Recruiting the Bear Flag Party
From: The History of Yolo County, California
History By: Tom Gregory
The Historical Record Company.
Los Angeles, California 1913


While the pioneers from over the eastern and northern nountians were settling on the rich Yolo plains a crisis was due further south. About June 1 Antonio Armijo from Suisun valley came up through the Capay in search of Indian laborers for grain fields. It had grown the custom to employ these natives to harvest the crops. The employment, however, was generally forced upon them, as the California Indian of that early period was not known to yearn for a job. The Indians were rounded up and herded into the field and some work gotten out of them. Armijo and several of the Yolo farmers were seeking among the rancherias for their harvesters when Capt. Ezekiel Merritt and several companies came through the valleys on a secret mission. Most of the ranchers in Armijo's band of "harvesters" joined Merritt and they took up their march through Napa county, where they received additions to their party, on their way to the pueblo of Sonoma. This company, which now numbered thirty three persons, mounted and well armed, was composed of the following:

From Sacramento valley - Ezekiel Merritt, Dr. Robert Semple, Henry L. Ford, Samuel Gibson, Granville P. Swift, William Dickey, Henry Booker, John Potter, W. B. Ide, William Fallon, W. M. Scott, Henry Beason, William Anderson, J. A. Jones, IV. Barti and Samuel Neal.

From Napa valley - John Grigsby, Frank Grigsby, Benjamin Dewell, Harvey Porterfield, W. B. Elliott, A b Elliott, William Knight, David Hudson, Franklin Bedwell, Joseph Wood, William Hargrave, Andrew Kelsey, J. H. Kelly, John Gibbs, Pat McChristian, John Gibbs, Thomas Cowie and George Fowler.


Early on the morning of June 14, 1846, they rode quietly into the Sonoma plaza and awoke Gen. M. G. Vallejo, the commandant, This officer, also his brother, Capt. Salvador Vallejo; Col. Victor Pudon, both of the Mexican army; Julio Carrillo and Jacob Leese, two brothers in law of Vallejo, were made prisoners of war and conveyed to Sutter's Fort. No other Mexican or Californian soldiers were found and immediately the captors organized the "California Republic," with the celebrated Bear Flag as their national ensign.

This movement had its beginning when Lieutenant Gillespie, a United States marine officer sent from Washington, met Capt. John C. Fremont ("Pathfinder"), the well known United States surveyor, near the northern end of the state. The messenger, whose mission and journey had been accomplished in the greatest secrecy, had made his way in disguise across Mexico from Vera Cruz to Mazatlan, then up the coast to Monterey in a war vessel, the commander of which did not know the object of Gillespie's visit to the Pacific. The text of the secret dispatches to Fremont has never been made public, but from his subsequent action it is supposed that lie was instructed, at his own discretion, to forestall any act in California or Mexico or the European governments that would be inimical to the interests of the United States


That Fremont, a mere engineer officer, should be selected for a secret work of this import, a work that not only might ruin him officially, but might involve his country in a conflict with foreign powers, may be explained: He not only had proven himself, in situations that try the metal of a man, to be courageous, patriotic and judicious, but he was the son in law of United States Senator Benton, one of the strong men of the administration, and while this family influence doubtless played some part in the selection, such selection was proven a good one, and the work was carried out as required. Fremont, in obedience to these instructions, immediately turned back from his line of survey and aroused the settlers in the Sacramento valley to capture Sonoma and hold it, all on their own initiative. This government was playing a "waiting game" - waiting for the expected war with Mexico to begin, at which time the United States would possess Alta California. There was need of care and hurry, as the foreign fleets were hovering in the Pacific guarding the fancied or alleged interests of their respective governments, and even negotiations were under way looking to an English or French protectorate on this coast. A direct intervention here by the United States prior to a declaration of war between Mexico and this government would be a signal for intervention by Great Britain, whose warships were watching every move of our own. An insurrection by settlers within the territory could not be attributed to the United States, yet might act as a deterrent to other powers.


Captain Merritt's party would have preferred the American flag as the ensign of their new republic, but had been advised by Fremont of the indiscretion of such action, they being without governmental authority. Hence the Bear Flag. This historical ensign was a square of white sheeting furnished by Mrs. John Sears and a strip of red flannel sewed to its lower edge, and William Lincoln Todd did the rest. He found a can of red paint, a package of lampblack and was ready. Near the center of the cloth he laboriously drew the outlines of what he believed to be a bear, and filled it in with paint and lampblack. The bear - El Oso - was leisurely walking across the flag and had a very mild expression on its face, as if it were looking for a berry patch. In an upper corner of the cloth Todd painted a "lone" five point star, and below the bear he placed the words "California Republic."

William B. Ide, of the Sacramento valley portion of the company, was selected as commander at Sonoma and the American settlers in that portion of the territory joined Fremont and began a campaign against General Castro, the Californian commander. Commodore Sloat with his fleet of several United States warships at Monterey was waiting anxiously for news from Washington or Mexico which would advise him of the situation. As a matter of fact, the two republics were then at war, but Sloat did not know it. So he continued to wait and watch and the British fleet was waiting and catching the situation and him. When lie heard of the capture of Sonoma, and Fremont's connection with that military movement, he concluded that the government surveyor must have later news than had reached Monterey, and that the expected war was on. This moved the over cautious naval officer to action and July 7, 1846, he raised his flag over the town and California passed to the United States.


Sloat then ordered Commander John B. Montgomery, of the United States sloop of war "Portsmouth," at San Francisco (then Yerba Buena), to do the same. Montgomery took possession of the town and harbor and sent Lieut. Joseph W. Revere of his vessel to Sonoma, where, July 9, he lowered the Bear Flag and hoisted the United States ensign. He also enlisted the Sonoma company into the California Battalion, U. S. A. Captain Sutter at New Helvetia, as he called his fort and settlement on the Sacramento, hoisted the American flag July 11. The other garrisoned places in the territory changed flags during August, and the final surrender of the Mexican forces to General Fremont took place near Los Angeles, January 12, 1847.

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