The original Grizzly Bear Flag was designed by Peter Storm. Versions of Storm’s Bear Flag were raised for the first time in Sonoma, California, in June 1846 on a date between the 14th and the 17th, by the men who became known as the “Bear Flaggers”, including William B. Ide. The exact creation date is at least somewhat unclear. However, U.S. Naval Lieutenant John Missroon reported the flag’s existence as of June 17, 1846.
One Bear Flag was designed by William L. Todd, a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln. According to the book Flags Over California, published by the California Military Department, the star on the flag began in the 1836 California Lone Star Flag. William Todd, in an 1878 letter to the Los Angeles Express, states that the star was drawn using blackberry juice and in recognition of the California Lone Star Flag. The bear was designed to be a symbol of strength and unyielding resistance.
According to the Sonoma State Historic Park, the construction of the flag was described as such:
At a company meeting it was determined that we should raise a flag, and that it should be a bear en passant [a heraldry term signifying that the bear is walking toward the viewer’s left], with one star. One of the ladies at the garrison gave us a piece of brown domestic, and Mrs. Captain John Sears gave us some strips of red flannel about 4 inches wide. The domestic was new, but the flannel was said to have been part of a petticoat worn by Mrs. Sears across the mountains…I took a pen, and with ink drew the outline of the bear and star upon the white cloth. Linseed oil and Venetian red were found in the garrison, and I painted the bear and star…Underneath the bear and star were printed with a pen the words ‘California Republic’ in Roman letters. In painting the words I first lined out the letters with a pen, leaving out the letter ‘i’ and putting ‘c’ where ‘i’ should have been, and afterwards the ‘i’ over the ‘c’. It was made with ink, and we had nothing to remove the marks.
The bear on the first bear flag and other early bear flags more closely resembles the more common American black bear than a grizzly, seen in the lack of shoulder hump and narrower muzzle. Moreover, the first bear flag closely resembles the coat of arms of Bern, Switzerland, its capital city. The coat of arms displays a black bear walking toward the left with fierce claws and a protruding tongue. Switzerland was the home country of John Sutter, who established Sutter’s Fort, in the area which would spawn the California Gold Rush and eventually become Sacramento, California’s state capital.
The original Bear Flag and the republic it symbolized had a brief career, from about June 14 until July 9. On July 7, 1846, Commodore John Drake Sloat of the United States Navy’s Pacific Squadron first raised the 28-star American flag at Monterey, the capital of Alta California, and claimed the territory for the United States.