Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Friday, September 16, 2011

My "Flags of California History Project" Revisited or Everybody Loves a Parade

     This last weekend, September 10, 2011, the Native Sons of the Golden West sponsored their annual Admission Day Parade in Columbia State Historic Park. The parade commemorates California's Admission to the Union on Sept. 9, 1850. Previous to this year's event, I had been approached by my friend Danette Oydegaard with an idea for a parade entry.

     Danette is the founder and director of the Columbia Girl's Academy and the Columbia Boy's Academy. Through historical studies and living history interpretation, the Academys  promote character building, good citizenship, manners and all sorts of positive stuff for youth. Danette's idea for the parade was to have her students carry my replica historic flags. Her husband Floyd would write a narration to explain the various flags and their importance to our State's history. This would be read to the crowd as the flags passed by in chronological order. The whole thing was a great success and I thought the viewer would enjoy the chance to see the flags in their best context carried by Danette's costumed students.

The Red Star of the Republic Flag
from the Rebellion of 1836
Photos Courtesy Danette Oydegaard

     California has always been a rebellious place and so we start with the 1836 lone red star of the republic flag, commonly refered to as the Juan Alvarado / Issac Graham flag. In 1836 Juan Alvarado, Monterey's customs inspector, overthrows governor Guterrez with the help of American and English firepower under the leadership of Issac Graham. This appearance of a red star of the republic is apparently unique to California. The original flag still exists and is in the collections at the Autry. My replica is about 1/2 scale.

John C. Fremont's American Flag
1842 - 1846

    Next in order is the personal flag of John C.Fremont, "The Great Pathfinder". This flag, which was designed and probably made by John's wife Jessie, was carried on his many expeditions in the west during the 1840's. Family history records that Fremont had it and flew it in California in 1846 in defiance of Mexican authority during the standoff between Fremont's topographical expeditionary force and General Jose Castro's soldiers. The original flag survives and is in the collections at the Autry. My replica is full size.

Peter Storm / Nancy Kelsey Bear Flag

    Now comes a very obscure flag that deserves some attention. This is possibly the first flag created during the stirrings of the Bear Flag revolt. The story goes that Peter Storm and Nancy Kelsey stayed back at Bale Mill and crafted this flag as the rest of the party of Americans marched on Sonoma. After the capture of Sonoma on June 14, 1846, Storm and Kelsey arrived with the flag but it was cooly received. It may or may not have flown on the pole in the plaza until replaced by the Todd flag. There is no conclusive evidence that any of this is true but you can certainly see how it might have influenced the final Bear Flag or been influenced by it.  My replica is based on the photo of Peter Storm and his flag, taken late in his life. The student carrying the sign somehow got out of order on this one.

William L. Todd Bear Flag of the California Republic

    Next is everybody's favorite, the William Levi Todd Bear Flag. It was crafted sometime on or around June 14, 1846 as a statement of rebellion against Mexican authority in California. As the symbol of the Bear Flag Revolt and the banner of the California Republic, it flew on the pole in the Sonoma Plaza until replaced by the Stars and Stripes on July 9, 1846. This flag has a long and curious history ( which you can read in an earlier post) and is the ancestor of our contemporary State flag with its updates and improvements. One interesting thing was the use of the red star for the republic. Did the Bear flaggers remember the Alvarado incident, or was the star inspired by the Republic of Texas ?

31 Star National Flag
1850 (officially recognized July 4, 1851)

       And last but never least is the 31 star flag of The United States of America. I like to call it my 62 star flag as I appliqued the stars on both sides of the canton. California is the 31st State and was admitted into the Union of States on September 9, 1850. If you want to read about my replica, you should go to my first post on this blog. Note the liberty cap on the top of the pole courtesy of Danette Oydegaard. A nice 19th century touch. Good Show boys and girls of the Academys !!  Thank You Mrs. Oydegaard !!


  1. Great work! I've enjoyed reading about these flags very much. And the hand-dyed red in the American Flag is stunning.

  2. What meaning did a red star have to J. Alvarado? Why a red star?

    1. Greetings,
      Check out www.loeser.us/flags/california.html for some thoughts on the meaning of the red star of the republic.