Bears have always been an important symbol in California. One of the most noticeable legacies of the original California Republic was the adoption by the State of California in 1911 of the 1846 Bear Flag. It served as the basis of the official state flag of California, as the modern flag also has a star, a grizzly bear, a colored stripe and the words "California Republic" near the bottom.
Historic California Bear Flag as photographed in 1890.
This flag, raised at Sonoma on June 14, 1846, was in the possession of the Society of California Pioneers at the time of the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire, and burned during the conflagration. On June 14, 1846, a small band of settlers marched on the Mexican garrison at Sonoma and took the commandant, Mariano Vallejo, prisoner, They issued a proclamation which declared California to be a Republic independent of Mexico. This uprising became known as the Bear Flag Revolt after the hastily designed flag depicting a grizzly bear and a five pointed star over a red bar and the words "California Republic." The grizzly bear was a symbol of great strength while the lone star made reference to the lone Star of Texas. The flag only flew until July 9, 1846 when it was learned that Mexico and the United States were already at war. Soon after, the Bear Flag was replaced with the American flag. It was adopted as the State Flag by the State Legislature in 1911.
The original Bear Flag was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The site on Sonoma Plaza of the raising of the original Bear Flag is commemorated with its designation as a California Historical Landmark.
Bears and grapes have long been important in California history and this is reflected in the Great Seal of the State of California, which was adopted by the he Constitutional Convention of 1849. The seal was designed by Major R. S. Garnett of the United States Army, and proposed by Caleb Lyon, a clerk of the convention. The Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, has at her feet a grizzly bear and clusters of grapes representing wildlife and agricultural richness. A miner works near the busy Sacramento River, below the Sierra Nevada peaks. The Greek word "Eureka" meaning "I have found it", probably refers to the miner's discovery of gold. Near the upper edge of the seal are 31 stars representing the number of states with California's anticipated admission. Just as Minerva sprung full-grown from the head of Jupiter, California became a state on September 9, 1850, without having to go through a territorial stage.
Today, the California Grizzly Bear remains a multi-dimensional symbol. American Indian cultures continue to revere and fear the spirit of the bear as a symbol of strength and power. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries the image of the California Grizzly Bear evolved to represent a bygone era. As the grizzly bear dwindled in number, its legend grew. Nostalgic views depict the bear as a symbol of a simpler, more romantic time.
The story of the powerful and bold bear continues with Huge Bear Wines.
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