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California Flag Pear - Was the Bear a Mistake?

Updated on February 9, 2012

The California Flag "Pear"

Snopes says, "a historically accurate California flag should look something more like this."
Snopes says, "a historically accurate California flag should look something more like this." | Source

Should the California Flag Have a Pear On It Instead of a Bear?

I've lived in California for most of my life, so I'm very familiar with our state flag. The most prominent feature of the flag is the California golden bear or California grizzly bear, which is smack dab in the middle of the flag. So it came as quite a shock to me when I heard that the bear was a mistake and that the original design of the flag called for a pear.

A pear?!? What kind of state flag has a big fruit on it? That sounded too silly to be true, so I went to my favorite site for urban legends, Snopes, and looked it up. Snopes said it was actually true. What?!? Well, sometimes you can't believe everything you read.

The Legend of the California Pear Flag

Here's the story of how the California flag accidentally got designed with a bear instead of a pear.

Way back in 1846, Captain Jedediah Bartlett, together with his lieutenants Albert Bosc and Emmanuel D'Anjou, were leading the revolt against Mexican rule. After capturing the Sonoma Plaza fort, they wanted to raise a flag declaring their victory. But they couldn't decide on a design for the flag.

Everyone agreed that it needed a symbol that was distinctly Californian, but they couldn't agree on such a symbol. So Bartlett, who was an amateur horticulturist who invented the Bartlett pear, pulled rank and suggested the pear as a perfect symbol to represent California's rich agricultural land. Unfortunately, the man tasked with painting the fruit on the flag misread the instructions he had been given.

Whether due to bad handwriting or smeared ink, he thought the note said "bear" rather than "pear." Thus, California's flag ended up with a bear on it. The mistake was never corrected.

Do You Believe This Story About the California Flag "Pear"?

If the story about the California flag pear instead of bear sounds suspicious, that's because it's completely false. The California flag was never supposed to have a pear on it. The bear is and was the correct symbol chosen for the state flag.

So why does Snopes say this false story is true?

Because they don't want you to rely on any one site, even theirs, for your facts. The Snopes version of the story includes a variety of clues that should tip you off to the fallacy of the tale. For instance, the last name of both of Bartlett's lieutenants are the names of pears (d'Anjou and Bosc).

If you scroll all the way down the Snopes page about the California flag pear, you'll find an icon that says "More information about this page." And THAT page will tell you that the story about the pear flag is false.

Snopes says the pear article and a few others sprinkled throughout the site, "graphically demonstrates the pitfalls of falling into the lazy habit of taking as gospel any one information outlet's unsupported word."

A very good lesson for all of us, I think.

The Real California Flag

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