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American settlers in Northern California were angry about General Castro's siege at Mount Gavilan. They were afraid war had started between the U.S. and Mexico and they didn't know about it. Maybe Castro knew! If so, what did he plan? Would he attack the settlers in the North? Would he put them in Jail? Would he drive them out of California?
Castro was marching, but not North. He was preparing to march to the South and depose Governor Pico to make himself Governor. To prepare, he went to General Vallejo to buy horses for the march south. Vallejo and Castro agreed upon a price and Castro returned to Monterey. Vallejo had his men round up the horses and begin driving them to Monterey.
When the Americans learned of the horse purchase they reported it to Fremont. Fremont had returned to Marysville after receiving orders delivered by Lt. A.H. Gillespie who had arrived on USS Cyane on 4/17/46. Fremont invited the American settlers to meet with him at his camp. He asked the settlers to capture the horses.
The settlers elected Ezekial Merrit as their leader and set out to capture the horses. They caught up with the drivers and took the horses from them even though they were outnumbered. They sent to horses to Fremont to keep them safe. Then, with 32 men, Merrit crossed the ridge at midnight and entered Sonoma. With Sonoma and Sutter's Fort in their hands they controlled the Northern Frontier from attack by Castro.
At sunrise Vallejo was surprised to hear voices and, finding armed Americans in the Plaza, invited them for breakfast. The Americans demanded surrender of Sonoma and the arrest of Vallejo.
Vallejo asked if they were bandits. "We are Republicans," answered Merritt.
Vallejo asked for his brother-in-law, Jacob Leese whose English was better, to help negotiate the surrender. Vallejo's brother Salvador and a Frenchman, Lt. Col. Prudon helped also with the negotiations. Then these men were arrested and taken to Fremont for their Protection.
The Americans now had possession of a fort commanding the northern frontier which now was their southern frontier. They were in control of access to and from San Francisco Bay. They had control of Fort Ross and Fort Sutter but they controlled very little territory and they were outnumbered by the Mexicans.
From the Sonoma tower they could see a long way in all directions and there was little happennig for them to see. They had time to think of what they were about.
What did it mean to be a Republican? What Republic did they represent? What did that Republic stand for? George Ide wondered what they had done. He took pen and paper and began to write what he thought about these questions.
He wrote the words "California Republic" at the top of a piece of paper and began to write.
It is not clear who made the bear flag. It was made with cloth available. One story is that the white muslin was from Mrs. John Sears, brought in a covered wagon, and the red flannel was from the peticoat of William Matthews' wife, probably purchased from a ship. It had a star to represent California's future star on the American Flag. A bear was selected to represent California and independence; the grizzly bear was the most independent animal in the territory (Gosh Darn, I'll say it was)! The words "California Republic" were included below. These were the words George Ide was addressing inside. Finally a red stripe was added along the bottom.
The rebels contacted Captain Montgomery of the USS Portsmouth to request protection for the wives and children of the Americans. Neither Consul Larkin nor Captain Montgomery dared assist the rebels.
And so on June 14, 1846 The Bear Flag Republic was declared to be independent of Mexico. There was still much to do and many battles to fight before they would succeed but they had made a start.
Coincidentally, that same day the U.S. and Great Britain agreed to what has become the current border between the U.S. and Canada.
On July 7 Commander Sloat captured Monterey and the U.S. Flag replaced the Bear Flag. War had begun May 10, 1846 between Mexico and the U.S. unbeknown to the Bear Flag Americans.
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