Historic Winters found many ways to celebrate the fourth

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A future Winters citizen hosted what was possibly the first Independence Day celebration in California. She even sewed what might have been the territory’s first American flag. Susan Cooper arrived in Napa in July 1847 after travelling with her family from Missouri. They were just in time to celebrate the anniversary of two fateful revolutions. While the Cooper family was excited to celebrate America’s Independence Day, the California residents were coming up upon the first anniversary of the Bear Flag Revolt. In June and July of 1846, a small group Anglo-American settlers rebelled against the Mexican government in California. They arrested retired Mexican general Mariano Vallejo and informed him that he was a prisoner of war. Vallejo was surprised. Not only was he retired and unguarded, he was actually a supporter of American annexation. The rebels declared California  a republic, independent from Mexican rule. They made a new flag, painted with an image of a grizzly bear and a red star. The rebels didn’t know that America had already declared war on Mexico. Upon realizing their revolution could be misinterpreted, they quickly took down the bear flag (which would become the official state flag in 1911) and replaced it with the stars and stripes. Not to be stopped by the freshly shifting borders or local politics, the newly arrived Cooper family decided to host an Independence Day celebration in 1947. Most of the Coopers’ 40 guests were Spanish citizens of high regard, according to an interview with Frances Ann Cooper, Susan’s sister. Some of the few Anglo-American settlers in the region attended as well. A well respected Englishman by the name of Dr. Bailey also joined the celebration. However, while they had found guests to celebrate with them, the Coopers lacked patriotic decorations. They had not brought an American flag with them, so Susan Cooper decided to make an American flag herself. Using bits of narrow red ribbon and pieces of blue silk cut from her best dress, Cooper sewed an American flag that was “not bigger than a woman’s handkerchief,” her sister reported. The flag only had one white star, but Susan’s father found space to write across it, “California is ours as long as the stars remain.” This statement could have been inflammatory, considering the nationalities of the party’s attendants. Susan Cooper reported that the Spanish guests did not seem to be offended by it. But Bailey, the Englishman, was. Susan Cooper recounted that the man became “very much excited” and tried to snatch the flag several times. He continued his attempts  throughout the party, but never succeeded. This playful rivalry continued even as the party broke up and the sisters rode home together. “After the dinner, as my sister and I were driving to our house, Dr. Bailey rode beside our wagon and we clung to the little silk flag and kept waving it at him from one side and then the other as he urged his horse close and tried to grab it from our hands,” Cooper later recounted. Susan Cooper would go on to marry John Reid Wolfskill, the first Anglo-American settler in Solano county. She moved to the new town of Winters, and lived on the famed Wolfskill ranch. In later years, the 4th of July in Winters meant parades with marching bands and costume competitions, carnival-type games and a wake up call in the form of a 13 gun salute at 5 a.m. In 1883 all of the local communities were so busy with the fruit harvest season that nobody planned a celebration for the 4th. The Vacaville Reporter responded to the lack of civic celebration by reprinting the Declaration of Independence on the front page, in the shape of the Liberty Bell. “When in the course of human events the people of Vacaville, Elmira, Winters, etc., are so busy with their fruit crop that they have no time to assemble themselves together to celebrate our nation’s birthday, the REPORTER feels that they should at least read the Declaration of Independence, hence we publish it this week in rather novel shape,” the front page read. At the time type plates were arranged by hand, making this festive print layout a patriotic reprimand. In 1898 the Winters fire department participated in a tug-of-war match against Vacaville and Dixon fire troupes. After the announcement came on Monday that the Winters fireworks were postponed, Davis and Woodland both extended invitations to their Independence Day celebrations to the community. “We welcome you with open arms,” the statement read. While a joint 4th of July celebration may feel like a new tradition, it used to be the norm. Even if there are no fireworks in Winters this 4th of July, the city can claim a long history of home-made celebrations and patriotic spirit that extends beyond its borders. Just be sure to read the Declaration of Independence, and keep a close eye on any English guests.]]>

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