Go back to Chapter 11



NEXT, (if you will be pleased to exercise patience enough), we will consider the circumstances tending to its unexampled success, as we trace, step by step, its history to its first acquaintance with Capt. Fremont, and thence to its finale.

After the return of the three leaders of the party of the primitive plan of neutral conquest, and seven others had "left us alone in our glory," the said "Bear Flag"--made of plain cotton cloth, and ornamented with the red flannel of a shirt from the back of one of the men, and christened by the words "California Republic," in red-paint letters on both sides--was raised upon the standard where had floated on the breezes the Mexican flag aforetime.

It was on the 14th of June, '46. Our number was twenty-four, all told. The mechanism of the flag was performed by WM. TODD of Illinois. The grizzly bear was chosen as an emblem of strength and unyielding resistance. The men were divided into two companies of 10 men each. The 1st artillery was busily engaged in putting the cannon in order, which were charged doubly with grape and cannister. The 1st rifle company was busied in cleaning, repairing and loading the small arms. The Commander, after setting a guard and posting a sentinel on one of the highest buildings to watch the approach of any one who might have the curiosity to inspect operations, directed his leisure to the establishment of rules of discipline and order, and of a system of finance, whereby all the defenceless families might be brought within the lines of our garrison and supported. Ten thousand pounds of flour were purchased on the credit of the Government, and deposited within the garrison; an account was opened for the supply of beef, on terms agreed upon: and a few barrels of salt constituted our main supplies. Whiskey was altogether a contraband article.*10*

After the first round of duties were performed, as many as could be spared off guard were called together, and the situation fully explained to the men by the Commander of the garrison. It was fully represented that our success, nay our very life, depended on the magnanimity and justice of our course of conduct, coupled with sleepless vigilance and care.

(But ere this we had gathered as many of the surrounding citizens as possible, and placed them between four strong walls: they were more than twice our number.) The Commander chose from these strangers the most intelligent--by the aid of an interpreter went on to explain the cause of our coming together; our determination to offer equal justice to all good citizens; that we had not called them there to rob them of their liberty, or to deprive them of any portion of their property, nor to disturb their social relations one with another-- nor yet to desecrate their religion. He went on to explain the common rights of all men, and showed them that those rights had been shamefully denied them by those heretofore in authority; that the Missions had been robbed, and the general prosperity of the country destroyed; that we had been driven to take up arms in defence of life and the common rights of man; and that we had pledged our lives to the overthrow of injustice, and the establishment of such government as should give freedom to commerce, and that should collect its revenues of those who, by their improper conduct, make governments necessary for the protection of all good citizens.

He went on further to say, that although he had, for the moment, deprived them of that liberty which is the right and the privilege of all good and just men, it was only that they might become acquainted with his unalterable purpose: and, that having made them thus acquainted, "without waiting to know whether you approve or disapprove--whether you are disposed to regard us as friends or enemies --we will restore you the liberty of which we have deprived you, after we have convinced you"--(and here he assumed all the fierce, determined energy of manner that such an emergency was calculated to inspire)--"that as enemies we will kill and destroy you! but as friends we will share with you all the blessings of liberty, and all the privileges that we ourselves can hope to enjoy." "Now, dear Sirs", he continued to say, "go and prepare yourselves for the battle! We are few, but we are firm and true. We have not come to hold forth deceitful appearances. Go. You are free as the air of heaven. Receive us as friends, and assist us to give liberty to your country and countrymen; or, meet us like brave men, according to your own time and pleasure."

Although the address was not the twentieth part interpreted, yet the importance of success in the measure, to persons circumstanced as we were, gave expression that would have been understood by every nationality and tongue under heaven; and the Spaniard, even, embraced the Commander as he pronounced the name of WASHINGTON. There was a glow of feeling beaming from his eye, that defied all hypocracy as he said, "Suffer my companions to remain until we complete a treaty of peace and friendship, and then go and come as friends --only that we be not required to take arms against our brethren.

By the unanimous vote of the garrison all the powers of the four departments of government were conferred, for the time being, upon him who was first put in command of the fort; yet Democracy was the ruling principle that settled every measure-- Vox Populi, our rule.

On the evening, of the 14th, after every precaution for security for the night coming had been taken, the subject of issuing a Proclamation was discussed; and, notwithstanding arguments were used tending to show that we were bound by a proper respect for the rights and interests of all honest and good citizens of California, to represent ourselves as to our doings and purposes, yet a very large proportion of our men were against making any public representation of our situation and intentions, until our numbers should have been increased to something like a force adequate to the undertaking.

But how were our forces to be augmented, and who would come to the assistance of those who were only represented as robbers and rebels? Would our enemies be pleased to represent us truly, and in such a character as would induce others to incur the like responsibilities?

Or, would Capt. Fremont volunteer for us such kindly assistance, after having pledged his honor and the honor of his country to remain neutral? --and, besides, he had declared his intention to leave the country within two weeks, and that in our own hearing.

Were we to believe that Capt. Fremont would hold out, publicly, false pretentions? Those who would have entertained such an opinion, without cause, of an officer of a government they delight to honor, must have been virtually destitute of any just sense of honor themselves. But all would not do. It was contended by some, notwithstanding all his pretensions to the contrary, that he would yet consent to become our leader. So it was urged that no proclamation should be made until Capt. Fremont, Doct. Mearch, or some other person of distinction, could be persuaded to join us.

So here we were; by our flag proclaimed "The California Republic"! twenty-four self-consecrated victims to the god of Equal Rights --unknown by any mortal being, except ten men who had dissented from our plan of operations, and fled to the protection of Fremont's camp, (except 30 or 40 Spaniards, who had, from a brief acquaintance, sworn fidelity to our cause), exposed not only to the wrath of 600 armed men, whom we were compelled, in order to avoid the just imputation of violence and crime, to defy in open fight, but to the unmingled scorn and contempt of all honorable men, whether Mexicans or Americans, if we failed to represent our true character, and the circumstances which compelled us to assume such an unusual position. Was it prudent to delay a just representation to the public ear? to that community which had equal rights with ourselves to a representation in any system of government we might Establish? Was it prudent thus to delay what it immediately concerned everybody to know, until the happening of an event which might never occur? Who or what circumstance was to call to our aid that august personage capable of duly and honorably representing to the public favor our benevolent designs?

Under these circumstances, and impressed with these views, it was believed that any representation was preferable to none; and our Commander [invested with "all the powers of the four departments of the government", it will be remembered], JACKSON-like, "assumed the responsibility" of performing his duty, "as he understood" his obligations to all concerned, and drew up, on the morning of the 15th,*11* between the hours of 1 and 4 o'clock, the following


"The Commander-in-chief at Sonoma gives his inviolable pledge to all persons in California, not found bearing arms, or instigating others to take up arms against him, that they shall not be disturbed in their persons, property, religion, or social relations to each other, by men under his command.

"He hereby most solemnly declares the object of his movement to be,--first, to defend our women and children, and his brave companions in arms, who were first invited to this country by a promise of lands on which to settle themselves and families; who were promised a Republican government; who, when having arrived in California, were denied even the privilege of buying or renting lands of their friends; who, instead of being allowed a participation in, or of being protected by a Republican government, were oppressed by a military despotism; who were even threatened by proclamation of one of the principal officers of the aforesaid oppressive government, with extermination, if they would not depart out of the country, leaving all their property-- their arms and their beasts of burden; and who were thus to be despoiled of the means of defence or of flight--and were to have been driven through deserts inhabited by hostile savages to certain death.

"To overthrow a government, which has robbed and destroyed the Missions, and appropriated the properties thereof to the individual aggrandizement of its favorites; which has violated good faith, by its treachery in the bestowment of public lands; which has shamefully oppressed and ruined the laboring and producing inhabitants of California, by their enormous exactions of tariff on goods imported into the country: --this is the purpose of the brave men who are associated under his command.

"He also declares his object, in the second place, to be, --and he hereby invites all good and patriotic citizens in California to assist him--to establish and perpetuate a liberal, a just and honorable Government, which shall secure to all, civil, religious and personal liberty; which shall insure the security of life and property; which shall detect and punish crime and injustice; which shall encourage industry, virtue and literature; and which shall foster agriculture, manufactures and mechanism, by guaranteeing freedom to commerce.

"He further proclaims that he relies upon the justice of his cause--upon the favor of Heaven--upon the wisdom and good sense of the people of California, and upon the bravery of those who are bound and associated with him by the principle of self-preservation, by their love of Liberty and by their hatred of Tyranny--for his hope of success.

"And he further premises that a Government, to be prosperous and ameleiorating in its tendency, must originate among its people: its officers should be its servants, and its glory its COMMON REWARD!"

"(Signed) WILLIAM B. IDE,


"Head-Quarters at Sonoma,

June 15th, A.D. 1846."

A letter was also written, during the night, addressed to Commodore STOCKTON, who was daily expected to be at the Bay, informing him--and intended, by the earliest possible means, to inform the world in general, so far as it was interested, and the Government of the United States, through its officers, in particular--that we had been compelled in self-defence to appeal to arms; that we had possessed ourselves of the fortress of Sonoma-- had set up a Flag of Independence, and were determined, whether victorious or otherwise, to approve ourselves not unworthy the sympathy, at least, of those who labor for the glory of the American name.

And let me remark, dear Sir, that this letter (a copy of which I still have, and have no doubt of the present existence of the original) did not, in the remotest manner, ask for or intimate that we desired assistance; but it was intended to notify, in due season, the officers and Government of the U. S., that we had, agreeably to the universal and immutable right of all men, claimed the right of self-government for the good citizens of all California; that we had solemnly, by an appeal to the last resort, abjured all connection with the government of Mexico, its protection and liabilities; --that although other nations might have just claims upon Mexico, they could have no claim upon the sovereignty of the people of California; that we had recorded our establishment, and notified our seizure and possession. And farther: lest the well known desire, on the part of the United States Government, to possess itself of the Bay of San Francisco should tempt the officers of said Government to commit an unwarrantable and inglorious interference in our affairs, in violation of the one principle that hath given peace to the world, we had, in a timely manner, incorporated in this same "notice", most sincerely and unequivocally, that we would embrace the earliest honorable opportunity to unite this fair land with the land of our birth.

It was honestly and implicitly believed on our part, that the U. S. officers, whom we were proud to believe were men of deathless honor, would rejoice to acknowledge our right to Independence, and so far become our friends as to conquer any inward aspiring after individual renown as conquerors of California, and still continue to adhere tenaciously to that just sense of national honor which prompted the Reply to the above mentioned Notice.

Go forward to Chapter 13