On June 14, 1846, Californians (primarily former U.S. citizens) had enough of Mexico. Their anticipation of an expansion of the war between Mexico and the United States prompted American settlers to promote a “new and independent California.” This is the exact setting of the film, “The Mask of Zorro.”
If you haven’t seen it, Antonio Banderas is a caped swordsman who woos Catherine Zeta-Jones. He’s basically the Mexican Batman… It’s awesome.
(Here is the full film – you’re welcome.)
Anyway, the Mexican-controlled California became extremely tense. Mexican government officials anticipate the annexation of California to the United States and begin to plan a way to keep hold of the Golden State. In the spring of 1846, John C. Fremont arrived at Sutter’s Fort to begin a scientific survey. However, he decided it would be more fun to persuade American residents to form militias, get angry and revolt. (That guy would have made a hell of a salesman…)
On June 14, a group of 33 armed American militiamen, led by Ezekiel Merritt and William Ide, invaded the desolate outpost of Sonoma… literally nobody was there. Victory! The mob then went to the home of retired Mexican General Mariano Vallejo – and told him he was a prisoner of war. “…But I’m retired?”
Vallejo was confused. He was actually a supporter of American annexation. He was like, “How about we just talk about this over some brandy.” Ide apparently didn’t like brandy, because he instead arrested Vallejo and his entire family. Way to go Ide… what a buzz kill.
After their “victory” at Sonoma, a cotton sheet was painted with red dye and a grizzly bear was scribbled in the center. The print read “California Republic.” This flag was used as a symbol of the revolution as the supporters were then refered to as, the “Bear Flag Revolt.”
In about two weeks, after a few mild skirmishes with Mexican forces, Fremont received word that the American flag had been raised over Montery, California by Commodore John D. Sloat. Since the “Bear Flaggers” ultimately wanted to be annexed to the United States… they figured it was time to go home. They sure abandoned that movement quickly.
“So… we won?” Sort of, yeah.
When California officially became a state in 1850, the “Bear Flagger’s” symbol was used as the state flag of California. This awkward series of events led to one of the largest states of the union… and a great story. Thanks Zorro!