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Bear Flag
Flag of California
The Bear Flag
Use Civil and state flag, state ensign Small vexillological symbol or pictogram in black and white showing the different uses of the flag Small vexillological symbol or pictogram in black and white showing the different uses of the flag Flag can be hung vertically by hoisting on a normal pole, then turning the pole 90°
AdoptedFebruary 3, 1911; 113 years ago (1911-02-03) (standardized 1953)
DesignA single red star in the canton, a red stripe along the bottom, and a California grizzly bear atop a mound of green grass defacing a white field.
Designed byDonald Graeme Kelley, based on flag flown during the Bear Flag Revolt

The Bear Flag is the official flag of the U.S. state of California. [1] The precursor of the flag was first flown during the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt and was also known as the Bear Flag. A predecessor, called the Lone Star Flag, was used in an 1836 independence movement; [2] the red star element from that flag appears in the Bear Flag of today. [3]

Current flag

The flag on display at the California State Capitol.

Law and protocol

The 1911 statute stated:

The bear flag is hereby selected and adopted as the state flag of California. ... The said bear flag shall consist of a flag of a length equal to one and one-half the width thereof; the upper five-sixths of the width thereof to be a white field, and the lower sixth of the width thereof to be a red stripe; there shall appear in the white field in the upper left-hand corner a single red star, and at the bottom of the white field the words ' California Republic,' and in the center of the white field a California grizzly bear upon a grass plat, in the position of walking toward the left of the said field; said bear shall be dark brown in color and in length, equal to one-third of the length of said flag.

In 1953, the design and specifications for the state flag were standardized in a bill signed by Governor Earl Warren and illustrated by Donald Graeme Kelley of Marin County, California. [4] The Californian state flag is often called the "Bear Flag" and in fact, the present statute adopting the flag, California Government Code § 420, states: "The Bear Flag is the State Flag of California."

Pursuant to Section 439 of the California Government Code, the regulations and protocols for the proper display of the flag of California is controlled by the California Adjutant General:

The Adjutant General shall, by regulation, prescribe rules regarding the times, places, and the manner in which the State Flag may be displayed. He shall, periodically, compile the laws and regulations regarding the State Flag. Copies of the compilation shall be printed and made available to the public at cost by the Department of General Services.

When the flag is displayed vertically, it is rotated 90 degrees clockwise such that the bear and star face upward and red stripe is on the left. [5]

The flag is also used as the state ensign. [6] [7]


The first official version of the Bear Flag was adopted by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Hiram Johnson in 1911 as the official state flag. [8]

The contemporary state flag is white with a wide red strip along the bottom. There is a red star in the upper left corner and a grizzly bear facing left (toward the hoist) in the center, walking on a patch of green grass. The size of the bear is ⅔ the size of the hoist width and has a ratio of 2 by 1. The grass plot has a ratio of 11 to 1. [1] The five-point star is taken from the California Lone Star Flag of 1836. [5] The hoist of the flag is two-thirds the fly. [9]

The bear on one 1911 version of the flag is claimed to have been modeled on the last California grizzly bear in captivity. [10] The bear, named " Monarch", was captured in 1889 by newspaper reporter Allan Kelly, at the behest of William Randolph Hearst. [11] The bear was subsequently moved to Woodwards Gardens in San Francisco, and then to the zoo at Golden Gate Park. After the bear's death in 1911, it was mounted and preserved at the Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park. [12]

While the bear flag was adopted in 1911, until 1953 the image of the bear varied depending on the flag manufacturer. In 1953 the bear image was standardized based on an 1855 watercolor by Charles Christian Nahl. [13] [14] The 1953 law includes an official black and white rendering of the bear as well as the plot of grass and brown tufts. This drawing and other specifications that define the flag's colors and dimensions are identified as "54-J-03". [15]

The Californian flag is one of two U.S. state flags to depict a bear, along with Missouri.

In 2001, the North American Vexillological Association surveyed its members on the designs of the 72 U.S. state, U.S. territorial, and Canadian provincial flags and ranked the flag of California 13th - 8th out of 50 U.S. states, and the best flag that contains words, specifically the state's name. [16]


Vertical display

The 1953 legislation defined the exact shades of the California flag with a total of five colors (including the white field) relative to the 9th edition of the Standard Color Card of America (now called the Standard Color Reference of America). [15] It is one of only four US state flags not to include the color blue, along with Alabama, Maryland, and New Mexico.

Color Cable no. [15] Pantone [5] Web color [17] RGB values
  White 75001 Safe #FFFFFF (255,255,255)
  Old Glory Red 70180 200 #B71234 (183,18,52)
  Maple Sugar 70129 729C #BD8A5E (189,138,94)
  Seal 70108 462C #584528 (88,69,40)
  Irish Green 70168 348 #008542 (0,133,66)
  • Seal is used for the dark shading of the bear, the 12 darker tufts in the plot of grass, the border of the plot and the lettering "CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC".
  • Maple Sugar is the base color for the bear.
  • Old Glory Red is used for the star, the bear's tongue and the red stripe at the bottom of the flag.
  • Irish Green is used for the grass plot.
  • The bear's claws are also accented with white. The left front and rear paws have four white claws while the right rear claw displays three. The front right paw does not contain highlighting.


Lone Star of California

The lone star of the 1836 California Lone Star Flag inspired the red star in the flag of the Bear Flag Revolt
Last known California Lone Star flag, now held at the Gene Autry Western Museum in Los Angeles

In 1836, a coup led by Juan Alvarado declared Alta California's independence from Mexico. Declaring himself governor, Alvarado recruited U.S. frontiersmen, led by Isaac Graham, to support him. The rebels easily captured the capital Monterey, but were unable to convince southern leaders such as Juan Bandini and Carlos Antonio Carrillo to join the rebellion. Faced with a civil war, Alvarado and the other Californios negotiated a compromise with the central government wherein California's leaders accepted its status as a "department" under the " Siete Leyes" Mexican constitution of 1836, in return for more local control. Alvarado was appointed governor the next year.

The Lone Star Flag of California, associated with Alvarado's rebellion, contained a single red star on a white background. [5] One last original flag is archived at the Autry National Center. [18]

Original Bear Flag

The original 1846 Bear Flag with its designer, Peter Storm, c. 1870
Bear Flag monument on the Sonoma Plaza

The original grizzly bear flag was created by Peter Storm. A version of this bear flag, designed by William L. Todd, was raised in Sonoma, California, in June 1846 on a date between the 14th and the 17th, [19] by the men who became known as the "Bear Flaggers", including William B. Ide. [20] The exact creation date is at least somewhat unclear. However, U.S. Naval Lieutenant John Missroon reported the flag's existence as of June 17, 1846. [21]

William L. Todd was a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln. [22] According to the book Flags Over California, published by the California Military Department, the star on the flag recalled the 1836 California Lone Star Flag. Todd, in an 1878 letter to the Los Angeles Express, states that the star was drawn using blackberry juice and in recognition of the California Lone Star Flag. The bear was designed to be a symbol of strength and unyielding resistance. [5]

According to the Sonoma State Historic Park, the construction of the flag was described as such:

At a company meeting it was determined that we should raise a flag and that it should be a bear en passant [a heraldry term signifying that the bear is walking toward the viewer's left], with one star. One of the ladies at the garrison gave us a piece of brown domestic, and Mrs. Captain John Sears gave us some strips of red flannel about 4 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...I took a pen, and with ink drew the outline of the bear and star upon the white cloth. Linseed oil and Venetian red were found in the garrison, and I painted the bear and star...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 afterwards the 'i' over the 'c'. It was made with ink, and we had nothing to remove the marks. [23]

The original Bear Flag and the republic it symbolized had a brief career, from about June 14 until July 9. [24] On July 7, 1846, Commodore John Drake Sloat of the United States Navy's Pacific Squadron first raised the 28-star American flag at Monterey, the capital of Alta California, and claimed the territory for the United States. [24]

Two days later, on July 9, 1846, Navy Lieutenant Joseph Warren Revere arrived in Sonoma and hauled down the Bear Flag, running up in its place the Stars and Stripes. The Bear Flag was given to young John E. Montgomery (son of Commander John B. Montgomery of USS Portsmouth), who would later write in a letter to his mother "Cuffy came down growling"—"Cuffy" being his nickname for the bear on the flag.

The Bear Flag given to young Montgomery returned with USS Portsmouth to the east coast of the U.S. in 1848, but in 1855 was returned to California. [25] The flag was given to California's two senators, John B. Weller and William M. Gwin. This flag was donated to the Society of California Pioneers on September 8, 1855, and was preserved at the Society's Pioneer Halls in San Francisco until it was destroyed on April 18, 1906, in the fires that followed the great San Francisco earthquake. [25] Today, a replica hangs on display in the Sonoma Barracks, or El Presidio de Sonoma. There is also a statue in the plaza at Sonoma, California, commemorating the raising of the flag, the Bear Flag Monument.

The Civil War period

During the secession crisis and the early part of the American Civil War in 1861, California was divided between supporters of the union and supporters of southern secession. In the months leading up to the war some opposed to the government in Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County showed support for secession by flying variants of the Bear Flag instead of the Stars and Stripes. [26]: 194–195 

During the war, Union soldiers protected the West against secessionists who ran up Confederate flags in many places, including above the California statehouse in Sacramento, then disappearing before they could be caught. [26] On July 4, 1861, during U.S. Independence Day celebrations in Sacramento, Democrat and veteran Maj. J. P. Gillis celebrated the independence of the United States from Great Britain and the secession of the Confederacy by unfurling a flag based on the first Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, but containing seventeen stars rather than the Confederate banner's seven, and marching down the street to the cheers of pro-slavery individuals. [27] This was the only known Confederate flag captured in California during the Civil War. Unionist Jack Biderman denounced Gillis, tore the flag from his hands, and taunted secessionists to try to take the flag back. No one tried. Because Gillis' flag was seized by Jack Biderman, it is referred to either as the "Biderman Flag" or the "Gillis Flag." [28]

Flag of the governor

The flag of the governor of California

The flag of the governor of California consists of the seal of California centered on a field of azure. Like many other U.S. governors' flags, there are four five-point stars at the corners of the field.

In Fiction

The flag serves as a basis for the flag of fictional New California Republic from the popular post-apocalyptic Fallout franchise.


Some examples of Californian state flags from the early 20th century (before the design was officially standardized in 1953), showing multiple degrees of variation
Digital reproduction of the first Bear Flag
Digital reproduction of Todd's Bear Flag
Todd's original Bear Flag, fabricated and flown at the Sonoma revolt, photographed in 1890
Sailors waving the flag in San Diego.
The flag flying in front of San Francisco City Hall

See also


  1. ^ a b "California State Library - History and Culture". California State Library. Archived from the original on January 5, 2019. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
  2. ^ Guinn, J.M. (1898). "El Estado Libre de Alta California: The Free State of Upper California". Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and Pioneer Register, Los Angeles. 4 (2): 163–172. doi: 10.2307/41167714. JSTOR  41167714.
  3. ^ "California's 'Red Star' Revolution". Santa Cruz Sentinel.
  4. ^ "Bear in Mind". November 18, 2015. Archived from the original on October 30, 2022. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Flags Over California: A History Guide" (PDF). California State Military Museum. State of California, Military Department. 2002. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  6. ^ Sergeant Mark J. Denger. "Flags of California's Naval Forces". The California Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved April 18, 2011. Our state ensign, easily distinguishable, truly embodies the history of this state. The "Bear Flag," known from the annals of this state's history, dates from the days of those early California pioneers and commemorates the biggest bear known to science, the California grizzly, now extinct.
  7. ^ Gregory, Tom (1912). Story of the Bear Flag - How the State Ensign Came Into Being. Journal of the Senate of the State of California. Vol. 2. State Printing Office. pp. 327–329. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  8. ^ "9". The Statutes of California and Amendments to the Codes passed. Thirty-Ninth Session of the Legislature. 1911. p. 6.
  9. ^ "State Flag and Emblems". California Law. California Legislative Information. Archived from the original on December 12, 2023.
  10. ^ David T. Page (June 6, 2011). Explorer's Guide Yosemite & the Southern Sierra Nevada: Includes Mammoth Lakes, Sequoia, Kings Canyon & Death Valley: A Great Destination (Second Edition) (Explorer's Great Destinations). Countryman Press. p. 49. ISBN  978-1-58157-880-5.
  11. ^ "Monarch the Grizzly Bear". Retrieved June 14, 2010.
    Katherine Girlich (June 17, 2009). San Francisco Zoo. Arcadia Publishing. p. 27. ISBN  978-1-4396-3807-1.
  12. ^ Laurel Braitman (June 10, 2014). Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. Simon and Schuster. pp. 85–88. ISBN  978-1-4516-2702-2.
  13. ^ "Flags Over California" (PDF). California State Military Museums Program. State of California, Military Department. p. 11. Retrieved January 21, 2023. Various bear images appeared on the flag until the design was standardized in 1953 modeled after the 1855 watercolor by Charles Nahl... A copy of this painting, which is in the city of Monterey collection, can be seen in the Colton Hall Museum.
  14. ^ Chamings, Andrew (July 7, 2020). "The bear on the California state flag lived in Golden Gate Park".
  15. ^ a b c "California State Flag Specifications" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 7, 2019.
  16. ^ Kaye, Ted (June 10, 2001). "New Mexico Tops State/Provincial Flags Survey, Georgia Loses by Wide Margin". North American Vexillological Association. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011.
  17. ^ "Pantone Color Chart". Pantone. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 30, 2020. Retrieved January 28, 2008.
  18. ^ Masters, Nathan (October 20, 2011). "Where to Find California's Oldest Flag & Other Objects in SoCal's Archives". KCET. Burbank, California. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  19. ^ Ruiz, Augustine (June 4, 2008). "Sacramento Post Office Invites Community to Celebrate Release of 'Flags of our Nation' California Stamp". Postal News. United States Postal Service. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  20. ^ "William B. Ide Abode State Historic Park" (PDF). California State Parks. State of California. 2008. Retrieved July 19, 2011. This rallied the settlers into action, and on June 14, 1846, a group of about thirty men—including Ide—marched on the town of Sonoma. The group became known as the Bear Flaggers
  21. ^ "CALIFORNIA IN TIME: From the War with Mexico to Statehood" (PDF). California State Parks. State of California. September 24, 2003. Retrieved July 19, 2011. William Todd brings news of Sonoma to Capt. John Montgomery of the U.S.N. Portsmouth, who sends a reply with Lt. John Missroon.
  22. ^ Hill, Kathleen Thompson; Hill, Gerald N. (2005). Insiders' Guide Napa Valley: Land Of Golden Vines. Globe Pequot. p. 293. ISBN  9780762734436. Retrieved March 8, 2013.[ permanent dead link]
    Brown, Gary (1996). The Great Bear Almanac. Globe Pequot. p. 209. ISBN  9781558214743. Retrieved March 8, 2013.[ permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "William Todd and the construction of the bear flag" (PDF). Sonoma State Historic Park. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 28, 2007. Retrieved June 26, 2007.
  24. ^ a b Denger, Mark J. "The Acquisition of California". The California Military Museum. California Military Department. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  25. ^ a b "California Bear Flag: Symbol of Strength" (PDF). Department of Fish and Game. State of California. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 28, 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
  26. ^ a b Tinkham, George Henry (1915). California men and events: time 1769–1890 (revised 2nd ed.). Stockton, California: Record Publishing Company. hdl: 2027/yale.39002006519285.
  27. ^ "California's Secessionist Impulse". CA State Parks. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  28. ^ "The Biderman Flag". Retrieved April 14, 2016.

Further reading

External links