There are several versions of how the Bear Flag of the Republic of California came to be. But the one I believe most accurate comes from a letter written by William L. Todd, who designed our first state flag.
Todd was one of the 24 Americans who invaded Sonoma in June 1846 and woke up Gen. Mariano Vallejo, commander of the Sonoma garrison, to tell him he was a prisoner of war.
After taking over Sonoma, the revolutionaries decided there should be a flag for this new independent Republic of California.
Thirty years later a reporter for the Los Angeles Express got curious about the many versions of the origin of the California flag. So he wrote a letter to Todd and got an answer.
"Your letter of the 9th inst. Came duly to hand, and in answer I have to say in regard to the making of the original Bear flag of California at Sonoma, in 1846, that when the Americans, who had taken up arms against the Spanish regime, had determined what kind of flag should be adopted, the following persons performed the work: Granville P. Swift, Peter Storm, Henry L. Ford and myself; we procured, in the house where we made our head-quarters, a piece of new unbleached cotton domestic, not quite a yard wide, with strips of red flannel about four inches wide, furnished by Mrs. John Sears, on the lower side of the canvas. On the upper left-hand corner was a star, and in the center was the image made to represent a grizzly bear passant so common in this country at the time. The bear and star were painted with paint made of linseed oil and Venetian red or Spanish brown. Underneath the bear were the words 'California Republic.' The other persons engaged with me got the materials together, while I acted as artist. The forms of the bear and star and the letters were first lined out with pen and ink by myself, and the two forms were filled in with the red paint, but the letters with ink."
Todd wrote that the flag suggested as the original by historian Theodore Hittell was actually made in Santa Barbara and that bear was painted black.
"The flag I painted, I saw in the rooms of the California Pioneers in San Francisco in 1870 and the Secretary will show it to any person who will call on him at any time.
"If it is the one that I painted it will be known by a mistake in tinting out the words 'California Republic.' The letters were first lined out with a pen, and I left out the letter 'I' and lined out the letter 'C' in its place. But afterwards I lined out the letter 'I' over the 'C' so that the last syllable of 'Republic' looks as if the two last letters were blended.
"Yours respectfully, Wm. L. Todd."
Some reports had it that Mrs. Sears donated her white petticoat for the flag and the red flannel came from the back of a man's shirt. The California Republic lasted only a month and the original flag was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.