HISTORY OF THE STATE OF JEFFERSON
written by Gail Jenner
Today’s State of Jefferson refers to portions of Southern Oregon and Northern California. Originally this region represented the “second half” or “northern mines” of the famous gold rush of 1849-50, but it never received the kind of historical reference that the Sierra Mother Lode did, even though it contributed as much, if not more, to the coffers of the two states. Moreover, the region was easily overlooked after the gold rush, since it continued to be less populated and more rural than the remainder of the two states.
Because the people who have settled along the northern boundary of California and the southern boundary of Oregon have always been of an independent nature, it seems fitting that this region has attempted, on numerous occasions, to create a new state, not just in name or principle, but in reality as well.
The principle is not a new one, however, but has its roots in the area’s history. In 1852, a bill to create a new state died in committee. On December 19, 1853, THE DAILY ALTA OF CALIFORNIA of San Francisco suggested that Northern California and Southern Oregon could both benefit if a ‘new state’ could be created. Some suggested it be called ‘Klamath.’ Others suggested the name “Jackson.”
At a meeting held on January 7, 1854, in Jacksonville, Oregon, Lafayette F. Mosher spoke about a state of ‘Jackson.’ Unfortunately, as the son-in-law of General Lane, with well-known pro-slavery and anti-Indian beliefs, the proposed state’s identity was tainted by prejudice and unfounded fear.
In 1854-55, the State Assembly tried to split California into three states: “Shasta” to the north, “Colorado” in the middle, and “California” to the south. But the Senate let the bill lapse. In 1877-78, some again pushed for “Shasta” in the north, but the U. S. Congress vetoed the proposal.
By the fall of 1941, most communities in and around the region were behind the idea of secession. In a contest held by the Siskiyou Daily News, the name “State of Jefferson” was officially born. Several Oregon and California counties joined in.
In order to garner attention, a protest was staged along Highway 99 near Yreka. Members of Yreka’s 20-30 Club stopped cars and passed out a declaration and pledged to secede every Thursday until the State of Jefferson became recognized as a state.
The movement gained momentum and Stanton Delaplane won the Pulitzer Prize writing about the conditions leading up to Jefferson State’s “official” secession. A gubernatorial race was held, complete with a parade and speeches and even a dancing bear, but then, on December 7th, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor took precedence over the region’s rebellion.
Even today, the dream lives on for this unrealized, some might even say, mystical State of Jefferson. With majestic Mt. Shasta at its heart, and the Cascades forming its backbone, the region’s wild rivers and rugged peaks both isolate and, at times, insulate its residents from the more populated outside world. Ranching, mining and logging have been its traditional source of wealth, but now recreation and tourism compete as major industries. But it’s the people who reside here that make the greatest contribution to the character of the region.
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