The Tracy Family History
The Bear Flag Revolt

Bear Flag, 1846. This is a photo of the original Bear Flag that was
destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

The Bear Flag Revolt
    The purpose of this segment is not to tell the story of the Bear Flag Revolt. There are books available that can tell that story in detail. Here I only wish to tell as it affects the family history.
    By 1846, there were around 800 Americans in California, mostly in the northern part of the state and within trading distance of Sutter's Fort. Most of the settlers knew one another. There were war clouds between Mexico and the United States, thus Mexican officials were becoming wary of the ever-growing American presence in California. William Todd, who will come back into our story later, wrote in a letter, "…the Mexicans talk every spring and fall of driving the foreigners out."
    As in most histories there is more than one version. I prefer the one that is best for the family history. In the first half of June 1846, probably the first week of the month, an unidentified horseman crossed Moon's primitive ferry with the news that the Mexicans were forming an army to drive out all Americans north of Sutter's Fort.
    Local history tells this tale: "Moon, on hearing the tale from the unknown horseman crossing the river immediately spread the alarm among the Northern Valley settlers and they gathered at the Moon house, that original adobe building, to plan some concerted defense…" Thus, Uncle Billy became the Paul Revere of the Bear Flag Revolt.
    Most historians believe that it was not Moon who spread the word but another. The settlers did meet in the Moon house to plan the revolt, but there is some question as to whether it was the original adobe or the unfinished famous wood frame house. Most historians believe it was the wood frame house.
    Some say that there were a dozen or more at the meeting, others that there were five or six. Among those in the meeting was Henry Ford, Uncle Billy's partner. He had military experience having deserted from the army. Included was Ezekiel Merritt, Uncle Billy's partner known as "Zeke" or "Stuttering Merritt." He was quite a character. He lived with a squaw.         
    One historian describes him as "…a big, stuttering, excitable frontiersman with a bushy, tobacco-juice-stained beard, a mane of graying hair, and fierce bloodshot eyes." Bancroft says, "...a coarse-grained, loud-mouthed, unprincipled, whiskey-drinking, quarrelsome fellow." John Charles Fremont, the Pathfinder, said, "a rugged man, fearless and simple: taking delight in incurring risks, but tractable and not given to asking questions when there was something he was required to do." Another said, "When excited he had a peculiar stuttering speech. His whole appearance and manner was that of a man moved by some revengeful, intoxicating passion." He was over six feet in height, "…dressed in greasy buckskins, beaded moccasins, and foxtail cap." He was a famous Indian fighter. Merritt was probably living at the Moon house at the time of the revolt.
Another who was at the meeting was Robert Baylor Semple, 6'8", with red hair. He was a most amazing personality. Mary Todd Lincoln's sister once rode with him in a stage coach and said he was "…the most brilliant man she had ever heard." The famed Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, thought he was very smart. A British naval officer was amazed to find that Semple knew more about British naval history than he did. The American counsel said, "…near genius whose light shown brightly, in flashes, then flickered and died out." I am telling you these stories so you know the kind of     men that Uncle Billy counted as his friends.
    By the end of the meeting two things had been decided: One was to gather an army and take over the Mexican headquarters for all of Northern California, which was located in Sonoma close to San Francisco bay. Ford put it bluntly, "We have gone to war with the Mexican nation."
    The second decision was to make a flag. They took a washed out flour sack from Chile, which had been shipped to San Francisco and freighted by team to the Moon store. William Todd, whose aunt, Mary Todd from Kentucky, had married a lawyer four years earlier named Abraham Lincoln, has gone down in history as "The Great Artist.” A red star and bar were cut out from a red flannel shirt, then a pot of blacking was used to draw a bear so crude that it looked like a pig. Underneath, were the words "California Republic.”
    Thus began the Bear Flag Revolt and ever since the Moon house has been known as the "Cradle of the California Republic." Ford and Merritt were the leaders.
    The California Republic lasted just 25 days when news was received that the United States was officially at war with Mexico. The Bear Flag was taken down from the pole in Sonoma and the American flag raised. (Some say the Bear Flag was made in Sonoma from a petticoat.)
    Legend has it that a naval officer from one of the American war ships, Lieutenant Revere, grandson of Paul Revere, put the bear flag in his pocket and walked off with it. It would later find it's way to the Society of California Pioneers in San Francisco, there destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. (This was the same naval officer who did the previous sketch of Sutter’s Fort.)

Another version
“Ford was the man who carried the Bear Flag to Sonoma on June 14, 1846. After July 7, the original flag was carried away by John Elliott Montgomery, 16. He disappeared, and his father, Commander John B. Montgomery, took the flag to Boston Navy Yard, and later it was transferred to the Navy Department at Washington D. C. Californians asked for it and it was presented in 1855 to the Society of California Pioneers and brought to San Francisco. The Society made a copy of it, which is reserved in their museum in San Francisco. The original was lost in the big San Francisco fire in 1906.”

    248 Bear Flaggers would join the California Battalion of the US Army and march off to war.
    At the famous Bancroft Library on the University of California campus at Berkeley, there is a shoebox with a few notes inside about our famous Wm. C. Moon. Unnamed historians placed these scraps of paper there over the years. In a letter from Bidwell, it says Wm. C. Moon stayed on the ranch during the war of 1847-1848. Uncle Billy's partners, the leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt, Ford and Merritt, went off to war. I can only assume that Moon stayed behind to take care of their ranches.

    The transition for the Californios to US rule was not difficult. Long neglected and abused by the Mexican government, the Californios had no love for, nor loyalty to Mexico. When war was certain, three California Mexican leaders in Northern California held a meeting to decide which country they wanted to align themselves with. One wanted to go with France because of the common religion. Another wanted to align themselves with England because of the empire. The third wanted to go with the United States because of the Constitution. Not one person even considered staying with Mexico!

A recommended book on the Bear Flag Revolt, the events leading up to it, and afterwards, is Bear Flag Rising, by Dale L. Walker. The definitive works on the revolt is The Men of the Bear Flag Revolt and Their Heritage, by Barbara R. Warner, in which the author attempts to give the genealogy, history, and biographical sketch of all the major participants.

The replica of the Moon House is used in a parade by the Squaw Hill 4-H Club.

More Moon Stories
    William C. Moon was in the right place at the right time in history. In 1848, gold was discovered. It would take six months for news of the discovery to reach the outside world, then another six months for the outside world to get to the California gold fields. This gave the early pioneers a one-year jump on the rest of the world.
    The shoebox tells us that Moon went to the gold fields in 1848, with Job F. Dye. It is also recorded that he mined on Clear Creek, near Muletown, before the gold rush of '49.

An article in the Sacramento Union newspaper dated 19 May 1858, tells an interesting tale of gold mining, intrigue, and Uncle Billy's reputation as a hunter. Following, is the full story as reported in the paper:

An old Trapper in Tehama-a correspondent of the Union, writing from Tehama County, gives the following reminiscences. We do not wish to be understood as impugning the veracity of "Old Moon" and his partner accumulating some two hundred pounds of gold, or of "Old Moon" and the "three other hunters" bagging, "within a circuit of four miles," three hundred deer and one thousand hares," etc., but we do say they had most uncommon luck: If the mines are exhausted, certainly the forests are not. Do you know "Old Moon," the hunter and trapper? No! Well he lives on his own ranch, about twenty-five miles, by the river, below Tehama, and is well known here as the greatest hunter and trapper in this section. He hunted and trapped for years in what was called the "Far West," and can tell many tales of "hair breath 'capes" from animals and "injuns." In 1834, he came to California, then inhabited almost wholly by the red man. When the gold was discovered, he employed about one hundred Indians to work for him. In a short time he and his partner had accumulated about two hundred solid pounds of gold. His partner took it to San Francisco to have it assayed, and vamosed with the whole to parts unknown. Since that time "Old Moon," whose hair is white as snow, has contented himself with the possession of a good ranch and a trusty gun, which he knows how to use. A few days ago, "Old Moon" and three other hunters went out to the Coast range of mountains, and within a circuit of four miles, bagged the following game: three hundred deer, five elk, and one thousand hares, grouse, etc. They were not gone over thirty days. Can anyone beat that? Some other time I may give you some items of "Old Moons" past life. Peg Leg Smith, with whom I conversed a few days ago, told me that "Old Moon" had several times saved him (Smith) from the Indians on the Plains.

    Foremost among the talents of a mountain man was his ability to tell tall tales.
    It is interesting to note that at the time this article was written, Uncle Billy was forty-nine years of age and already called "Old Moon!”
    If his partner vamoosed with the gold it was probably Ezekiel Merritt.
    The shoebox tells us in the words of Bidwell, Moon "was an inveritable hunter." After Merritt's death (In another note, Bidwell states that Merritt died in the winter of 1847 or 1848) "… he mined for a short time at Feather River."
    Trusting your partner with 200 pounds of gold was not unusual in the early years of the gold rush, particularly in the first year. A man could leave a pile of his gold on the banks of the river he mined it from, or leave a box of gold on the paddlewheel docks, and nobody would touch it, even though everyone knew the box was full of gold.
    As I already told you, the early pioneers had a year head start on the “49ers.” When the prospectors started coming into California they came pouring in from all over the world. It would be the greatest peacetime migration in history. And Moon was perfectly positioned for them.
    The sternwheelers made their way up the Sacramento River and it's tributaries. The miners came into San Francisco, then by sternwheeler up the Sacramento River to Moons place, one of the departing places for the gold fields. Although the river was not navigable year round it did provide an excellent transportation system. The smaller sternwheelers were dismantled in the "States," put aboard ships and freighted to San Francisco. The larger boats simply paddled their way around the Cape of Good Hope.
    The paddlewheelers established a terminus at the Moon Ranch in 1850, which was 232 river miles from Sacramento (Sutter's Fort), then headed north another 38 miles to Red Bluff, which was the headwaters. Red Bluff was as far as the steamboats could go without hitting bottom. The valley did not end at Red Bluff, just the steamboat transportation. The valley extended north many more miles. This shows you the vastness of the land that Uncle Billy opened to the world.
    Moon established a more modern ferry by this time. A ferry to cross the Sacramento was not established at Red Bluff until three years later. The ferry landing was not at the Moon house itself but a few hundred yards up river. The house had to be situated on a bank high enough to escape the flooding, whereas the ferry landing (also the paddlewheel landing) had to have a gentle slope so the ferry and paddlewheelers could nose in.
    The original landing was called Moon's, Squaw Hill, later the Corning Landing. There are different versions of how the name Squaw Hill came into being. Some say two elderly Indian women would stand on the hill and wave to the passengers on the passing sternwheelers. Others tell the same story, but say it was two young Indian girls. Still others say that this was the place the Indian women cleaned their fish.

                                                                Moons Ferry Over the Sacramento River

“In the early days streams that could not be forded were crossed by ferries in place of bridges. Those ferries were flat barges large enough to hold one or more vehicles. They were propelled back and forth across the streams by the use of poles or the force of the current. Usually they were attached to cables stretching across the streams. Since the Sacramento River was navigable a cable placed across the stream would obstruct river traffic; so a pontoon system was used. The ferry here has just pushed off. If the front of the ferry is pointed up-stream the current will carry it across to the opposite bank.” (This is from an 1880 illustration.)

The following are two excerpts of interest from an 1850 diary:
"(May 23) A cool morning. Spent afternoon at Myer's. A party from the wedding, and some travelers, caught a ducking. Crossing a wagon, oxen and 6 men, in the scow, at Moon's Ferry, about 2 miles below Hall's, the oxen caused the boat to upset, and the men had to swim.
(Aug. 3rd) …Early in the afternoon J.J. Myers, McBride, Moon, (proprietor of the Sacramento ferry) all mounted, with Mr Moon's squaw, astraddle a mule, and 10 of his indians a-foot, passed, on their way from the settlements to the upper Feather River mines."
    As I told you before, the Moon house is where everything came together. When the few primitive roads were established they would pass the Moon house. (Although in the very early days there were no roads. The rivers were the only forms of transportation.) Stagecoaches, wagons, etc. had to cross at the Moon ferry. Here is where all of the connections were made for transportation: river boats, stagecoaches, etc. Uncle Billy's Moon house must have been a very busy place indeed.
    By July 1851, a post office was established at the Moon house with Nathaniel Merrill as postmaster. Merrill was a cousin of Ford's. Merrill would become manager of the Moon house and all of its operations and would start the first serious farming in the county in the same year.
    The original post office is on display at the Tehama County Museum in the little town of Tehama, not far from Corning off of I-5. It is a little museum but quite good.
In the early 1850's, a man came to the Moon house from the gold fields and placed his baggage behind a pot bellied stove but did not notice a sign, which said “Sacramento." At the bottom of his bag was a smaller bag with $4,000 in gold dust.        
    Remember, the honest people of the time would not touch your possessions. When the man came back to get his bag, it was gone. He asked Moon what happened to his bag, and Uncle Billy told him he had put it on the paddleboat for Sacramento. We can assume that the miner just about had a heart attack. Realizing the mistake, Uncle Billy loaned the man his best horse so that he could attempt to ride ahead and catch the boat at its next stop, but he arrived too late.
    Nobody wanted to ride any further because the land was flooded. Finally a man was found who was willing to ride all the way to Sacramento. The gold was finally retrieved. The retrivee was paid only for his expenses by the retrivor, and nothing extra for his extraordinary effort in the face of adversity.
    Next is the story of a murder at the Moon house. In late 1851, a man named Nathaniel Bowman killed another man, Levi Seigler, at the Moon ranch by beating him over the head with a bottle. Apparently Seigler's snoring upset Bowman.              Bowman was placed under guard at Monroeville and on 22 March 1852 indicted for murder by the grand jury. After he was convicted he escaped from his imprisonment and hobbled into a house laden in heavy chains and begged the owner for his life and that the chains be cut loose. Being a good citizen, the man led Bowman back to Monroeville where he was eventually executed.
All early day inns had their stories of buried gold. In the early 1850's, a miner stayed at the Moon house, then was stricken with fever. He would linger for weeks, alternating between bouts of delirium. Finally he died. But before his last breath he told of burying a pot of gold worth $40,000 under an old oak tree north of the house. For 50 years people would search for the gold without success.
    At the California State Library in Sacramento there is on file a Federal Government deposition dated 1858, with William C. Moon called as a witness for the US Government. It is not a very serious case. It looks like the government bought some cattle from someone and thought they were overcharged. The deposition took place in San Francisco and an attorney represented Moon.
    Moon gave his birth date, stated he had first come to California in 1840. Either he was wrong about the date or had visited the state on a previous trip. He was probably wrong on the date. Furthermore, he said he had lived on his ranch since 1844. Then he went on to say he knew nothing about cattle except how they were carried on the tax roles.
    Two things are curious about this deposition. Why would he take the precaution of being represented by an attorney when he was only a witness? And why would he say he knew nothing about cattle when he was a cattle rancher?
    There are numerous references to Moon's squaw in legal documents and diaries of the time. This was not a derogatory statement at this time in history. It merely denoted that he had an Indian wife.
    He had a half-breed son, also named William C. Moon, born in 1859, and dying at the age of 18, in 1877.
    The native Indians were an important part of this era of California history. Moon, like most of the ranchers, used Indian labor extensively.
    Of historical note: Uncle Billy was from Missouri, a strong slave state. Working 10 Indians, or 100, would have been normal for a slave owner.
    In a legal document dated 6 February 1857, Nicholas P. Moon is also living on the ranch. This would have been Uncle Billy's nephew who showed up in the 1850 census in Missouri.
    In 1867, a William Coleman Moon shows up in the same area, four years difference in age, also native of Tennessee, also a cattle rancher. It has long been believed that the two were the same. However, the county historian says that Uncle Billy died on 31 May 1878, (I haven't been able to verify this with official records.) and I have William Coleman Moon signing a deed six months later. I believe that they were two different men and that Coleman used his full middle name so as not to confuse the two.
    Eventually, Moon sold his interest in the house but kept a room. This is where he died. The shoebox says that "G" was with him when he died. That was probably Isaac L. Given, a member of the Workman-Rowland party and a prominent local citizen. No one knows what happened to his Indian wife or where the half-bred son is buried. Some say that Moon is buried on the ranch, others that he is buried at the Tehama cemetery.
    His photo can be dated, with certainty, to within five years of his death. Bancroft lists him as one of California 66 original pioneers. I assume this means he was one of the first to come and actually to settle California.
    In time the famous Moon house fell into disrepair and was abandoned. Sometime after 1910 the house was torn down, the lumber used for fence post, which still fill the countryside. The chimney bricks were dismantled and used by others. The famous Moon house is no more. In time the fame of Uncle Billy and his Moon house would fade from memory. The family, like the other residents of the area, would eventually come to think that the Moon house was Chinese.

This is how the ferry looked in 1911, a big improvement over Uncle Billy’s primitive ferry of 1846. Notice how the ferry, and paddlewheelers, nose into the landing. The paddlewheelers were used until 1916, the ferry until 1921. At that time the Woodson Bridge was built on the same spot.

My family history web site has 79 chapters. If you would like to know more about the other chapters then go to my Home Page

                                                                                Next Chapter


Related Links