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Dear Matt:

If California is the Golden State, why is Nevada the Silver State? Shouldn't it be called the Silvery State? Or should we be known as the Gold State?

Worried in North County


For such a hip state, why does California have such a dorky flag? Why is the bear staring at the star? What�s that red thing at the bottom? How would we go about changing the flag to something better?

Disgusted in Poway

Changing the flag would involve years of heavy dealings with the California legislature. Reliable medical studies prove that the average citizen's life expectancy is shortened by one day for every day spent jousting with Sacramento.

Our state's flag came from the town of Sonoma about 150 years ago. They do wine better than flags, I guess. Or maybe they did too much wine before they did the flag. Anyway, in the spring of 1846, California was still part of the Republic of Mexico. When the U.S. couldn't manage to buy the place in 1845, they switched to Plan B and declared war. There was a Mexican garrison in Sonoma, finally taken over by Kit Carson and other American immigrants in June of '46. To make things official, they whipped up a flag, the Bear Flag, to replace the Mexican banner and declared California an independent republic.

Carson and friends reportedly chose a bear, a star, and a red stripe to represent their tenacious fighting spirit and California's link with the U.S. The red stripe bore the words California Republic; perhaps prophetically, the guy who painted the bear and the words misspelled Republic. And descriptions of the original flag suggest the bear looked remarkably like a pig. That flag was lost in the San Francisco earthquake. In 1911 a designer reworked the Bear Flag more artistically, after passing a brief spelling test. If you're wondering what the grouchy bear's thinking, the California grizzly is snarling, I'm extinct, dammit! Extinct!�

As for why we're golden, the descriptor comes from the color of the California hills, particularly in the northern and central parts of the state. The poppies, the golden grasses, the whole sunset thing. You could appreciate the beauty of your surroundings even if you didn't strike it rich. Nevada, of course, is the Silver State for its famous silver mines but mostly for the reflection of moonlight off the nickel slots.

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