The Bear Flag Proclamation

Said to be a photo of William B. Ide, although nobody is positive about that.

Said to be a photo of William B. Ide, although not positive.

William B. Ide arrived at Sutter’s Fort in October 1845 as part of the Grigsby-Ide wagon train. He took his family north, where built a cabin for his family on the ranch of Robert Thomes. It was men from the Grigsby-Ide Party, plus some other American trappers and hunters, who made up the group called the “Osos,” or Bears, and Ide became the commander of the group.

Rumors were circulating among the Americans that the Mexican-Californians were planning to drive the unwelcome interlopers out. Although the Californios may have been wary of the Americans, they were in no position to make them leave, since they had few soldiers or weapons to fight with. But the Americans were anxious to secure a claim to the lands they had settled, and decided to take matters into their own hands.

On Sunday morning, June 14, 1846, the Bears took over the Sonoma garrison without firing a shot, and told General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo that they were in charge now. Vallejo offered no resistance, and they sent him under guard to Sutter’s Fort. They then began to consider their next move.

Ide was all for carrying their objective forward boldly and sat down to write a proclamation setting forth their grievances and aims. His proclamation begins:


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; . . . .

and so on. Ide was evidently mislead, back in Missouri, about what was on offer in California by the Mexican government. The full text of his proclamation, as set down in his biography by Simeon Ide, can be read here. There were other writings by Ide, but this is the version that has survived.

According to John Bidwell, William B. Ide was busy writing bombastic proclamations nearly every day and posting them on the flagstaff. The whole thing looked unnecessary to him.

Inasmuch as Fremont did not pretend to be acting in the name of the United States, and as we Americans did not know of any danger here that threatened us, Mr. Ide conceived the idea that it would be a good time to establish an independent republic here, and that was about the tenor of his numerous proclamations.

Bidwell arrived at Sonoma from Sutter’s Fort on July 3rd, two weeks after the takeover. The next day Fremont arrived with his company of exploration. Fremont, in support of the revolution, asked Ide, Bidwell, and P.B. Reading to act as a committee “to draw up a plan of organization.” They couldn’t agree on their report.

Mr. Ide wished to report all his proclamations as our report. P. B. Reading wanted to report something else. I disagreed with both. The result was, each agreed to make a separate report and submit them to Lieutenant Gillespie, which we did. He chose my report,–said it was just the thing. My report was simply this:

The undersigned hereby agree to organize for the purpose of gaining and maintaining the independence of California.

Bidwell’s report was adopted and all the men present, about 150, signed it. They organized into companies and off they marched to Sacramento, and then Monterey, where they learned that the United States was already at war with Mexico.


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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