Bear Flag Revolt: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Jeremy Battista
In the development of the United States there were many wars and battles. One state (California) experienced what became known as the Bear Flag Revolt. This lesson discusses this important chapter in California's history.

A Brief Background of California and the Revolt

Before it was 'California', the land comprising that state was part of the Spanish empire. Once Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, California became part of Mexico and remained that way for roughly 30 years (give or take). During this time California saw an influx of United States citizens and pioneers, much like Texas enjoyed during the same time period.

As a result of this influx, those United States citizens began to feel as if California was their home and belonged within the USA. They began to sense a stronger connection to the US government versus being under Mexican rule. This generated feelings of resentment and an urge to obtain independence. This eventually led to the Bear Flag Revolt.

The Bear Flag Revolt

In 1846, settlers from the United States came to believe through rumors that the Mexican government was going to launch a preemptive strike. They decided that they were going to strike first. John C. Fremont, an American army officer, had arrived in California with a small contingent of troops in order to 'survey' the area. Fremont sowed the seeds of rebellion, in part by claiming that the Mexican government planned to attack US citizens living in the area. Many took this as a call to arms and began to form small militias to fight the Mexican government.

John C. Fremont.
John C. Fremont

On June 14, 1846 a group of 30 Americans attacked and overtook a small Mexican outpost in Sonoma that was left largely undefended. These were the opening shots in the Bear Flag Revolt. The men then surrounded the homestead of a retired Mexican general, eventually taking him as a prisoner of war. The two men in charge of this group were William Ide and Ezekiel Merritt. Following the victory at Sonoma, Ide and Merritt declared California an independent republic.

William Ide, one of the two leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt.
William Ide

Both gentleman helped in constructing the battle flag that would eventually come to symbolize the revolt. They hastily drew a grizzly bear on a white flag with a red star as the background. This flag gave the uprising the name of the 'Bear Flag Revolt.'

A digital rendering of what the first Bear Flag would have looked like.
Bear Flag of the revolt

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