Dear Robby Wilson Jr.
What an interesting question. I'm afraid that your friend might be
pulling your leg. The reason: the flag was designed in the 1846 Sonoma
Revolt, adopted as a state flag in 1911, and remanded several times.
The red star was there right from the beginning.
The original Todd ?Bear? flag, as well as several other important
artefacts from 1846 have been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco
earthquake. The California State Military department, though, explains
that ?A Lone Star was drawn on the left-hand corner of the flag with
blackberry juice in recognition of California?s Lone Star flag of
1836? (SOURCE: State of California, Military Department, ?Flags Over
California? ? PDF Document,
According to Wikipedia,: "The flag of California was first flown
during the Bear Flag Revolt and was adopted by the California state
legislature in 1911. The flag of the U.S. state of California is
sometimes called the Bear Flag.
It was raised for the first time in Sonoma, California on June 18,
1846, by the "Bear Flaggers" led by William B. Ide who said he wished
to "bring freedom to the Spaniards". He was made President of the
short-lived California Republic. California had been for thirteen
years under Mexican rule as the department of Alta California, whose
Spanish-speaking population of 4,000 was outnumbered by Americans.
The modern flag is white with a wide red strip along the bottom. There
is a red star in the upper left corner and a grizzly bear facing left.
In the original flag the bear was smaller and near the top, it looked
somewhat like a pig and had no ground to stand on (see below). The
modern flag has a larger bear in the center and is standing on green
grass. The bear depicted is a California grizzly or golden bear, a
grizzly subspecies that is now extinct. The five-point star is a nod
to the Republic of Texas, and the bear represents strength."
(SOURCE: Wikipedia, "Flag of California",
The California Blue Book also refers to the red star as a tribute to
the Texas Lone Star: "The flag was designed by William Todd on a piece
of new unbleached cotton. The star imitated the lone star of Texas."
(SOURCE: The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, "The
California Bear Flag" <http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist6/toddflag.html>).
Sonoma's Homepage also states this fact:
"To legitimize their conquest, the rebels decided to raise a new flag
over the plaza. By most accounts, the making of this flag was overseen
by William L. Todd, a nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the future
president. A Californio woman donated a rectangular piece of very
light brown muslin. The wife of John Sears, one of the Grigsby-Ide
party, tore a four-inch wide strip from a red petticoat and sewed it
to the muslin, making a stripe along the bottom reminiscent of the
stripes on the American flag. Todd then drew a star in the upper left
corner (some say in solidarity with Texas, then also fighting a war
with Mexico) and a crude rendition of a grizzly bear next to it, using
for both a brownish mixture of brick dust, linseed oil, and Venetian
Red paint. The words CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC were written in black in the
middle, to the right of the star." (SOURCE: Sonoma Flag, RAISING OF
THE BEAR FLAG, <http://www.vom.com/bearflag/REVOLT.HTM>)>
A fact that is mentioned in many of the memoirs actually refers to the
"In his memoirs, the Recuerdos (Recollections), General Vallejo calls
the flag's design "strange" and says "the bear looked more like a pig
than a bear." No one is sure exactly what the original Bear Flag
looked like, as it was destroyed in thee San Francisco Earthquake and
Fire of 1906. While there are extensive contemporary descriptions of
flags of that period, many differ with each other as to the actual
Another contemporary flag on the Sonoma site also includes a star (and a bear):
THE STORM FLAG
"This flag -- now in a private collection -- is the only surviving
flag known to have belonged to a "Bear Flagger." The design combines
elements of both the Bear Flag and the Stars and Stripes. The style of
the bear -- because of its remarkable similarity to a famous painting
of a California grizzly done by Charles Nahl in 1850 -- probably
indicates the flag was made after this date. Nevertheless, it is one
of the oldest surviving Bear Flags."
Other mid-19th century versions of the California flag also include this star:
The McChristian Flag
?This flag is the only surviving flag known to have belonged to a
?Bear Flagger.? The design combines elements of both the Bear Flag and
the Stars and Stripes. The flag was probably made after 1850?
(SOURCE: State of California, Military Department, ?Flags Over
California? ? PDF Document,
So, the symbol of the red star was there from the beginning ? from the
Bear Flag, all the way through the adoption of the flag in 1911 as the
State?s flag, and throughout the redesigns made to the flag till
today. No fascinating commies there.
So, where does the star come from?
First of all, from Californian history, and again also, similarly to
the Texan one. The blackberry juice (other say, pokeberry juice) star
made on Todd?s flag was inspired by the earlier 1836 version of the
flag, which also had a lone star :
?The red star on a white field was the proposed first flag for the
1836 bid for Independence of California from Mexico. This small revolt
included many Mexican nationals (headed by Juan Bautista Alvarado) as
well as Americans and British (lead by Isaac Graham), in an effort to
free California from a disinterested Mexican government, already too
corrupted and decimated by internal factions and miscellaneous wars to
govern most of the area.? (SOURCE: Sutter's Republic (United States),
?for a few brief months in late 1836 and early 1837, [?] a lone red
star flag on a white background was raised in recognition of the
efforts of Juan Bautista Alvarado and Isaac Graham?s capture of
Monterey from the Mexican government?thereby establishing California
as ?a free and sovereign state?
(SOURCE: State of California, Military Department, ?Flags Over
California? ? PDF Document,
The star, both in California and in Texas, represents freedom and
independence: ?The "lone" star on the flag symbolized independence,
similarly to the Texas "lone star", borrowed from the "Bonnie Blue
Flag", a huge white star on a blue background and Southern symbol of
independence, first raised in Florida, years prior to the Civil War.?
(SOURCE: State Flags Once Meant Something by States' Liberty Party,
So, the Bonnie Flag, was inspiration for both flags, Texas?s and California?s :
?Originating in Republic of West Florida in the early 1800s, the
Bonnie Blue Flag was the unofficial first flag of the Confederate
States of America, the South united under one star. The Republic of
Mississippi used it as its official flag for a short time. This flag
is also the inspiration for the Lone Star flag of Texas and the red
star in the Bear Flag of California.
Modern usage, for some, is a way of representing favor for the
American issue of "states rights" without the offense associated with
the "Rebel Flag," below (it is used, for example, by The Federalist).?
(SOURCE: NationMaster, ?Encyclopedia: Flags of the Confederate States
of America? <http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Flags-of-the-Confederate-States-of-America>
And why do Communists, Muslims, Texans and Californians share the same
pentagram? The shape of a five point star is very old, and appeared as
early as in Babylonian and Sumerian cultures. It represented the five
senses, the five planets (in ancient astronomy ? ?Jupiter, Mercury,
Mars and Saturn, and Venus as the "Queen of Heaven" (Ishtar) above.?),
the five classical elements, and much more. In other words, people
allocate different meanings to it.
But I could not leave you without giving you the only site claiming
for some sort of communist connection. It is a libertarian site
?United Against Tax Abuse?, which reminds of conspiracy theories and
kooks, when it says ?California's official "Bear Flag" says it all
with imagery: The facist "Russian Bear" of the People's Republic of
California follows a pathetic old red star of economic illiteracy
while exploring a new field of green environmental hysteria.? (SOURCE:
?WHY BOYCOTT THE PEOPLE'S STATE OF CALIFORNIA??
Here are few more links, bringing us back to the answer: the star was
indeed inspired by the Bear Flag, which was also red, and it has
nothing to do with communism:
Flags of the World - California
<http://fotw.vexillum.com/flags/us-ca.html> - another description of
the California Flag
Five Points of Fellowship
- an attempt by a pagan to explain how the pentagram (five pointed
star) is a pagan symbol; besides the interesting (though religiously
biased) observations, there are few good points ? the star as a symbol
of the communists (as representing the hand of the proletariat); of
the United States (as representing freedom); and of Islam.
University of California ? Sonoma
<http://www.crpusd.sonoma.edu/goldridge/sonomamerica.htm> - light
version on the Sonoma Bear Flag Revolt
North American Vexillological Association
<http://www.nava.org/navahome.htm> - for those who analyse flags as a hobby.
I hope this answered your question. Please contact me if you need any
clarification on this answer before you rate it. My search strategy
has been to search ? first of all ? for simple terms such as
[california flag "red star"], adding later some more terms such as
symbol, symbolism, etc.; I also searched for the possible ?Communist
connection? using related words.
Clarification of Answer by
01 Mar 2005 02:37 PST
Thank you for your friend's input. Quite honestly, I think it is not
fair to imply that I haven't understood the question, while I answered
the question presented to me ("A good friend of mine says that
contrary to most published stories the Red Star doesn't have any
connection with former republic status of parts of California like it
does with Texas. He states that it is a reference to certain communist
influences in the state during the forties, when a communist came
close to winning the Gubenatorial election. Others say it has to do
with Bears, etc.... Please advise as soon as possible."). I never
claimed in my answer that this is a pigmentation "error" of any sort:
I explained the common thread between the contemporary flag; and : the
Bear Flag, the short-lived 1836 flag, and the Bonnie/Lone Star flags.
As mentioned before, although the Bonnie Flag and the Texan Lone Star
served as an example (and this symbolism might have been framed in
more than one flag designer's mind), the star is clearly inspired by
the 1836 flag: "In 1836 Lt. Juan B. Alvarado vowed to end the
territorial association of California with Mexico with "bullets or
words". He hoisted a white flag with a single, centered, red 5 pt star
in Monterey." (SOURCE: California (U.S>),
<http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-ca.html>). "the red star on a
white field was the proposed first flag for the 1836 bid for
Independence of California from Mexico.". Perhaps, also the Sutter
Republic (same years) flag "The California State Park Historian at
Sutters Fort has all of the records and they indicate that the
independent California Republic flag hoisted at Sutter's Fort was in
fact the Mexican Merchant Flag with a single red star painted on the
center stripe." (SOURCE: Sutter's Republic (U.S.),
Clearly, it is impossible to know today what Todd and his
contemporaries thought. However, they were not unique in their "red
stardom", and were influenced by local history - in Mexico, in
southern United States, and perhaps also by general symbolism
associated with the colour red.
The evolution of the star as symbolising communism (and perhaps also
anarchism) happened after the star has been already constructed as red
on the flag. On the first bear flag, the star was red (as I explained,
backberry or pokeberry juice).
As you can imagine, red symbolises more than communism, certainly in
1836 and 1846: it symbolised (as it always had) blood, and the
sacrifice needed to reach a goal, a revolutionary colour. In the
French Reolution, red, one of the colours of the tricolor, represents
fraternity. In Rome, it used to serve as a signal for battle. In the
Union Jack, red also symbolises the blood shed on the country.
A well known communist State, that of Georgia, also used a red star
briefly in 1861 (again, nothing to do with communism whatsoever): " If
there was a lone star flag used in Georgia it was this one: white
field with a red star. This flag was hoisted over the captured U.S.
arsenal in Augusta, GA. when that was surrendered to the Georgia State
Army (before the secession of the state I might add), and another of
its type was hoisted in Milledgville - the then state capitol."
Another report from the same period describes a different flag, but
nevertheless with red stars: "The flag of Georgia was yesterday
hoisted on the staff over the Custom House in this city...The flag is
a very neat design, bearing the coat of arms of the state surmounted
by stars; one for each seceding state, now numbering six - a place
between each star is left to be filled in as fast as the Southern
states secede, which, when the fifteen are out of the Union, will
complete the circle. Over the whole is the All-seeing Eye. The flag is
of white ground, all the stars are deep red, save that representing
Georgia, which is sky blue, and in the ascendent." (SOURCE: Georgia
Flags Prior to 1879 (U.S.)
Red star has been also used in Louisiana during 1861 :
I came across some very interesting references to the flags that were
used in Louisiana during the years 1860-61. All the references in this
contribution are from Bragg, Jefferson Davis, (Louisiana in the
Confederacy. Baton Rouge; Louisiana State University Press, 1941), the
greatest scholarly work on the subject of Louisiana during that
period. The first reference to a special flag during this period comes
from a New Orleans newspaper, the Picayune. This is a report about
celebrations on December 21, 1860, for the secession of South
Carolina. "As the first gun was heard, the flag of Louisiana was
hoisted from the third story window of the rooms of the Southern
Rights Association, ... the flag is, like the original flag of
Louisiana, of spotless white, with the addition in the centre of a red
star, containing in its centre the emblematic pelican." (Bragg 24) The
wording of this quote leads me to believe that this flag was somehow
unique. It is interesting to note that pelican flags of various
designs have been used in Louisiana since at least 1804."
(SOURCE: Louisiana (U.S.), <http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-la.html>).
Again, from this period: "Gen. Phillip Sheridan was a brigade and then
division commander in the Union Army through 1863. He was brought East
with Gen. U.S. Grant to command the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac
in 1864. As such a HQ flag was designed for him and other prominent
The flag I have for Sheridan is a swallow tail banner, white over red
with a white star in the top and a red star in the bottom. However, I
am told that he had more than one HQ flag. The one that was described
with the crossed sabers may have been the one he used when he
commanded the Union army in the Shenandoah Valley in late 1864."
(SOURCE: General Sheridan's Headquarters Flag (U.S.)
Washington DC also uses - to this very day - a flag with red stars in
it. The stars represent George Washington's coat-of-arms:
(So, OK, they are not a "state", but a "district". They're still part
of the US, last time I've checked, and have red stars on the flag; the
city of Chicago, too, but their stars have 6 points, not 5 points like
DC and California).
Many other nationalist movements use(d) this symbolism (see examples
bellow this paragraph), though the fact that the red star is now so
closely associated with communism probably means that nowadays,
choosing it deliberately shows some political statement that it hadn't
in the mid-19th century when used in Georgia, Louisiana and
Asturian Nationalist Movements (Spain)
<http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/dz.html> (has to do with the
Ottoman colonial heritage, and perhaps also symbolising the
independence from France).
<http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/pa.html> (not a socialist country;
and the star represents "authority and law in the country".
Acre (Part of Brazil)
<http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/br-ac.html> - whereas the red star
stands for " the light that guided those who supported the
incorporation of the Acre territory into Brazil".
Norwegian Naval Flags
In 1948, Dalton Trumbo did not run for a governor (the elections for
governor of California in the 1940s were held in 1942, 1946 and 1950 -
inaugurations in January of the following year), but was in deep
trouble indeed: as one of the "Hollywood Ten", he has been
investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee since
October 1947, and because of his incooperation was sentenced to a year
in prison (he served that time in 1950, after his appeals have been
rejected). In fact, the 1946 Democratic candidate was also the
Republican and Progressive one: Earl Warren (R) managed to win the
primaries of all three parties.