It was raised for the first time in Sonoma, California on June 18, 1846, in the insurrection of the non-Hispanic Californios (gringos) that constituted the short-lived California Republic. California at the time was the Mexican department of Alta California.
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. 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.
The original Bear Flag and the republic it symbolized had a brief career. On July 9, 1846, two days after Commodore John D. Sloat of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron first raised the 28-star American flag at Monterey, the capital of Alta California, and claimed the territory for the United States, U.S. Navy Lt. Joseph Warren Revere arrived in Sonoma and hauled down the Bear Flag, running up in its place the Stars and Stripes. Revere handed the Bear Flag to Midshipman John E. Montgomery, who, because the flag snagged a few times as it was lowered, would later write in a letter to his mother "Cuffy came down growling." "Cuffy" being his nickname for the bear on the flag.