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The California State Flag

1846 Bear flag raised at Sonoma
1846 Bear Flag

The Bear Flag was first raised on June 14, 1846, at Sonoma by a group of American settlers revolting against the rule of Mexico. The original flag was painted by William Todd.

Pioneer John Bidwell recorded many of the events surrounding the "Bear Flag Revolt" and about the raising of the Bear Flag he wrote,

"Another man left at Sonoma was William L. Todd who painted, on a piece of brown cotton, a yard and a half or so in length, with old red or brown paint that he happened to find, what he intended to be a representation of a grizzly bear. This was raised to the top of the staff, some seventy feet from the ground. Native Californians looking up at it were heard to say "Coche[sic]," the common name among them for pig or shoat."

Unfortunately, the original Bear Flag, held by the Society of California Pioneers perished in the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

California state flag

The current California State Flag, adopted by the state legislature in 1911, is based on the original Bear Flag raised by pioneering Americans over Sonoma in 1846. The star was taken from the lone star of Texas. The Bear was representative of the numerous Grizzly Bears in the state and the words "California Republic" testify to the feisty American pioneers who settled in the territory.

Today the identity of the animal depicted on the flag is not likely to be mistaken for a "coche."


California Flag Law

The following information was excerpted from the Government Code of the California Codes, section 420-429.8.

Source: California State Legislature, Laws and Constitution, , June 30, 2007.
Source: California State Library:History and Culture, State Flag, , June 30, 2007.
Source: The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, The California Bear Flag, , June 30, 2007.
Source: Sonoma, Home of the Bear Flag Revolt, Raising of the Bear Flag, , June 30, 2007.
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer. Greenwood Press; 3 Sub edition (October 30, 2001).
Source: State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols by George Earlie Shankle. Reprint Services Corp; Revised edition (June 1971).
Source: Flags of the Fifty States and Their Incredible Histories: The Complete Guide to America's Most Powerful Symbols by Randy Howe. The Lyons Press; First edition edition (November 1, 2002).

Additional Information

California Bear Flag: 1846 California bear flag from the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Bear Flags of Sonoma: Various bear flags discussed with commentary hosted by Sonoma Valley Internet service provider. Web site to commemorate 150th Anniversary of the raising of the bear flag.

California Pear Flag: makes the case that the design of the California state flag was a mistake.

The Bear Flag Museum: The Bear Flag Museum is the inspiration of William J. ("Bill") Trinkle, a California attorney and member of the North American Vexillological Association ("NAVA") since 1994. NAVA is a group devoted to the serious study of flags from a multidisciplinary view.

California (U.S.): FOTW "Flags of the World" Web Site.

State Flags: Complete list of state flags with links to large pictures and images suitable for coloring.

Flag Terminology: The parts of a flag and terms associated with its design.

Visit Our Flag Shop: Purchase all kinds of flags and banners, lapel pins, 50 state flag sets, decals, patches, college banners at the Flag Shop.

Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California 1846 by Dale L. Walker. Hardcover: 320 pages. Publisher: Forge Books; 1st edition (July 2, 1999).

Flags of the Fifty States and their Incredible Histories: A complete guide to America's most powerful symbols by Randy Howe.

How Proudly They Wave: Flags of the Fifty States: This book, by Rita D. Haban, is geared toward younger readers.



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