The Bear Flag Revolt. This almost-revolution took place in the village of Sonoma in June-July of 1846, which was the same year the Donner Party became trapped in the high Sierra on their way to this region. The area was governed by the Mexican government, having succeeded in breaking away from Spain. They had a governor (General Vallejo) and troops garrisoned right on the town square, next to the iconic old mission.

Well, a good many of the local settlers were anglo, and for various reasons, these settlers became convinced they could split the region off and form an independent republic.

In the early morning of June 14, 1846, General Vallejo was taken prisoner by a ragtag band of Americans, led by William B. Ide, who had decided to emulate the Texans by revolting against California’s Mexican government. They later made and raised an improvised flag featuring a grizzly bear that some settlers mistook for the image of a pig.

Instead of resisting, Vallejo, who actually favored the American takeover of California, invited the rebels inside his quarters in the Casa Grande for a meal and drinks. The Americans proceeded to get drunk while negotiating with Vallejo a letter of capitulation that guaranteed that neither Vallejo nor his family would be taken prisoner, which he signed.

Thus, no shots were actually fired.


The Story of Sam Brannan

Also in 1846, Samuel Brannan arrived by ship to the nearby coastal village of Yerba Buena (soon be renamed San Francisco) He traveled with a group of some 200 other Mormon settlers. He brought with him a printing press, intending to establish the first newspaper in the area: the California Star. He is considered to be a major influence on the founding of San Francisco.

Brannan happened to be at Sutter’s Fort in May of 1848 when John Sutter could not contain his excitement at the recent discovery of Gold there. Brannan took this secret back to SF, where he told everyone and then set about making preparations for the stampede of would-be prospectors he believed would follow, investing in property and setting up stores. His investments paid off handsomely.

By 1859, the now-wealthy Brannan became convinced the other newly well-to-do in San Francisco were in need of a getaway playground. Becoming aware of the hot springs in the Napa Valley, he sought to create such a place modeled after Saratoga NY, which at that time provided such an escape for the wealthy in New York City. He acquired the springs and surrounding land, building a number of cottages and bath houses. He also planted vines in the area.

While out dining with friends, Brannan reportedly described his resort plans. He meant to say it would be the Saratoga of California. However, being a little inebriated, his words came out: the Calistoga of Sarafornia. The name of the resort and town of (Calistoga) was struck.

Transportation was an issue for early Calistoga, though. Visitors would take a four-hour steamer ride from SF to Napa, then board a carriage for an arduous ride on deeply rutted roads, which were often very muddy or very dusty. They tended to arrive exhausted. Brannan eventually resolved this issue by conspiring with a local state representative to push through a taxpayer-funded railroad, even after it had been voted down. After that, the steamer sailed to Vallejo, where the guests boarded the train and the whole trip lasted about four hours.

Hearing stories like this about a place tends to make it all the more special, don’t you think?