The Bear on the California Flag Should Have Been a Pear

Status: Hoax
image A reporter for Inside Bay Area (I don't know his name... it's not given with the article) recently recounted how his granddaughter told him that the bear on the California flag was originally supposed to be a pear. Back in 1846, Capt. Jedediah Bartlett, leader of a band of rebels fighting against the Mexican authorities in California, supposedly drew up a flag for the future state. He thought a pear, as a symbol of the region's agriculture, would be a fitting symbol. But his instructions were misread and the flagmaker inserted a bear on the flag instead of a pear. The error was never rectified.

The Inside Bay Area reporter was a little suspicious when he heard this story, but he did some fact-checking, discovered the story was true, and shared this with his readers. What he should also have told his readers was that his fact-checking consisted simply of finding the story listed as true on Snopes and therefore assuming it had to be true. Two weeks later he was forced to admit his error. The story is not true. The California bear was not originally a pear.

In his mea culpa the reporter offered this excuse: "I decided to recount it when I checked a Web site that purports to investigate urban myths to determine their validity. The Web site pronounced it 'True.' So I passed it along. Bad idea."

In other words, he seems to be blaming his error on Snopes. What the guy doesn't seem to realize is that the Pear/Bear story is one of a handful of deliberately false stories that Snopes has on its site (it calls them Lost Legends), placed there precisely to trip up people who are too lazy to do thorough fact-checking. Snopes explains this if you click on the "More information about this page" link at the bottom of the Pear/Bear story (something the reporter evidently still has not gotten around to doing). Journalists should be proud to call this guy one of their own.

History Journalism

Posted on Sun Nov 13, 2005


I love Snopes so much right now. smile
Posted by Steph  on  Sun Nov 13, 2005  at  09:36 PM
LOL What an idiot!
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Sun Nov 13, 2005  at  11:11 PM
How fitting... A giant fruit to represent all the little fruits living out there...
Posted by Christopher in Joplin, Missouri  in  Joplin, mo  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  05:09 AM
Re: "Fruits" - the largest gay city is apparently Dallas.

As for the bear/pear -- that's really amusing! Thanks, Alexx!
Posted by cvirtue  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  06:13 AM
Aint Snopes the best?

I mean, after MOH, that is...

Journalists will believe ANYTHING you tell them with a straight face. Credulity seems to be a requirement for the job.
Posted by JoeSixpack  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  06:59 AM
Same thing happened in the USSR with their flag, except it was a pickle. True story.
Posted by booch  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  01:07 PM
I've long been curious; what does the chap who runs this website think of Snopes? You both occupy similar sections of the market, and are theoretically competitors. There's a substantial overlap between hoaxes and urban legends, I suppose the big differences being that a hoax is deliberate and immediate whereas an urban legend coalesces naturally over time, although both your site and Snopes cover up-to-date, days-old phenomena.

Snopes seems to be authoritative, in that it researches and passes what seems like well-researched judgement on each of the stories it covers; in this respect it resembles the Straight Dope. is however more bloggy and immediate and has more of an emphasis on floating internet memes. And of course you have published books, and Snopes has not as far as I am aware. Do you know them personally, or are you distant?
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  01:30 PM
I think Snopes is great as a rumor-debunking resource. However, I've never communicated with them. I sent them an email once to say hi, back in 1999 (or around that time) when both our sites were much smaller, but never heard back. I'm sure they had no idea who I was. Ever since then I've left them alone. Their site is so much bigger and more popular than mine, that to this day I'm not sure they know my site exists. At least, I don't think they've ever referenced my site. I do communicate quite often with David Emery who runs
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  02:15 PM
cvirtue wrote:
"Re: "Fruits" - the largest gay city is apparently Dallas."

"Largest gay city" as in "largest city with gay people in it," or as in "city with the largest number of gay people"?
By either standard, I'd think that New York would be Number One for the United States (not for the whole world, though).

Or do you mean, "city with the greatest percentage of gay residents"?

Surely some smaller place, like Fire Island or Provincetown, would come out ahead in that ranking.

Anyhow, thanks for the nomination, and a flag with some fruit on it would beat the one we have now.
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas, Texas  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  05:17 PM
I don't think MOH and Snopes are exactly competitors. It's not like they're selling something and once you've bought it on one site the other one is left out. I check both of them out everyday. The internet would not be the same without them (or The Straight Dope, or Boing Boing). Keep doing what you're doing Alex!

As for this reporter - well, I guess it just reminds us not to take what we read in the paper as true without doing a little fact checking ourselves. We can't realy on 'jounalists' to do it, so we have to watch out for ourselves. Not a bad thing to know, really.
Posted by Kristen  in  Seattle  on  Mon Nov 14, 2005  at  09:32 PM
Wow, I remember when snopes was so little it only had like 5 categories. That must have been back in 1996 or 1997. That was when they only did old urban legends, and not so much with the internet type ones or more recent legends.
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Tue Nov 15, 2005  at  06:33 PM
LOL ha ha thats so cute and funny lol
Posted by Babra  on  Wed Jun 07, 2006  at  10:36 AM
"At yalani, Sikeyim illa da inanini "
" Say the lie, fuck the believer" smile
"Abdullah Hacifettahoglu"
Posted by kadohorlu  in  Istanbul  on  Wed Nov 15, 2006  at  09:40 AM
It should not be a pear, it should be a bear laying his paw on a picnic table. Figure it out!
Posted by Dr. Jeykle  in  Virginia  on  Tue Jun 17, 2008  at  05:41 PM
What about the allegation that Snopes accepted money from George Soros? The King Liberal?
Posted by Tessa  in  California  on  Tue Feb 22, 2011  at  04:54 PM
Commenting is no longer available in this channel entry.