State of Jefferson
"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing" - Thomas Jefferson
In October of 1941, counties in southern Oregon and Northern California were upset with the condition of roads throughout their counties. Their claims were that lack of proper roads and bridges were hindering the economic development of the area, particularly by making it difficult to gain access to and transport out the areas two biggest natural resources: copper and timber. The roads were oiled dirt roads that after rain or snow became impassable. The "greatest copper belt in the far West" was located there and the roads made it extremely difficult to mine and transport the copper ore. The counties were Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath, Oregon and Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc, California. The region was rich in timber, sugar pine, pine, oak, chrome, copper, manganese and gold.
Gilbert Gable, then mayor of Port Orford, Oregon proposed that the seven counties should secede from their respective states and form a new state, which would at the time have been the 49th state in the union. This concept found sympathy throughout the area and on November 17th 1941, county representatives met in Yreka, CA and voted to allocate $100 to researching the formation of the 49th state. On November 19th, 1941, the Siskiyou Daily News offered up a $2 prize for the best name submitted for the new state and the name Jefferson, after Thomas Jefferson, was eventually chosen. Yreka was chosen as the capital.
After that, by November 27th, 1941 citizens of the State of Jefferson began stopping traffic on Highway 99, brandishing hunting rifles and handing out copes of their 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.
(Please carry this proclamation with you and pass them out on your way.)
State of Jefferson Citizens Committee
Temporary State Capitol, Yreka
This act, of course, immediately began making headlines, and the San Francisco Chronicle even sent out a young reporter by the name of Stanton Delaplane, to cover the secession. He even earned a Pulitzer Prize for the series of articles he wrote. By December 4th, with the state seceding every Thursday until recognized, Judge John C. Childs was inaugurated as the governor of the new state and followed by a torchlight parade led by two bears, Scratchy and Itchy.
A State Seal was created which consisted of a gold pan on which two X's were painted on the bottom. The two X's symbolized how the new state was double crossed by both Salem, Oregon and Sacramento, California. This seal is on the state flag.
The new state was going to have no sales tax, no property tax, no liquor tax, and no income tax. Red light districts and gambling halls would be opened and the revenue from these would fund the state along with a small royalty on mining and timber developments. Strikes were also going to be outlawed in the state. Slot machines were to be abolished as they were unfair competition to the stud poker industry.
Newsreels of the events occurring in Jefferson were to air nationally on December 8th, but on December 7th Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese thus throwing the United States into World War II and ending the secession of the California and Oregon counties that comprised the new state. The newsreels were shelved and both states fixed the roads and bridges in order to access the timber and copper required for the war effort. The secession movement died out.
But the concept of the State of Jefferson carried on. Today the idea of Jefferson still exists and has grown to include several other counties including Coos, Douglas, and Lake in Oregon and Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, Lassen, Mendocino, Tehama, Glenn, Butte, and Plumas in California. If this area were to become its own state, it would have over 423,000 people, but would still have the least population of any other US state. The original idea behind the State of Jefferson has been commemorate by the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway that runs between Yreka, CA and O'Brien, OR. Near the California / Oregon border there's a turn out spot with three informational displays talking about the area. Additionally several businesses often advertise items like "Best Burger in the State of Jefferson", people have placed "State of Jefferson" on shirts, hats, barns, and even silver coins.
Ultimately the 1941 attempt of seceding was very much unlike any other secession movement. There was no violence, but instead joy and merriment. Much of the actions of the state were viewed as almost a joke by the rest of the country. Most people who were stopped by barricades and given the Proclamation of Independence laughed at the entire affair, thinking that the locals were just playing a big prank. Ironically, the method in which the secession occurred actually worked. The areas issues and problems were brought to light to the entire country and who knows, had it not been for the atrocity of World War II, Jefferson very well may have become the 49th state in the union.
It is important to note that actually seceding would have been rather difficult for the new state as under the Constitution, it was required that they had both the approval of the U.S. Congress and the legislatures of both Oregon and California.
- Northern California Curiosities (2005) by Rubin, Saul, p: 264 - 265
Last Edited: 2009-03-06