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Storm bear flag, California (U.S.)

Last modified: 2014-12-05 by rick wyatt
Keywords: storm flag | california | united states |
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image by Eugene Ipavec, 20 July 2014

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Extended discussion about the Storm flag

The Storm Bear Flag c1846-c1848?

This flag, which some say may have preceded the Todd Flag, was supposedly sown by Peter Storm on the evening of June 13, 1846. Storm had joined the American Party that night as they moved up the Napa Valley on their way to Sonoma. According to some accounts, Storm was skilled with a needle, and crafted this flag for the Bear Flag Party. If accurate, this flag was flown by the "Bear Flaggers" (Ide, Swift, Storm, Ford, Semple, Grigsby, Merritt, and others) before they descended on Sonoma on the morning of June 14, 1846. There they captured the Mexican Governor of California, General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, at his home in Sonoma, and later transported him up the Sacramento River to Fort Sutter (present day Sacramento). Until his death in the 1870's, Peter Storm was locally accepted as having made the first Bear Flag. (Sadly, he chose to be buried with this flag in Calistoga, but several photos remain.)

William J.Trinkle, of the California Bear Flag Museum, however, dates the creation of the Storm flag to a later date (1848), possibly as a replacement for the Todd flag after its removal . According to the museum, there is little evidence to indicate that the Bear Flaggers even had any flag before they arrived in Sonoma and the Todd Flag was made.
Pete Loeser, 26 June 2014

This flag, by these accounts, would be little more than an improvised flag. I wonder what was the purpose these men(?) set out with, but if they found out that they were going to create a republic the next day and now needed a flag, then not much preparation would have gone into it. If they were in a settlement of some sort, rather than a camp, it might have been easier to find materials, but it would still have been a matter of what was available, and with limited time it would have been a simple design. (It would also have had to be a meaningful design; I hope someone can explain what the elements of the flag stand for.)

A photograph at the Bear Museum blog at shows Storm with a flag. I am inclined to say that while the flag in general is of the simple design one would expect under the circumstances, the bear isn't. The bear appears to have more than one colour and it has a ground to stand on. Neither are characteristics I would have expected in an improvised bear. And I even have my doubts about the attacking stance. I'm not even sure the bear in the photograph has been added by skill with the needle at all. I can surely understand why Eugene chose to represent it as an painting of a bear, rather than a silhouette.

In the blog, William Trinkle, mentions "a counterpart of the original". To reconcile the photograph with the supposed history, if for "counterpart" we are to read "remade version", then I'm inclined to say this particular photograph shows that counterpart, rather than the original. And indeed, I would not expect an improvised flag, quickly created in the spare time of the summer evening sun, to have lasted for decades. Someone's skill with the needle does not necessarily give him understanding of the force of the wind, so I would expect the original Storm flag was long gone by the time the photograph was taken.

- In the photograph, Pete Storm holds the flag to dexter. His clothing suggests the print is not reversed, so that's really the sinister hoist side we're seeing. Why? Does the other side not have charges on it? And does that mean that all flags showing the dexter host side with the charges are actually wrong?

- If, as Pete says, there are several photographs of this flag, I would really like to see other photographs, to see whether they represent the same flag.

- It's curious to see how no-one recreating this design seems to have realised that the star is pointing flyward. rather than up.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 June 2014

This is exactly the reason that Bill Trinkle and others, myself included, question the early date. Many times on the picture of Storm and his flag you might notice the use of the word "replica" meaning "copy of the original" and I suspect the original, if there was an original, was discarded for an "improved" version at a later date. Personally, I believe the Todd flag to be both the first and final version used at Sonoma during the short time the California Republic existed, but the Storm Flag legend persists. The picture most cited was from a celebration in Napa, Sept. 9, 1873, and most likely of an replica flag created later by Storm.

For a more complete history of the California Republic you might visit the Pioneer Heritage Foundation website or National Parks Service website at If you prefer it in the old fashioned way, "Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California, 1846" by Dale L. Walker (1999), the acclaimed author of Legends and Lies, provides an enjoyable rump through the period.

I believe the Storm flag was manufactured after the fact, and unfortunately no documentation has been discovered indicating the elements of the flag. Todd does, however, provide us with a little insight. According to the Todd letter the bear was used as a symbol of strength and unyielding resistance. I personally believe the use of the red colored star was in recognition of the earlier California Lone Star Republic Flag, but that is speculation on my part, although the red star was also used in the Sutter flag and others. I'm not sure about of the red stripe, but can speculate it was an American influence from the stars and stripes and indicated a single lone republic, as did the star.

Concerning the drawing above, Eugene took a drawing I had done, and being a much more talented illustrator than I'll ever be, used my poor effort and the photo of Storms flag to make the new image. I attach the photo he used which is a mirror of the existing photo of the reverse side. Prior to Eugene's illustration, the only one in existence was from a children's coloring book. See:

"Does the other side not have charges on it? And does that mean that all flags showing the dexter host side with the charges are actually wrong?"

All the photos I have seen show the reverse side, and probably are photo-shopped (?) from the original. Since written documentation about the flag design has not been yet discovered, it remains a mystery. We can only "assume" the design was similar on both sides (yes, I know the old saw about assume). As with many historical flags, contemporaries didn't bother to explain their design elements, but "assume" all would be obvious.

A little footnote I thought you might enjoy, according to noted flag historian, Jim Ferrigan, if you look closely at the Storm flag photo I posted, you'll notice that the two stripes are seamed down the middle of the flag. It has been claimed they were constructed from four diapers! Just saying... :-)
Pete Loeser, 26 June 2014

My interpretation was different: See how past the "separation" the white folds over much more? I would say Storm is holding up the flag beyond the charges by holding a fold in his right hand, to keep it from folding over the charges. That's why the longitudinal folds that are visible, which probably are from the way it was stored, jump at that very same line, which wouldn't happen if the pieces we see were connected over line. Besides, if we don't believe that this is an impromptu flag, then there's little reason to assume it wasn't made from large enough pieces of cloth.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 June 2014