Now-a-days folks are talking about secession. And not just in Texas. With the “sesquecentenial” of the Civil War some say the South will rise again. Or take one long step off a short pier and into the historical mire.
Idyllwild has had its share of brave separatists throughout its history, and most have at some point cloaked themselves in the Beast Flag. This was inspired by the California Republic flag, or vice versa. Some say Northerners who’d never seen an Idyll-Beast saw the Beast Flag, liked the color scheme, and slapped a then more common “beast”, the Grizzly Bear, in the place of honor.
June 14th 1846 is the date usually ascribed to both the Northern Rebellion against Mexico and the local Beast Flag Rebellion. The two groups were apparently in communication, part of a network of insurrectionists. Although the Bear Flag over Sutter's Fort was replaced with the Stars and Stripes twelve days later, the Beast Flag lasted longer. Being beneath the notice of the powers that were, the flag continued to wave over the valley until someone stole it. The original may still be in some local attic or man cave. Or maybe in that shed out behind the Town Hall where the Chamber of Commerce keeps its ritual implements, next to the Lost Ark of the Chamber Bylaws.
Since the “Rebellion” was never officially put down, its leaders continued to exert influence in local affairs. They formed a group that sometimes met publicly, sometimes in secret, depending on the spirit of the times. Referred to as the “Ancient and Honorable Order of the Idyll-Beast” they are the closest thing Idyllwild has to Freemasons. Outside the Rotary Club, that is.
Considered by some to be Enlightened Business Men, by others irreligious subversives, the group has passed down secret rituals and symbols from generation to generation. Few among the living still know the special handshake. They say Hill Champion lost his eye sight learning it. Not for the faint-of-heart. From time to time members of this arcane brotherhood have hoisted the Beast Flag as a reminder of our independent spirit.
The story goes that the very first Idyll-Beast Festival grew out of one of these “rebellions.” In 1911 (or there-abouts) a group of local businessmen banded together and once more ran “Idy” up the flag pole. Their complaints included excessive taxation, fiscal irresponsibility in Sacramento, and the high price of paregoric. This time word spread to the Capitol and the State Militia was sent in to put down the scrappy secessionists. As word of the approaching squadron reached Idyllwild, locals banded together to seek a way to avoid armed conflict. In a stroke of home-spun genius, the revolt was rebranded as the “Idyll-Beast Festival.” Banners were hung around the entrances to town, programs printed, events (including the first “Miss Idyll-Beast Pageant”) were hastily arranged. The invading troops were invited to a weekend of music, arts and crafts and cheap beer. (But not so cheap that local innkeepers didn’t make a tidy profit.) The festival ended up lasting into the coming week, and another contingent of troops had to be sent in to shut down the taverns and drag the hung-over soldiers back to their barracks.