Throughout the 1830s and early 1840s, American settlers streamed west to California. They were pulled by the promise of free land. They were tugged by adventure and tales of a place where race was not as much of an issue as it was in their home states.
But California belonged to Mexico, and Mexican laws didn’t allow Americans to own land. As settlers moved in from America, this caused more than one confrontation. (Here it must be said that Mexicans gave large parts of their land to workers because land was plentiful and workers were not. Mark West, a Scot immigrant, was given all the land between Santa Rosa and Calistoga for roofing Vallejo’s Petaluma adobe.)
In 1846 tension came to a head. A rumor spread that Mexico was about to order all Americans out of California. (Does this familiar, but upside down?) On June 14, 30 armed horsemen from Sacramento and the Napa Valley rode into Sonoma. The Bear Flag Rebellion was afoot. During this time, Sonoma became the capital of the new, independent Republic of California.
Not a single shot was fired, and the new country’s flag was raised over the Sonoma plaza, capital of the new country’s government. The grizzly bear was their new symbol, although some people said it looked more like a pig on the quickly drawn flag.
For better or worse, the new republic didn’t last long. In July, an American navy ship captured the Mexican capital, Monterey, and claimed California. The Bear Flag boys threw in with the Americans, and in 1850 California became a state. And, this time the bear looking more like a real grizzly bear, became the symbol of the state of California.
When you stroll through Sonoma’s plaza, take a look at the bronze statue. The statue stands on the spot where the bear Flag was raised by settlers in 1846. This was the final act that created the state of California and the end of Mexican rule there.