Claim: The design of the California state flag was based on a mistake.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2003]
Is it true that California’s flag was supposed to look different but got changed because of a mistake?
Origins: The states of Texas and California have much in common historically: Admitted to the Union within five years of each other, both were much larger in area than any existing state (California was over twice as big, and Texas more than three times as big, as the then-largest state, Missouri, and they remained the two biggest states until the admission of Alaska more than a century later), both were wrested from Mexico through uprisings led by American-born revolutionaries, both declared themselves republics before joining the United States, and both later adopted state flags bearing single stars to symbolize their statuses as
previously independent entities. One curious historical oddity distinguishes California from Texas, however: the design used for California’s state flag was the result of a rather large (and embarrassing) mistake.
Most Americans are familiar with the basics of the
of California despite his nationality, told the intruders he was sympathetic to their cause; nonetheless, they placed him under arrest and shipped him off to be held at Sutter’s Fort.
The rebels quickly decided to raise a new flag over Sonoma Plaza to announce their victory, resulting in hurried discussion about the composition of the banner. Most agreed it should feature something physically symbolic of California (and distinctly non-Mexican), but they could not reach a consensus on what that symbol should be. Finally Captain Bartlett, an agricultural magnate with large holdings in the Sacramento River area (and an amateur horticulturist who developed the
Acquiescing to the desires of their leader, the group quickly decided to honor both him and California agriculture by opting for a pear as the primary motif of their new flag.
The group hurriedly assembled a rough prototype for their banner by borrowing a rectangular piece of light brown muslin and a four-inch strip torn from a red petticoat, sewing the red stripe (reminiscent of the ones found on the American national flag) onto the muslin, drawing a star in the upper left-hand corner to symbolize their independence (and, some claim, to express the rebels’ solidarity with troops currently engaged in a war with Mexico precipitated by a dispute over the boundary of the recently-annexed state of Texas), and writing the words CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC in black to the right of the star. This nascent flag was then dispatched by messenger to the nearby home of
The rebels hoisted their hastily-prepared pennant over Sonoma Plaza despite the error, intending to remake the flag at the first opportunity. The issue become moot within a month, however, when an American squadron under Commodore
When California adopted an official state flag in 1911, they hearkened back to the days of that brief republic of 1846 and chose a modernized rendition of the (mistaken) bear flag design. Then, as now, few remembered that the bear flag was the product of a mistake or realized that a historically accurate California flag should look something more like this:
When the creators of television’s political drama
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Last updated: 31 March 2015
Eisenhower, John S. D. So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848. New York: Random House, 1989. ISBN 0-394-56051-5. Rasmussen, Cecilia. “Pioneer Made a Flag That Made History.” Los Angeles Times. 1 June 2003 (p. B4). Walker, Dale L. Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California, 1846. New York: Forge, 1999. ISBN 0-312-86685-2. Warner, Barbara R. The Men of the California Bear Flag Revolt & Their Heritage. Sonoma, CA: Arthur H. Clark Pub., 1996. ISBN 0-870-62259-5.