Friday, July 19, 2013

Answer: What are the connections between the flag and the rest of US history?

Our search challenge… was about California's state flag, which first flew over Sonoma in the summer of 1846.  Let's look at these one at a time.  

1.  Who did the vexillographic design of the flag? (And why is he a surprise?)  
First things first... What does the word "vexillographic" mean?  The easiest way to find this one out is with the query: 

     [ define vexillographic ] 

To find out that it refers to the visual and graphical design of the flag.  So, knowing that, it makes sense to ask the query: 

     [ California flag designer ]   

to find out that the Wikipedia article says "The first Bear Flag was designed by William L. Todd, a nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln."  That's interesting and surprising... The California flag was designed by a nephew of Mrs. Lincoln?  
Take Note:  Of course, for something this extraordinary, you'd check it and look in other places, looking for some places that are widely credible.  (But always be cautious:, normally a very credible site, has a web page about the California flag that claims it wasn't supposed to be a bear on the flag, but a pear.  If you click on the link "More information about this page" you'll see that they put this hoax on their own site to remind you that you should ALWAYS doublecheck... even  
But this checks out:  It's easy to find multiple books that all corroborate the connection with the Lincoln family and that it was Willam L. Todd.  
2.  What unusual ink did he use for the star? 
The obvious query would be something like: 

     [ California flag ink Todd ] 

I'm using his name in the query because I want only articles that mention him (a relatively uncommon name), the flag, and something about the ink.  I found that in the California Historical Society Quarterly (Vol. XXXI, No. 3, September 1952) John Hussey published his article, "New Light on the Original Bear Flag" with the comment that the star was painted with a mixture of “blackberry juice, brick dust & oil.” 

Photo of original California state flag (taken in 1890). The original flag was destroyed in the
San Francisco earthquake of 1932.  Image link from Wikimedia.

3.  In a flag with only two words on it, which word was (temporarily) misspelled? 
In the Wikipedia article, William Todd is quoted as having written in a letter:  
"... Underneath the bear and star were printed with a pen the words 'California Republic' in Roman letters. In painting the words I first lined out the letters with a pen, leaving out the letter 'i' and putting 'c' where 'i' should have been, and afterwards the 'i' over the 'c'. It was made with ink, and we had nothing to remove the marks."  

That sounds good, but when I checked the link to the source article (you DID check the reference link, yes?), that link is long since dead.  Suspicious, I started looking around.  Unfortunately,  most of the hits I could find for this are mere copies of the Wikipedia article.  (This is a problem we've talked about before.  Once that Wikipedia content starts being copied around everywhere, it's hard to keep things up to date.)  

So I selected some text from Todd's quotation and searched for that: 

     [ "Underneath the bear and star were printed with a pen" ] 

I figured that would be long enough to be unique, but the words are unlikely to be misspelled themselves.  

I was able to quickly find a reputable source:  The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft: History of California. 1884-90, Volume 5; Volume 22.  This book quotes the original letter by Todd to the Napa Register, July 6, 1872.  

Interestingly, the photo shown above doesn't LOOK like it was misspelled.  But I'll give Todd the benefit of the doubt (since it was his flag), and assume the error was on the other side of the two-sided flag.  

4.  What’s the connection between the flag and a famous American patriot and dentist? 

As I was reading the articles about the flag's history, I happened to notice that the name of James Revere kept appearing.

I know that states love to document their own creation stories, so I did a simple search in Google Books for:

     [ California state flag Todd Revere ] 

Why this?  I wanted some documentation that puts both Todd and Revere in the same scene.  One of the first hits was the record of the Senate of the State of California that records both Todd and Revere at the flag raising. In fact, Joseph Revere delivered the American Stars-and-Stripes from Commodore Sloat's warship, Portsmouth, that was anchored near Monterey (about 200 miles away overland). 
Joseph Revere, grandson of Paul.
 Image from Wikimedia.

A little more reading shows that Joseph Revere was in fact the grandson of Paul Revere.. the well-known Boston patriot, silversmith, and (in his spare time when things were slow) dentist!  

5.  For extra credit (and fun!), when the flag was raised at the start of the revolt, it signaled that the Commodore should move his United States troops onto land to support the annexation of California to the US.  In nearby San Francisco, there is a monument to this Commodore.  Where is it?
As I said above, the flag came from Commodore Sloat's ship.  So... a simple search should reveal the monument: 

     [ monument Commodore Sloat ] 

You can imagine my surprise when the results came back.  There IS no monument to Commodore Sloat in San Francisco (even though there's a major east/west street named Sloat)!  
The closest monument I could find to SF is in Monterey, where his ship was anchored during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846.  It's in the lower part of the historic Presidio there.   
This wasn’t an especially hard search challenge, but it’s good fun to find these connections between people and events that you didn’t know were there.

Search lessons:  (1) Be wary of baked-in assumptions.   The extra credit question remakes a point we've discussed before... That not all questions are going to be accurate in all their details.  Sometimes, there's an assumption built into the question itself ("where's the monument in San Francisco?") that you have to let go.  I was sure there was a Sloat monument in the City, but I was wrong.  Luckily, good search practice is to go with what works.  QUESTION your assumptions constantly!  
(2) Watch out for dead links.  As we saw in the Wikipedia reference, web pages often go stale and need a refresher.  Do not accept a dead link as a good reference for your work.  Chase after it. If it's a decent result, you'll almost certainly find it somewhere else (and somewhere that's live).  
(3) Check your sources. The fake "it was supposed to be a PEAR" story is a great reminder to always check your sources... even ones that you trust.  

Afterword:  The bear that's NOW on the flag was drawn from a live grizzly, namely "Monarch"--one of the last wild grizzlies seen in California, near Ventura.  Read more about his sad, strange story at 


  1. fwiw: pretty good little Sloat monument infobits -
    Sloat (pt 1)
    Sloat (pt2)
    Big Bird

  2. Good Morning, Dr. Russell.

    When I tried this Challenge. My answer for the 4 question was the same RoseMary gave. Now looking answer, learned new stuff. I believe not living in the United States made that I didn´t notice James Revere. And therefore, search in a different way.

    Another surprise was that you did not use Bear Flag Museum I was sure it was a good source that you will use.

    The search lessons are very useful and I'll read the story of "Monarch". A Live grizzly, I never imagined that.

    Finally, maybe others have the same problem. I posted twice my answer and it did not appear. Maybe captcha deletes answers.

    Have a great weekend, Dr. Russell and fellow SearchResearchers.

    1. live link in the response - nice advancement Ramón!
      from the limited response wednesday, I'm guessing there was a gremlin(s) at work…? even Dr. D was slow to post. or maybe the spirit of Aztlán/Nahua in play? ;•0

    2. Hello, Remmij. Thanks! You were my inspiration! When I first saw your posts I knew that can be done and SearchResearch how to do it. Still working on that.

      I noticed that my 2 post are now in the stream in the challenge. So I'll delete one because it is the same.

      I guess gremlins are out too, Remmij, and now that it is raining in many places, maybe they wanted to get out. :)