The 'real' Bear Flag Story 2
An armed revolter draws his gun during the Bear Flag Revolt reenactment.
It did not take long for the initial euphoria of the Bear Flaggers' experiment in independence to turn into bloody conflict.
On June 19, 1846, just five days into the life of the California Republic, two of the youngest Flaggers, Thomas Cowie and George Fowler, went scouting toward Santa Rosa, home of Mariano Vallejo's mother-in-law, Maria Carrillo. The pair were readily caught by Mexican militiamen organized by Ramon Carrillo, Vallejo's brother-in-law, and Mesa Juan Padilla, a Petaluma Valley rancher.
The Americans were tied to trees and their captors began beating and cutting them. Among the Carrillo-Padilla group was Bernardo "Three-fingered Jack" Garcia. There is a story that while the leaders argued about what they should do with their prisoners, in the middle of the night Garcia slit the Bear Flaggers' throats. This is likely since when Garcia earned an honest living in Sonoma (in-between stealing horses), he was a barber who carried a straight razor.
The bodies of Cowie and Fowler were found in a ravine, with horrible mutilations - whether inflicted while still alive was not known.
After burying their compatriots, some Bear Flaggers burned down Padilla's Petaluma house. Ramon Carrillo fled south and Garcia no longer visited the Blue Wing.
The following day, a squad of Mexican militia captured William Todd and a man only identified as "an Englishman."
John C. Fremont showed up in Sonoma on June 25, urging Bear Flaggers to enlist in his California Battalion. Several Bears signed up and, of these, Fremont appointed John Grigsby, Henry "Fighting" Ford, Granville P. Swift and John B. Sears as officers. Ford and Swift promptly led an attack on the Mexicans holding Todd at Olompali, site of an ancient Miwok village between the San Rafael Mission and San Quentin Point. Todd was rescued, but the Englishman was killed in the crossfire.
Fremont set up camp at Olompali and dispatched a rider to William Richardson, owner of the Sausalito land grant, to ask for horses. Richardson sent his 15-year-old son, Steven, and surveyor Jasper O'Farrell with a small herd, who arrived at Fremont's base the morning of June 28.
At that hour a small boat pulled into the shore, rowed by twins, Francisco and Ramon of the prominent DeHaro family, and carrying their elderly uncle, Jose de la Reyes Berryessa, father of another Jose Berryessa, the Alcalde of Sonoma. Francisco was the fiancé of Steven Richardson's sister. As the three Mexicans waded ashore, Fremont yelled: "I have no room for prisoners," and ordered Ben Kelsey to shoot them. Kelsey refused. Famed scout Kit Carson raised his rifle and shot Ramon. When Francisco ran toward his brother's body, Carson shot him too.
The devastated Berryessa screamed: "You might as well shoot me too," and Carson fired again. Fremont later denied responsibility for this incident, claiming that the three unarmed men were really soldiers in civilian clothes. Eye-witnesses O'Farrell and young Richardson were quick to spread the truth.
Believing a rumor that Sonoma had been over-run by Mexicans commanded by Captain Joaquin de la Torre, on the night of June 28, Fremont directed his troops toward the town. President Ide heard reports of horsemen heading their way and readied his men to repel invaders by mounting two cannons loaded with 18-pound balls aimed down the road from the south. Without adequate scouting, Captain Fremont ordered his men forward into the teeth of the Bears' defenses. When the cannoneers lit matches, Kit Carson called out a warning that the defenders were about to fire their howitzers. Fremont reined his mount behind an adobe. Because Ide recognized Carson's voice, he did not give the signal to "open fire" and blow Fremont's men to Kingdom Come. The Bears served breakfast to the California Battalion, which then trotted south to its new base in Sausalito.
Later that day, General Castro freed Ide's son, another William, who had been picked up near Santa Cruz by Mexican volunteers earlier in the year.
Three American warships that had been prowling along the California coast dropped anchors in Monterey Bay on July 2 ,while the U.S.S. Portsmouth sailed into San Francisco Bay. Learning that Fremont was coming to take over Monterey on the July 7, Commodore John D. Sloat beat him to it by landing 250 U. S. Marines.
On June 9, a squad of American sailors under the command of naval Lieutenant Joseph Warren Revere, grandson of Paul Revere, arrived at Sonoma by navy boat. Following orders from Sloat, Revere pulled down the Bear Flag, and passed it to the 16-year-old son of John B. Montgomery, captain of the Portsmouth. Revere then ran up the Stars and Stripes. The California Republic had lasted 25 days.
Fremont did not intend to share any glory for the expected taking of California from Mexico. To minimize the contribution of the Bear Flaggers, he told his men that the history of the conquest of California began with the formation of the California Battalion, not the California Republic.
When Fremont attended a Sonoma Independence Day fiesta looking for volunteers, former President Ide enlisted, but was only granted the lowly rank of private, as were other Bears.
Meanwhile General Vallejo languished in prison, where he was suffering from malaria. Commodore Sloat, bothered that he had not received notice of a declaration of war, turned over command to Commodore Robert F. Stockton. Urged by American Consul Thomas Larkin and Monterey merchant John Cooper (Larkin's half-brother, married to a Vallejo sister), as his final official act Sloat ordered the release of Vallejo and the other prisoners.
Robert Semple went to Monterey where he joined Walter Colton, a Yale-educated former magazine editor, to print the west's first newspaper, the four-page Californian, on Aug. 15.
It was published just in time to report in both English and Spanish that the United States had declared war on Mexico on May 13. Now the California Battalion would fight. The war in Southern California lasted until the end of the year. The only Bear killed in the fighting was Henry Booker. While pulling a cannon with a team of horses he got tangled in the ropes and was an easy target for a Mexican lancer, who ran him through.
Semple was chosen chairman of the California Constitutional Convention in Monterey in 1849. He was escorted to the podium at Colton Hall by delegates John Sutter and Mariano Vallejo. He and Vallejo founded the town of Benicia, named for Mrs. Vallejo.
The fates were not always kind to the heroes of the California Republic.
William Ide was named official surveyor for Northern California by the military governor in 1849, but died in 1852, apparently of small pox. William Fallon led a rescue of the Donner Party, and uncovered the first evidence of cannibalism. He was later killed by Indians in the plains.
Semple died after being thrown from his horse in 1854. Granville Swift struck it rich in the Gold Rush, bought what is now Temelec land and built the largest home north of San Francisco. After losing money in a Comstock silver scheme, he went prospecting and was killed when his mule stumbled and tossed him down a hill. His cousin, John Sears, was murdered while mining. Ezekiel Merritt disappeared going for supplies for his mining camp. Sam Gibson drowned. Ira Stebbins was killed by the Joaquin Murietta Gang, and in 1849 Dr. Knight was shot dead by an unknown assailant on the main street of Knight's Landing, a village he founded. Ironically, in 1860 "Fighting" Ford accidentally shot himself while swinging into the saddle with his rifle in hand.
In 1849 Andy Kelsey was killed by Lake County Indians in revenge for the rape of native women by his employees. In counter retaliation a mob of soldiers and civilians massacred about 100 Indian men, women and children on an island in Clear Lake.
Brother Ben Kelsey and his wife, Nancy, stayed on in Sonoma, buying some Buena Vista property, but Sam Kelsey became an itinerant gambler. William Scott invested in several parcels on the east side of the Plaza, and married 14-year-old Ann Smith.
He soon died, leaving a will which stated Ann's inheritance would revert to his estate if she ever remarried. She won a suit to strike this provision, married her attorney, and bore nine children.
There were success stories. Nathan Coombs acquired property on the Napa River, laid out Napa, built a hotel, started shipping lines, raised winning race horses, was elected State Senator and fathered a political dynasty of legislators and public officials. Bill Elliott founded Upper Lake, discovered the geysers and owned a large ranch, as did William Hargraves. John Grigsby built a successful winery. William Mendenhall was a State Senator and founder of Livermore. Calvin Griffith became a school teacher. Long-lived Pat McChristian was a major apple grower near Freestone. Henry Beeson, a saddlemaker, became the oldest Bear, living well into the 20th Century.
Not to forget Ramon Carrillo, who was hanged by a Committee of Vigilantes in Southern California for his part in hiring a killer of his boss, and "Three Finger Jack" Garcia was killed along with Joaquin Murietta in 1852.
The original Bear Flag, given by the Navy to the Society of California Pioneers in 1855, burned in the San Francisco earthquake-induced fire in 1906.