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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

from a Mexican to a golden state              Michael Meghpara


A boy growing up in the farm town of Decatur, Illinois, Walker was inspired by the writings of Jack London, and has written extensively about the author. He earned his degree in journalism from the University of Texas at El Paso. This accomplished man is the author of twenty-three books, he has also served as a television reporter, editor, news and information officer, university press director, freelance writer, biographer, and historian, and is also the past president of Western Writers of America (WWA).



The history of California is an intricate story of conquest tied with rebellion and battle. California was not simply taken from the Native Americans in the mid 1800s; it was stolen from the Mexicans in a series of battles filled with bloodshed, deceit, and alliances that altered the history of America. Dale L. Walker¡¦s book, Bear Flag Rising exemplifies how ¡§the conquest of California is representative of a concept as old and arrogant as mankind¡¨1. This concept, known as Manifest Destiny, or the belief that the America should control the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was the platform of President Polk and drove many ventures into the western frontier. Beginning with the annexation of Texas, and then creeping its way to California, Manifest Destiny was a new concept for an ancient idea that has steered and muddled nearly every nation. Bear Flag Rising is not only the story of the effects of Manifest Destiny on the frontier, it is also about the mission of the settlers to annex the Mexican province of Alta California by military force, and add it to the rapidly growing United States of America.

Walker starts off his book with the history of California before the American settlers began to occupy the area during the early 1800s. It was first discovered by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, who came to the New World with Hernan Cortes. While Cortes occupied himself with the conquering of Mexico and Mexico City, Cabrillo traveled north to the Coast of Cathay (what is now California), charted the land, and explored the coast. Walker then explains how the Spanish built actual settlements 221 years later and began establishing missions and small communities. Gaspar de Portola brought missionaries to spread and establish the Christian religion in California. This line of missions is known as the El Camino Real. Moreover, this era, from 1769 to 1833 is known as the ¡§pastoral¡¨ era, due to the numerous missions throughout California. The author then goes into further detail regarding Mexican occupation. The Mexicans achieved their opportunity to take over California, when the Spanish could not provide any goods to California. These Californios (Californian-Mexicans) were generous and gregarious people whose hospitality resonated throughout the region. Walker then goes into further detail about the successful settlements in California. Sutter¡¦s Fort was a popular settlement that housed many immigrants, it ¡§lay at the center of a much larger and even more impressive enterprise¡¨2. This region, known as Nueva Helvetia or ¡§New Switzerland,¡¨ was ¡§a fifty-thousand acre empire that in peak times employed five hundred workers¡¨ for every sort of job.  The town of Monterey, a key trading port, was also a key to California¡¦s prominence. For many years to come, foreigners and Mexicans alike would fight over control of this key city. By giving a simple background history of Alta California, the author is setting up the basis for the actual Bear Flag Revolt, which occurred in 1846. As settlers began to inhabit Californian territory, tensions begin to build between the Californios and the American settlers.

The next part of Walker¡¦s book describes the actual rebellion by the settlers. John C. Fremont was initially an explorer from the East sent on an expedition to the West to explore the Oregon Trail. He was essentially an adventurer and a man of action. Dubbed the ¡§Pathfinder¡¨ Fremont was the key responsible for opening the door to rebellion. Mexican General Jose Castro had carried out orders from Mexico City by issuing a decree ordering all American immigrants to proceed north to Sonoma. As expected, this decree stirred much anger among the American emigrants. Moreover, Fremont and his men moving inland posed a threat to the Mexicans. They believed that Fremont and his ¡§army¡¨ had come to fight a war. Fremont wrote to the Mexican consul, claiming that ¡§¡¥if [he was] unjustly attacked, [he would] fight to extremity and refuse quarter, trusting [his] country to avenge [his] death¡¦¡¨3. The two opposing groups then met at both Hawk¡¦s Peak and Klamath Lake where little blood was shed. The author shows how small incidences led to such drastic measures. General Gillespie had witnessed first hand the Mexican reaction to the Texas annexation. Fearing it might lead to something a lot bigger and more dangerous, armies and generals from the United States were sent to defend the land. Zachary Taylor was sent to defend the Rio Grande and Dragoon general-to-be, Stephen Watts Kearny, had the same battle philosophy and was sent to Santa Fe, and later continued on to California4. The Osos (American Rebels) soon took over Mexican General Vallejo¡¦s home, Casa Grande in Sonoma, and captured the powerful general. They had successfully taken over the California Republic, and William B. Ide had become its commander in chief. General Jose Castro was sorely defeated at the Battle of Olompali in June 1846. Later, the Bear Flaggers were notified that the United States had declared war with Mexico and they immediately sought to make California a part of the United States. On June 12, the American flag was proudly hung up at Monterey and many other posts throughout California. Walker tells the story as it progresses and explains the effects after elaborating upon the causes, eventually leading to the annexation of the Golden State.

After the annexation of California, Walker focuses more on the conquest and acquisition of more land for the new state. Walker explains the stories behind the acquisitions of various cities such as Santa Fe, Los Angeles, San Pascual, San Gabriel, and even the infamous Cahuenga Pass. In 1846, Santa Fe ¡§stood as isolated as the outback and had once been as forbidden to outsiders as Mecca and Timbuktu¡¨5. First arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Kearny issued a blunt proclamation that he had come from his government to take over those lands, which was the goal of the American government during the Mexican-American War. Arrangements were made for garrisons to be set up and armed to protect the land. A counterrevolt in Los Angeles forced American troops to abandon the area; however, they were later going to get it back. Kearny moved on with General Gillespie to San Pascual. Here the battle began completely by mistake, and within minutes the fight developed into a furious battle. San Gabriel was a battle that included a 600 man force of General Stockton and Kearny. They traveled from San Diego to Los Angeles and fought on the banks of San Gabriel. Rifle fire led to canons and full on attacks. Battles in these cities were a few examples of how the American forces exerted their influence by dominating California.

The author then progresses to the end of the Mexican-American War in California by explaining the minor failures that led the famous generals to move back east. Fremont had taken control of Los Angeles, but he had tried to run a government with no money. However, he returned to St. Louis a glorious battle hero. However, he was soon arrested, for Kearny had challenged Fremont¡¦s ¡§military, civil, political, and moral decisions in California¡¨6. Accordingly a court martial was held, which found him guilty of mutiny, disobeying a superior officer, poor conduct and display of good order and military discipline by mistreating the natives and abusing his power. He was dismissed from service. At this point of the book, Walker demonstrates how the focus had shifted from California to the East Coast, signaling the end of battle and rebellion in California.

Walker¡¦s book is an elaborate history of the annexation of California. He explains the causes and incidents that led to the formation of the Bear Flag Republic and the annexation of California into the United States. Starting from the very beginning of Californian history where Indians ruled the land, he later explains how the Mexicans came to control the land. His chronological and text-book style writing allows the reader to see California history as it was, and leaves the reader open to formulate their own thesis and opinions. This book accurately depicts that as time changed, people changed too, influencing the events occurring from 1846 to 1847. Different eras have different beliefs, and coincidentally, that era was one of conquest and expansion. Manifest Destiny was the ¡§religion¡¨ which many Americans followed. To fulfill this coast-to-coast dream, California had to be taken from Mexico. The conditions were ideal: ¡§Texas was admitted to the Union¡KZachary Taylor¡¦s army was poised to meet [the Mexican army], and John Charles Fremont and his rough crew were marching into California¡¨7. By progressing through the rebellion in a thorough and detailed manner, Walker educates the reader on the story of the birth of California and describes it from beginning to end.

Description is the key to accurate, interesting, and detailed history. Walker explains every aspect of the history of California from start to finish, in an unbiased manner. In order to remain accurate, one must be objective in their point of view. By doing so, the author allows the reader to create an impression on the work rather than lay it out for them. He is able to evoke emotion over not only the prominence of the Americans, but also the plight of the Californios and Indians. Richard Henry Dana, an early explorer, came to California and ¡§told of a vast, bizarre, lazy and decadent land, immensely rich, whose people, other then a handful of ¡¥grandees,¡¦ had no education and no initiative and seemed to be in a geographical and cultural limbo, as if apathetically awaiting conquest¡¨8. If he needs to provide any opinions, Walker uses external sources to document public feelings and the situation at certain times. The book also exemplifies Walker¡¦s neo-conservative historiographic ideals, due to his unbiased views and explaining the history based on the intervention of the federal government and viewing the U.S. as a uniquely moral, stable country. By maintaining an objective point of view and preventing any drastic assumptions, Walker is able to describe the history of California as it was rather than tell it from the filtered or biased eyes.

Although this book might seem intriguing and informative to many people, some literary criticisms deride the book¡¦s content. Nicholas Ivor Martin claims that the book is written based on a very interesting topic, but is not well executed. It states that the book is ¡§as bad as the writing is the organization¡¨ and has ¡§more or less given up on getting a gripping, tightly-knit story.¡¨ This review also claims that the book uses one too many secondary sources to make claims that could have been proven simpler. These secondary sources, he believes, give too much background information, where none is actually needed. 13

However, another review by Sunny Delaney explains that Bear Flag Rising is a ¡§thoroughly researched, engagingly written, [and] an excellent addition to the growing list of books on the American West.¡¨ He claims that this book shows how the leaders put their lives at risk, and by doing so might have helped add one of the greatest states to the United States of America.14 Although some might criticize and others might complement, the book is a work that can be judged only by the reader. It is a story of a history filled with interesting facts and people that were part of one of the greatest additions to the United States.

This book was very thorough in its description of the actual Bear Flag Rebellion. By starting from the very origin of Californian occupation, the author gives a complete history behind the annexation of the Golden State. He shows how initial conditions led to a certain effect, and how the gradual progression of America¡¦s development and dominance in California. The author claims that he has ¡§tried, at some length to provide a picture of pre-conquest California and to do justice to the California ¡¥side¡¦ in the 1845-47 era, especially in recounting how leaders¡Krose to oppose¡Kthe loss of their beloved land, and their way of life, to the interlopers¡¨9. The organization of the book progresses chronologically, and is separated into three parts: The Coast of Cathay (pre-conquest), Bear Flag Rising, and Conquest. The reader is able to experience history as it occurred, which provides more clarity and understanding. Walker successfully wrote a simple, yet sophisticated novel that informs the reader about the history of California, its annexation, and its consequences.

Under President Polk, the United States experienced a period of drastic expansionist policies. Policies in the East set out to spread the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. One of the ¡§campaign slogans that helped Polk¡¦s election was ¡§Fifty-four Forty or Fight¡¨10. This slogan was used to demonstrate Polk¡¦s desire to expand the country both west and north. The platform of Manifest Destiny that dominated his term influenced the shape that the United States took after conquest and expansion. As more land was acquired, people from the East began to move to the frontier and establish villages and cities in the countryside. California was the key to westward expansion. The series of battles in California that led to its annexation exemplified the expansionist ideals of the Americans. Eastern politics had governed the outcome of the West. Immigration would increase greatly with the discovery of gold in 1849 at Sutter¡¦s Fort.

California was not even regarded as potential American soil until 1846. Since Mexico had controlled this region, its society, its culture, and its people remained completely out of touch with American frontiersmen. The Americans had not even entered the land until the late 1840s, with Fremont. Moreover, Mexico took great pride over its North American territory and ¡§regarded its Pacific ¡¥Department¡¦ as the inestimably precious jewel in its colonial crown and dreaded the prospect of losing it¡¨11. They protected it from foreign intervention at all costs. Even when the Americans entered, the Mexican generals eagerly tried to push the Americans off the land, eventually leading to tension, then rebellion, and then war. California was the key to fulfilling America¡¦s dream of Manifest Destiny, and once it was annexed, America had spread from sea to shining sea. This new state would serve as an important frontier state where many Americans would emigrate to. Also, it opened up America to the Pacific and opened up American trade to both Europe and Asia. Later, California would also be a significant economic asset during the Gold Rush in 1849. California was an addition that contributed to the prominence of the United States and justly acquired its title of the ¡§Golden State.¡¨

California has a history as complex and intricate as a maze. From the very beginning, starting with Spanish occupation, California was a popular destination due to its ideal location and nature. After the Mexicans had taken over, they enjoyed just a few years of isolation before the Americans began to interfere and start their own conquest of the territory. To fulfill the United States¡¦ hunger for more land, President Polk sent explorers and generals, Fremont and Kearny respectively, to help take California from the Mexicans and annex it as a state. The contentious men ¡§around whom the spectacle of the conquest tumbles and swirls like a Mojave dust devil, and the color and drama of the California conquest¡¨ preoccupy a majority of Bear Flag Rising12. Battles were filled with deceit, deception, and treachery; and conquest was dominated by greed and lust for land.


1. Walker, Dale L.. Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California, 1846. 1st. New York: Tom Doherty Associates , 1999.

2. Walker (13)

3. Walker (46)

4. Walker (94)

5. Walker (110)

6 ..Walker (178)

7. Walker (279)

8. Walker (68)

9. Walker (22)

10. Walker (15)

11. Walker (59)

12. Walker (41)

13. Walker (15)

14. Martin, Nicholas. "Story May Be Fascinating Just Not This Version ." CNN 22 September 1999 1 Jun 2008 <http://www.cnn.com/books/reviews/9909/22/bear.flag/ index.html>.(Par 5)

15. Delaney, Sunny. Netstate 14 June 2007 1 Jun 2008 <http://www.netstate.com/states/bkstore/ ca_bk.htm>. (Par. 2)