That Bear

The bear on the CA state flag may be the most famous grizzly bear in the world. He’s certainly the most reproduced. I am not sure at what point in history there became more images of grizzly bears than actual grizzly bears, but certainly we passed it a long, long time ago. What most people don’t know is that the bear on the flag was an actual living, breathing bear. And he was the last California grizzly to be caught alive. His name was Monarch and he was captured in a ploy by William Randolph Hearst to boost newspaper sales in the 1880s (by then everyone knew the bears were disappearing and Hearst thought an account of the capture of the very last one would sell papers).

In 1952, there was an effort to make the bear on the old flag look more believable and “less like a pig.” Monarch was (and is) the only stuffed and mounted specimen of a California grizzly in existence, so he was the model.

The original flag was designed by William Todd "on a piece of new unbleached cotton. The star imitated the lone star of Texas. A grizzly bear represented the many bears seen in the state...It was adopted by the 1911 State Legislature as the State Flag. ”

This is Monarch today…at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, with the musician Good Shield Aguilar.

Aubree Bernier-Clarke and I made a short film about all this (I will put it up here in the next few days)…

2 Comments on “That Bear

  1. Hey Adam, thanks so much for this! The photos in that article are amazing! Hearst’s hired bear trapper actually wasn’t good at trapping bears. He ended up buying on that had already been trapped by a Mexican man. It was a stockade-sort of trap that he got stuck in…

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