbers and, together with his household and his official staff, was placed under arrest by a party of American settlers, who announced that they “had established in connection with others of their fellow citizens of the United States an independent Government based on Republican principles.” This party of Americans consisted of twenty-four men, under the leadership of Capt. Ezekiel Merritt. A man named William B. Ide, and a dentist named Semple appeared to be Merritt’s chief advisers and the next in command. In the party was also the famous Kit Carson, who had come to California as a member of Capt. Fremont’s company.
It appears that General Vallejo took the situation philosophically and invited his captors to make themselves free with the hospitality of his house. A few hours afterward General Vallejo, his brother, Capt. Salvador Vallejo, and Lieut. Col. Victor Prudon were taken under guard on General Vallejo’s own horses and imprisoned in Sutter’s Fort at Sacramento. The prisoners having been safely forwarded, the American invaders then gathered in the plaza of Sonoma, lowered the Mexican flag from the lofty staff on which it there was flying, and raised the “bear flag” amid salvos of cheers.
The capture of Sonoma and the raising of the bear flag were acts probably not exactly premeditated. They were led up to by a rather stirring incident which must be related in order to get the proper bearing on the entire matter. A few days before the capture of Sonoma, General Castro, accompanied by Lieut. Jose Maria Alviso and Lieut. Francisco Arce and a party of about twelve men, set out from Monterey to Sonoma, issuing anti-American proclamations as they went. Castro’s purpose in going to Sonoma was to secure from General Vallejo as much material assistance in his campaign as was possible. He wanted money, arms, munitions of war and horses. It is not clear what amount of success he had, but it is certain that he secured a number of horses from Vallejo and contrabanded whatever animals were in possession of the Franciscan Fathers at the Mission.
Castro then immediately returned to Monterey, breathing fire at every mile, and at once proceeded to perfect his military forces for the campaign which had for its object the expulsion of all Americans from California territory. It is also apparent that Castro had determined while he was at it to put Pio Pico out of business, and thus kill two birds with one stone.
The Americans were now thoroughly alarmed, as they had every right to be, and a party of them went over to visit Fremont and to advise with him in his camp on the American River. The visitors told Captain Fremont of the dire straits they felt themselves to be in. Fremont replied by saying that he was an officer of the United States Army and could not personally interfere, but he advised the Americans to do everything in their power to defend themselves. He went so far as to say that any of his men who were willing to take a hand in matters as they then stood, were at liberty to do so. Several of Fremont’s men, including Kit Carson, promptly took advantage of the privilege thus granted and accompanied the American settlers as they sallied forth to look after their own interests.
The party soon got word of Alviso and Arce, who were on their way from Sonoma with the horses. Under the leadership of Ezekiel Merritt the Americans surprised Alviso and his party early on the morning of June 10, and without a fight captured the Californians and seized their arms and animals. After an interchange of views, not unlikely coupled with threats on the part of Merritt, the Californians were permitted to resume their journey, but were required to relinquish the horses.
Alviso and his men hurried to San Jose and reported the matter to Castro’s military aides. This act on the part of the Americans was regarded by Castro as the precursor of an invasion; it doubtless determined him to commence operations against the offensive Americans. In the meantime Merritt, with his spoils, returned to Fremont’s camp, where plans were immediately formed for the attack on Sonoma which followed, as already shown, on June 14.
With the capture of Castro’s horses, which was an overt act, the die was cast, and the Americans now determined to go to the end of the road. Sonoma was naturally in their minds, whether it be true or not that it had been in their minds before, and the capture of that garrison, with the raising of the bear flag, followed the initial raid as a natural sequence. The story of the bear flag itself is not lacking in a certain quaint, half humorous, yet romantic interest. Neither was it without a dramatic side.
No sooner had the detachment of captors left for Sutter’s Fort with General Vallejo and the other prisoners, than the Mexican colors were hauled down by ready hands from the flag pole in the old plaza. The problem of supplying a new flag with which to supplant the Mexican ensign then faced the Americans. In that party was a man named William L. Todd, who seemed to know something about handling a paint brush, and he was chosen to be the artist of the flag. It was unanimously agreed that no one had any authority to raise the Stars and Stripes and that if any one did so he would be seriously amenable to the United States Government. But it was the desire of every one present that a flag as near like the American flag as possible be adopted. It also seemed to be the consensus of opinion that a drawing of a grizzly bear be placed on the flag, as being eloquent of the fighting qualities with which the new Republic considered itself equipped. As there has been considerable controversy and dispute concerning this flag it is obviously proper to give the statement of the man who made the flag. He, if any one, ought to know all about it. Mr. Todd published in June, 1872, the following.
“At a company meeting it was determined that we should raise a flag ; and it should be a bear en passant, with one star. One of the ladies at the garrison gave us a piece of brown domestic and Mrs. Capt. John Sears gave us some strips of red flannel about four inches wide. The domestic was new, but the flannel was said to have been part of a petticoat worn by Mrs. Sears across the mountains. For a corroboration of these facts I refer to G. P. Swift and Pat Mc-Christian. I took a pen and with ink drew the out-lines of the bear and star upon the white cotton cloth. Linseed oil and Venetian red were found in the garrison and I painted the bear and star. To the best of my recollection, Peter Storm was asked to paint it, but he declined ; and as no other person would undertake to do it, I did it. But Mr. Storm, with several others, assisted in getting the material and, I believe, mixed the paint. Underneath the bear and star were printed with a pen the words `California Republic’ in Roman letters. In painting the words I first lined out the letters with a pen, leaving out the letter `i’ and putting `c’ where `i’ should have been, and afterward the `i’ over the `c.’ It was made with ink and as we had nothing to remove the marks of the false letters it now remains so on the flag.”
There were at least two other bear flags in existence, but there can be no doubt that this one de-scribed by William L. Todd, and which was raised at Sonoma June 14, 1846, was the original ensign.
Four days later William B. Ide, who appears to have been selected for the leadership to succeed Ezekiel Merritt, issued and signed the following proclamation :
“A proclamation to all persons and citizens of the District of Sonoma, requesting them to remain at peace and follow their rightful occupations without fear of molestation.
“The Commander-in-Chief of the troops assembled at the fortress of Sonoma gives this inviolable pledge to all persons in California, not found under arms, that they shall not be disturbed in their persons, their property or social relation, one with another, by men under his command.
“He also solemnly declares his object to be : First, to defend himself and companions in arms, who were invited to this country by a promise of lands on which to settle themselves and families ; who were also promised a Republican Government; when, having arrived in California, they were denied the privilege of buying or renting lands of their friends, who, instead of being allowed to participate in or being protected by a Republican Government, were oppressed by a military despotism; who were even threatened by a proclamation by the chief officers of the aforesaid despotism with extermination if they should not depart out of the country, leaving all their property, arms and beasts of burden ; and thus deprived of their means of flight or defense, were to be driven through deserts inhabited by hostile Indians, to certain destruction.
“To overthrow a Government which has seized upon the property of the Missions for its individual aggrandizement; which has ruined and shamefully oppressed the laboring people of California by enormous exactions on goods imported into the country, is the determined purpose of the brave men who are associated under my command.
“I also solemnly declare my object, in the second place, to be to invite all peaceable and good citizens of California who are friendly to the maintenance of good order and equal rights, and I do hereby invite them to repair to my camp at Sonoma without delay to assist us in establishing and perpetuating a Republican Government, which shall secure to all civil and religious liberty; which shall encourage virtue and literature; which shall leave unshackled by fetters, agriculture, commerce and manufactures.
“I further declare that I rely upon the rectitude of our intentions, the favor of Heaven and the bravery of those who are bound and associated with me by the principles of self-preservation, by the love of truth and the hatred of tyranny, for my hopes of success.
I furthermore declare that I believe that a Government to be prosperous and happy must originate with the people who are friendly to its existence; that the citizens are its guardians, the officers its servants, its glory its reward.”
No one who reads this remarkable document can fail to believe that the slurs cast upon the leaders of the Bear Flag Republic by California’s most eminent and most voluminous historian are ill-founded and unjust. If the Bear Flag Republic had produced nothing more than this magnificent contribution to the literature of human rights, as written by William B. Ide, the affair has had sufficient excuse for even so brief an existence. The document marked Ide as a remarkable man, which he undoubtedly wasa man who, like Caesar, according to Miles Standish, could “both write and fight and at each was equally skilful.”
Capt. William B. Ide was born in Ohio. In 1845 he struck out from his native state and crossed by the overland trail to California. To show the respect in which he was held, after the Bear War he received an appointment from the Government of the United States as land surveyor for the Northern District of California, and was also appointed a Justice of the Peace. In 1851 he was elected Treasurer of Colusa County and later was elected County Judge of the same county, being a man learned in the law and having a license to practice that profession. He died in 1852 at the early age of fifty years.
The Republic having been duly declared and the Bear Flag raised, the gage of battle was thrown and military activities in the field at once began.
The Americans again hastened to Captain Fremont where he still lingered in his camp on the American River. Again they laid their cause at his feet. They brought him indisputable evidence that Castro was moving with three divisions of his army against Sonoma. The American hope of military success was all in Fremont. The die had been cast and the question now was, what would Fremont do? His answer was swift and unhesitating.
On June 23 he broke up his camp, and with ninety mounted men took the field. A backward glance through the mists of time at that little army, motley and picturesque to the last degree and made up of as good fighting material as the world has ever seen, is well worth while.
Riding ahead was the leader, himself already a romantic figure. He was called “The Pathfinder,” a title which posterity can not justly deny him. Physically he was a slender man, but well proportioned. He wore a blue woolen shirt, open at the neck, trimmed with white and with a star at each point of the collar ; over this a deerskin hunting shirt. A light cotton handkerchief was worn bound around his head in lieu of hat or cap. His feet were encased in deerskin moccasins. He was mentally alert, brave and determined. Like most men he had his faults and has been much criticised, even cruelly so, but he had the qualifications and the character to hold rank as an officer in the Army of the United States, and he was an American, loyal to the heart’s core.
Following at Fremont’s heels came his mounted rifles arrayed in thrice the colors of Joseph’s coat. The majority were Americans and the rest were composed of French, English, Swiss, Russian, German, Greek and doubtless other nationalities, besides Pawnee, Delaware and California Indians. They were armed with rifles, double-barreled shotguns, horse-pistols, sabers, ships’ cutlasses, bowie knives and pepper-box revolvers. Some of the Indians carried bows and arrows.
Forth they rode in the golden weather down through the great valley of the Sacramento and across the sun-swept Lomas, forcing the marches. At 2 o’clock on the morning of June 25, Sonoma heard the thunder of Fremont’s cavalcade. The garrison, sleeping lightly on its arms, was aroused by the cries of the sentinel, and it was at once known that the newcomers were Fremont and his men. Shouts of welcome from swelling hearts greeted the appearance of “The Pathfinder.”
In the meantime, Lieutenant Ford of the Bear Flag army had mustered a squad of about twenty-three men for the purpose of rescuing two Americans who were held as prisoners by a portion of Castro’s forces. It was known that the Californians had already killed two other American prisoners, really murdering them in cold blood. Ford’s squadron came upon the enemy at a place near San Rafael, called Laguna San Antonio, where there was a skirmish, Ford putting the Californians utterly to rout, wounding a number of them without loss to his own forces, capturing nearly all their horses and rescuing one of the prisoners whom he had been seeking. Returning to Sonoma with his victorious tidings and the spoils of the fight, Ford found Fremont and his rifle-men in the garrison.
Fremont allowed himself, his men and horses only a few hours’ rest following his arrival at Sonoma. His information was that General Castro and de la Torre were at San Rafael with a force of two hundred and fifty men. Fremont sallied forth to make an attack. At about 4 o’clock on the afternoon of June 26 he came in sight of what was thought to be the enemy lying intrenched. The Americans cautiously approached the position and then charged upon the fortification. Fremont, followed closely by Kit Carson and by James W. Marshall, who was later to immortalize himself by the discovery of gold at Coloma, were the first to break through the fortification. They found only four Californians, the main body having departed. The Americans, however, caught sight of General Castro on the distant hills approaching the Bay.
Fremont remained at San Rafael for several days, when one evening a scout brought into camp an Indian runner whom he had captured with a letter from Torre to Castro, in which it was stated that the Califorina forces would be concentrated to march upon Sonoma and attack it the following morning. Fremont at once struck out with his forces for Sonoma, arriving there at midnight. But it appears that the letter found on the Indian runner may have been a ruse. At any rate Torre, hiding in his camp, saw the Americans rushing back to Sonoma. Whatever may have been their original intentions, the Californians did not attack the Bear Flag fortress, but retreated safely by way of Sausalito to Santa Clara.
As Fremont and his forces approached in the mid-night darkness the garrison lay awake, alert and nervous, but determined. The defenders thought surely it was Castro’s army come to attack them. The advance sentries heard the tramp of horses and gave the alarm. The garrison, standing tense upon its arms, realized that perhaps the moment had come when the fate of the new Republic was to be decided. What happened then can best be told in the words of William B. Ide, the commander, whose ability of expression has already been noted in the document in which he proclaimed the Bear Flag Republic.
“Thus prepared,” says Ide, “in less than one minute from the first alarm, all listened for the sound of the tramping horses. We heard them coming !then low down under the darkened canyon we saw them coming ! In a moment the truth flashed across my mind; the Spaniards were deceiving us! In a moment orders were given to the captains of the eighteen-pounders to reserve fire until my rifles should give the word; and, to prevent mistake, I hastened to a position a hundred yards in front of the cannon, and in a little to the right oblique, so as to gain a nearer view. `Come back, you will lose your life!’ said a dozen voices. `Silence !’ roared Captain Grigsby; `I have seen the old man in a bullpen before today!’ The blankets of the advancing host flowed in the breeze. They had advanced to within two hundred yards of the place where I stood. The impatience of the men at the guns became intense, lest the enemy come too near so as to lose the effect of the spreading of the shot. I made a motion to lay down my rifle. The matches were swinging. `My God ! they swing the matches!’ cried the well-known voice of Kit Carson. `Hold on, hold on!’ we shouted; ’tis Fremont, ’tis Fremont!’ we cried, in a voice heard by every man of both parties, while Captain Fremont dashed away to his left to take cover behind an adobe house ; and in a moment after he made one of his most gallant charges on our fort. It was a noble exploit; he came in a full gallop, right in the face and teeth of our two long 18’s!”
Fremont now saw that he had been outwitted, but he at once determined to yet catch Torre or Castro, or both, if possible. Delaying at Sonoma only long enough to give his men breakfast, he again struck out with his forces for San Rafael. arriving there at the old Mission twenty-four hours after the time he had left it, but he still found no traces of the Californians. During his absence the enemy had grasped the opportunity to retreat across the Bay. Captain Fremont then proceeded to the fortress at San Pablo_ only to find it abandoned. He spiked the guns and set up his camp on shore, and it was at about this time that Captain Semple, with a detachment of the Bear Flag army, appeared in the streets of San Francisco and captured Robert Ridley, the captain of the Port of Yerba Buena.
As throwing some light on the retreat of the Californians from San Rafael and Fremont’s presence on the shores of the Bay, at that juncture, the following statement from Capt. William B. Phelps of Lexington, Mass., who was lying at Sausalito with his bark, the Moscow, is interesting and illuminating :
“When Fremont passed San Rafael in pursuit of Capt. de la Torre’s party, I had just left them,” says Captain Phelps, “and he sent me word that he would drive them to Sausalito that night, when they could not escape unless they got my boat. I hastened back to the ship and made all safe. There was a large launch lying near the beach; this was anchored farther off, and I put provisions on board to be ready for Fremont, should he need her. At night there was not a boat on the shore. Torre’s party must shortly arrive and show fight, or surrender. Toward morning we heard them arrive, and to our surprise, they were seen passing with a small boat from the shore to the launch; (a small boat had arrived from Yerba Buena during the night, which had proved their salvation). I dispatched a note to the commander of the Portsmouth, sloop-of-war, then lying at Yerba Buena, a cove (now San Francisco), informing him of their movements and intimating that a couple of his boats could easily intercept and capture them. Captain Montgomery (United States naval officer in command of the Portsmouth) replied that not having received any official notice of war existing he could not act in the matter.
“It was thus the poor scamps escaped. They pulled clear of the ship and thus escaped supping on grape and cannister which we had prepared for them.
“Fremont arrived and camped opposite my vessel, the bark Moscow, the following night. They were early astir the next morning when I landed to visit Captain Fremont, and were all variously employed in taking care of their horses, mending saddles, cleaning their arms, etc. I had not, up to this time, seen Fremont, but from reports of his character and exploits my imagination had painted him as a large-sized, martial-looking man or personage, towering above his companions, whiskered and ferocious looking.
“I took a survey of the party, but could not discover any one who looked as I thought the Captain to look. Seeing a tall, lank, Kentucky-looking chap (Dr. R. Semple), dressed in a greasy deerskin hunting shirt, with trousers to match, and which terminated just below the knees, his head surmounted by a coonskin cap, tail in front, who, I supposed was an officer, as he was giving orders to the men, I approached and asked him if the Captain was in camp. He looked and pointed out a slender made, well-proportioned man sitting in front of a tent. A few minutes’ conversation convinced me that I stood in the presence of the King of the Rocky Mountains.”
Fremont lingered with his force at Sausalito and vicinity until the second day of July, when they returned to Sonoma. On the 4th the national holiday was celebrated with great enthusiasm, and upon the following day Fremont organized his new California Battalion of Mounted Riflemen, two hundred and fifty strong. On this same day a meeting of all the soldiers and American settlers at Sonoma was held for the purpose of making a thorough reorganization of the affairs of the Bear Flag Republic. A Declaration of Independence was drawn up and signed, re-iterating the position of California, from the American residents’ point of view, to be a distinct, separate and sovereign nation. Fremont was made Commander and it appears that he was given authority over everything and everybody, even supplanting Ide.
Fremont addressed the assembly and pointed out the fact that the country north of San Francisco Bay was now in complete control of his forces, and he declared his intentions of setting out forthwith with his new battalion of riflemen to find Castro and to prosecute the war until the Mexican power was destroyed. He caused all the participants in the rebellion to sign a document pledging themselves to obedience to their officers. All these things having been accomplished, Fremont with his forces left Sonoma on the following day to prosecute the war. In the meantime a vital incident had occurred at Monterey.
Probably on the second day of July, 1846, the same day upon which Fremont left his camp at Sausalito for Sonoma, Commodore John Drake Sloat arrived in his flagship, the Savannah, at the harbor of Monterey, where he found two other United States ships, the Cyane and the Levant. The Portsmouth, with Captain Montgomery, was still in the harbor of San Francisco. Commodore Sloat carried with him instructions from the United States Government to capture all California ports and hold them in event of war between the United States and Mexico. These instructions had been issued more than a year previously. Nearly two months prior to July 2, 1846, the date of Sloat’s arrival at Monterey, war had been declared between the United States and Mexico, and hostilities were under way. This Sloat knew, and he had therefore come to California to put into force the instructions which he had so long carried. He had come from Mazatlan and as soon as he had anchored in the harbor of Monterey, he sent for Mr. Larkin, the United States Consul and confidential agent of the United States Government, and then learned of the Bear Flag Republic and Captain Fremont’s participation in it.
It clearly appears that the Commodore and the Consul were greatly troubled as to how to act in regard to the situation, seeming to feel that Fremont, through the course he had pursued, had in some way embarrassed them. Why they should have been embarrassed it is difficult to understand. Mr. Larkin, it was well known, had never sympathized with the Bear Flag Republic nor with Fremont’s course, but certainly this had nothing to do with the case so far as Sloat was concerned. But that the Commodore was given to vacillation is not disputed. Indeed, he was officially censured for his indecision in this very matter.
Instead of promptly and without parley seizing the port of Monterey, Sloat hesitated for a period of five days. The Commodore at length, on July 7, sent four of his officers ashore with a demand to the Mexican Comandante to surrender the port of Monterey, with all troops, arms and other public property. The Comandante replied that he had neither troops nor arms to surrender, which was the truth. Immediately upon receipt of this reply, two hundred and fifty American marines and seamen were landed under command of Captain Mervine. The force marched to the custom-house and the American colors were hoisted amid the cheers of the troops and a salute of twenty-one guns from each of the American men-of-war lying in the harbor.
Three days after this memorable event a man named William Scott overtook Fremont and his riflemen within ten miles of the city of Sacramento, where Sutter’s Fort was located, carrying with him the joyful news that Sloat had taken Monterey, where the American flag was at that moment floating on the breeze, and that war had been declared and was then raging between Mexico and the United States. Fremont pushed on to Sutter’s Fort. Arriving there the next day, the bear flag which was floating over the garrison was hauled down, and eager hands ran up the Stars and Stripes amid great rejoicing. A salute of twenty-one guns was fired from a brass four-pounder. Two days prior to this Lieut. Joseph Warren Revere of the Portsmouth left San Francisco harbor with a party and reached the garrison of Sonoma with the same great news that had over-taken Captain Fremont on his way to Sutter’s Fort.
Sonoma received the news with the same glad acclamation that Fremont and his army many miles away had received it. From its gleaming staff in the old plaza the crude ensign, which William Todd had made from a piece of cotton cloth and strips of a red flannel petticoat of Mrs. John Sears, and on which only a few weeks previously he had painted a lone star and a grizzly bear, was hauled down and the Bear Flag Republic. and the bear flag itself were folded away with “seven thousand yesterdays.”
The flag is no more and the Republic which it rep-resented has also passed into history. No man is now living who took part in its brief but stirring life. It existed for only a handful of days and at the will of only a handful of men, yet while it lasted it was as real a republic as any that ever existed. Its annals are as vivid as any other that have ever been written, and the tale they tell clothed now with a certain dignity, in the judgment of time, the immortal “Pathfinder,” who was the soul of the adventure; William B. Ide, Henry Ford, Todd, Merritt, Semple and all who filled the breach and held the ground. Certainly the names and the memories of these men must remain dear to their countrymen, no matter how others have viewed them or may view them still.
As time goes on and the years pass into centuries, this and many another fateful incident in the history of California will stand out with startling distinctness. The desperate valor of Cabrillo, the Discoverer, will grow more vivid as the mind makes pictures of the past. Ever clearer against the sunset skies will appear the brown-robed ghost of Junipero Serra as he kneels on the desolate shore praying for the white sail of salvation to come to the rescue of starving San Diego.
So, also, will the painter, the poet and the dreamer of dreams in days that are yet to be, thrill the souls of the people by epics in literature and masterpieces on canvas that shall bring forth again from the shadows of time the “California Republic” of 1846, with its Bear Flag and the heroic figures of the dauntless American men who raised that crude, quaint ensign to the -free winds of heaven from the old Plaza of Sonoma in the Valley of the Seven Moons.