A Jefferson State of Mind

March 19, 2007 12:00 am
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By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Pre-empted by a war, the State of Jefferson secession movement of 1941 continues to simmer just beneath the surface of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Former Crescent City American publisher and long-time city resident Wally Griffin remembers the original State of Jefferson movement although, "I didn't pay a hell of a lot of attention to it in the 1940s."

That's understandable. Griffin was still in school when the State of Jefferson was proclaimed Nov. 27, voted on Dec. 4 and fizzled out after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"The people of Northern California and Southern Oregon were being ignored like they are now," Griffin said.

Residents of the region closed the highway where Interstate 5 years later would be placed, he said.

But the burst of anger that made nationwide news and netted San Francisco Chronicle journalist Stan Delaplane a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting was hardly the first expression of local sentiment.

Nor was it the last.

Back in 1941, and to a certain extent all the way back to 1852, the people of this area have felt isolated and overlooked.

Although the shape of Jefferson has changed several times during the past 155 years, nearly all of the area's root issue remain constant.

Poor roads continue to plague the area's residents and merchants. The prices residents pay here reflect the effect of those roads — roads that can't be used by larger trucks that serve the rest of Oregon and California.

The political clout of other parts of California chips away at the benefits that could come here.

The refusal of California Transportation Commission members to allocate $177 million to build a bypass at Willits to improve U.S. Hwy. 101 Feb. 26 is just one recent example, say today's State of Jefferson supporters. The money was diverted because of pressure put on the commission from a group of Bay Area leaders, according to information from State Assemblywoman Patty Berg, whose constituency includes Del Norters.

California's thirsty, large cities to the south have taken, and want more, water from the northern counties' mountains.

"They want to put a dam at Happy Camp," said Yreka businessman Terry Brown, who's involved with the present State of Jefferson movement. "Southern California controls the rest of the state; they want water, and they don't care about us."

Brown is quiet about the specifics of his involvement with the current movement, but predicts Southern California's growing water needs will act like a big lever, tipping State of Jefferson proponents into action.

"When that day comes, this area will rise up," Brown said. "People will be notified in advance."

How many people?

"Some Senate and Assembly

people know about it and support it," Brown said. "When it happens, several thousand will block the freeway."

Although he's coy about the source of his information, Brown is sure that the "proper moment" will come "when the state pushes people over the edge."

Some proponents, he added, are helping to fund the movement. Others are supporters, and include people statewide and at the federal level.

"The inspiration for it still exists," Ashland, Ore., owner Alan Mitchell said. "I could go for 51 states, we get two congressmen."

Mitchell owns Home by the Sea bed and breakfast.

"It's always in the back of our minds, but I haven't seen anything political," said newly re-elected Siskiyou County Commissioner Marcia Armstrong.

She said that whenever a new rule is passed without Northern California input, it's like rubbing salt into an old wound.

"Our timber industry is in the tank, they want to take down our dams, car insurance is affected, we're paying for Southern California," Armstrong said.

She added that her county's fire department is run with volunteers who pay for their own training.

"More regulations make it harder to afford," she said. "Benefits from cradle to grave doesn't mean much to independent people."

The recent loss of Secure Roads and Schools funds from the federal government is but another hard blow.

"They're oblivious to what they cause," Armstrong said.

State of Jefferson's original emblem, a placer mining pan marked with two XX's on it to signify a double cross, pertained to road issues.

The list of complaints is much longer now.

"They don't appreciate the realities of life in rural areas," Armstrong said. "We don't get the services we're being taxed for, there's a lack of attention to what we need."

She and others make a good case for their argument.

Siskiyou County residents, like those in Del Norte and Curry counties, are all impacted by many of the same issues.

As Armstrong summed up, "There should be basic values, and people should be able to reflect the values in their own communities. California is too big and unwieldy for one government."

Timeline

•1852: Concept of a State of

Jefferson first introduced at the

California Legislature at Vallejo. The

bill containing it died in committee

•Dec. 19, 1853: The Daily Alta

California, of San Francisco,

editorialized about the need for a

new state made up of Northern

California and Southern Oregon. It

was to be called the State of

Klamath.

•1854: A proposal to form a

new territory called the State of

Jackson was considered during a

meeting. The meeting resulted in

calls for a general convention to

organize the new territory.

•1854-55: California Legislature

considered a plan to trisect the

state. The Assembly approved the

plan, but the Senate didn't.

•1859: Yrekans persuaded

Assemblyman W.F. Watkins to

introduce a bill allowing residents

north of the 40th parallel to with

draw from the state. The U.S.

Congress rejects an act allowing

the split.

•1877-78: California proposes

revising its constitution to create a

State of Shasta. The measure fails.

•1909: Southern Oregonians

proposed the State of Jefferson, but

the movement didn't grow.

•1941: Gilbert E. Gable, Port

Orford, Ore., led a delegation of

Curry Countians into county court

Oct. 2 to present arguments for four

southern Oregon and three

northern California counties to join.

The judge appointed a committee to

study the formation of the new

state: Curry, Josephine, Jackson

and Klamath Counties of Oregon,

and Del Norte, Siskiyou and Modoc

counties of California. Curry

County's proposal to become part

of California did not impress that

state's Gov. Culbert Olson, who told

its leaders they would need consent

from the U.S. Congress, both

state's legislatures and a majority

approval of Oregonians to do so.

•Nov. 17 1941: At a meeting in

Yreka, the original promoters of

secession met with representatives

of Del Norte and Siskiyou counties

to talk about the six-county alliance. Yreka's Chamber of Commerce

voted to investigate the possibility,

and put forth the name

Mittelwestcoastia. The Siskiyou

News held a naming contest,

choosing Jefferson for the proposed

state. Yreka was chosen as the

state capital, and its symbol, a

mining pan etched with a double

cross, was created.

•Nov. 27, 1941: State of Jefferson's

Proclamation of Independence was

sent to the California governor, and

members of a Yreka civic club

began stopping traffic at the

Oregon/California border and

handing out handbills and

windshields.

•Nov. 28, 1941: Lassen County

joined the secession movement.

•Dec. 4, 1941: Elections

commenced as newsreel

companies filmed the proceedings.

Judge John L. Childs of Crescent

City in Del Norte County was

elected governor. Films were to be

released Dec. 8.

•Dec. 7, 1941: The Japanese

attacked Pearl Harbor, sounding the

end of the secessionist movement.

•1956: The State of Shasta

movement was proposed, but died

after 30 days.

•1971: Josephine County

Commissioner Kenneth W. Jackson

restarts the State of Jefferson

movement, with plans to involve

Siskiyou and Del Norte counties

with Coos, Curry, Douglas,

Jackson, Josephine and Klamath

counties in Oregon.

•1991: State of Jefferson bumper

stickers commemorate the 50-year

mark.

SOURCE: Siskiyou County Museum

State of Jefferson Proclamation of Independence

You are now entering Jefferson, the 49th State of the Union.

Jefferson is now in patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon.

This State has seceded from California and Oregon this Thursday, November 27, 1941.

Patriotic Jeffersonians intend to secede each Thursday until further notice.

For the next hundred miles as you drive along Highway 99, you are traveling parallel to the greatest copper belt in the far West, seventy-five miles west of here.

The United States government needs this vital mineral. But gross neglect by California and Oregon deprives us of necessary roads to bring out the copper ore.

If you don't believe this, drive down the Klamath River Highway and see for yourself. Take your chains, shovel and dynamite.

Until California and Oregon build a road into the copper country, Jefferson, as a defense minded state, will be forced to rebel each Thursday and act as a separate State.

State of Jefferson Citizens Committee

Temporary State Capitol, Yreka