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State of Jefferson History, XX explained

The State of Jefferson movement of 1941

The State of Jefferson was a dream, that Northern California and Southern Oregon shared, to succeed in creating a new state.  The concept of the State of Jefferson started 1852 when a bill was introduced in the California State Legislature meeting at Vallejo. This bill died in committee and the proposal was never acted upon. After Oregon was incorporated as a state in 1859, miners in the area refused allegiance to either state government and declined to pay taxes.  During the Civil War some settlers were interested in creating a northern haven for slavery, but fortunately this failed.

By 1941 the dream was sparked when certain counties in California and Oregon decided that they were not being fairly represented by Sacramento and Salem.  This was a region that earned a living off the lumber, fishing, and other harvesting businesses in the area and they felt the government was not distributing infrastructure funding equally to the area. Mainly, poor road quality and lack of bridges made it difficult to earn a living in this remote area.  They wanted to break away and form their own state to improve their lifestyles by governing themselves with their own laws.

Yreka, a town in Northern California, liked the concept of forming the 49th state. The Yreka Chamber of Commerce persuaded the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors to look into the possibility of forming a 49th state.  The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $100 to research the possibility.  It was to consist of Siskiyou County, Del Norte County, and Modoc County, California; and Curry County, Josephine County and Jackson County in Oregon.

The Chamber of Commerce decided the new state name would be “Mittelwestcoastia,” but the local paper, The Siskiyou Daily News, ran a local contest to name the new state.  Such names as “Orofino,” “Bonanza,” “Del Curiskiyou,” “Siskardelmo,” “New West,” “New Hope,” “Discontent” and “Jefferson” were some of the names submitted.  In the end, the name Jefferson was chosen and the winner of the contest, J. E. Mundell, was awarded two dollars.

The State of Jefferson Citizens Committee was formed, which was made up mostly of members of Yreka’s 20-30 club, and announced that the State of Jefferson would be created every Thursday until recognized.  Each Thursday committee members would go out to highway 99 at the location where it entered the boundaries of the State of Jefferson, and would cover the signs with sheets that said “State of Jefferson” on them.  They would then set up roadblocks and activists on horse-back with guns, would stop traffic and hand out copies of the Proclamation of Independence, and red and blue windshield stickers which read, “I have visited JEFFERSON, the 49th State.” and then let the people through.  Most people thought the whole thing was a joke, but that didn’t upset the activists at all.

In the meantime, Yrekans were not amused when a California legislator commented on the floor of the State Assembly that the “Northern border counties bartered only in bear claws and eagle beaks.”   This attitude led the citizens of the area to be receptive when the Siskiyou Daily News ran a banner headline stating “Siskiyou Has Been Double Crossed Again” on November 3, 1941.  Thus, Yreka, California was designated “Temporary State Capitol” and the “State of Jefferson” seal was created. The seal was a mining pan etched with a double cross – representing the long-time injustice suffered by the provincials at the hands of Salem and Sacramento.  The seal clearly illustrated that the area had been double-crossed once too often.

The State of Jefferson Citizens Committee continued to create notoriety with their antics for the movement by declaring that the new state would be free of sales tax, property tax, and income tax. The state would be paid for by opening red light districts and gambling halls. They declared that the wooden nickel would be the “coin of the realm.”   News articles not only began to appear in the local paper, but larger papers including the San Francisco Chronicle began to cover the story.  A young reporter named Stanton Delaplane came and visited the local people and wrote a series of stories to understand the movement from their point of view.  He later went on the win the Pulitzer Prize for his writings.

On December 4th Yrekans held an election for the first provisional governor for the State of Jefferson.  John C. Childs, a judge in Crescent City, Del Norte County, California, won the local election. A public rally had been planned and it had been arranged to have several Hollywood newsreel companies and magazine photographers from Life and Time magazine to come cover it.  The local newspaper asked the locals to dress as cowboys and really ham it up for the cameras by toting pistols and rifles as they handed out leaflets again at Hwy 99. All the kids in Yreka were given a day off school including the drum and bugle corps to join in a parade that would lead to the Court House lawn for Judge Childs inauguration.

In the parade, many signs were carried by the kids saying things like:

“OUR ROADS ARE NOT PASSABLE, HARDLY JACKASSABLE”

“THE PROMISED LAND — OUR ROADS ARE PAVED WITH PROMISES.”

“Double XX” and “IF OUR ROADS YOU WOULD TRAVEL, BRING YOUR OWN GRAVEL.”

It was quite a scene as the cameramen and reporters “directed” the crowds at the parade and the inauguration.  The governor’s speech stated that changes were long overdue. Fifty years ago the roads were not passable in the area and they still were not. Randolph Collier introduced the new state’s officers, who represented each of the four participating counties. The governor, chief justice, attorney general, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, chaplain and U.S. Congressman were divided between Siskiyou, Trinity, Del Norte and Curry counties.  A good time was had by all including the new Governor who had celebrated so much he was described as “indisposed” the next day.  The newly elected officials met on December 6 to reorganize and get moving.

December 7th 1941 dawned with the surprise attack of Pearl Harbor Hawaii and the beginning of WWII.   The dream of a 49th state had died.  Judge Child’s last act as chief executive was to state, “In view of the National emergency, the acting officers of the Provisional Territory of Jefferson here and now discontinue any and all activities. The State of Jefferson was originated for the sole purpose of calling the attention of the proper authorities…to the fact we have immense deposits of strategic and necessary defense minerals and that we need roads to develop those. We have accomplished that purpose and henceforth all of our efforts will be directed toward assisting our States and Federal Government in the defense of our Country.”

Although always thwarted, the movement has revived periodically since 1941, and is still alive in the hearts of many today.  There are many businesses that carry the name of Jefferson in Northern California and Southern Oregon.  You can still see signs that say “State of Jefferson” on them.  The State of Jefferson’s “official” money is the two dollar bill, because it has Thomas Jefferson on it, of course.

The State Of Jefferson relates to the theme of Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in history, because in a way it was likely the last Revolution in America.  Because of the feeling of isolation from the government and lack of representation that the people shared, they decided that Southern Oregon and Northern California were going to secede from the union and form a 49th state of America.  What could be more Revolutionary, than a group of people wanting to form their own state, just like when we seceded from England and formed our own country because Americans felt we were not being represented fairly?

In a lot of ways, the idea was thought of as a joke to get attention to their situation, but was also very serious to many others who really believed in the idea then and now.  The activists did get a huge reaction, and today many people still talk about how the concerns of the rural areas of Northern California and Southern Oregon are not addressed by the State governments.  Obviously the concerns in Southern Oregon and Northern California are not the same as those in big cities like Los Angeles, California and Portland, Oregon.  It would be very interesting to see what would have happened if the bombing of Pearl Harbor and World War 2 had not interrupted the process of the creation of the State of Jefferson.