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State of Jefferson

Jefferson Public Radio (JPR) adopted its name in 1989 as a way to recognize the broad reach of its network, which grew from a single 10-watt station serving Ashland to become one of the largest public radio networks in the nation. The geographic area of JPR's coverage roughly encompasses the contemplated borders of the mythical State of Jefferson, which made the name a logical fit.

The idea to create a state made up of areas of Southern Oregon and Northern California dates back to the 1850s with various names being proposed -- The State of Shasta, The Jackson Territory, The State of Siskiyou and The State of Jefferson. Historians have documented that the proposed State of Jefferson was named for Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.

While some attempts to create a State of Jefferson were quite serious, throughout most of the second half of the 20th century, the State of Jefferson symbolized the rugged individualism and self-sufficiency of the people who live in the region and became a way to refer to the area to attract tourists and businesses. As one Jeffersonian put it: "It's not a movement as much as it is an orientation, a state of mind, a state of being." It's in this spirit that JPR uses the name Jefferson Public Radio.

The Place

The history of what is now the state of Jefferson goes back to 1542 when Spanish conquistadors sailed up her coast and claimed the region for Her Catholic Majesty. Between this very early conquest and 1778 the area was claimed by both Britain and the United States. With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jefferson officially became a territory of the U.S. and later two great states, Oregon and California, divided her land. Since that time, the region has periodically seethed with rebellion and state secessionist sentiment--some of it quite serious.

While the great western migration brought settlers to the region in the 1840s and 1850s, and as mining and agriculture grew in the area, transportation issues achieved greater concern. Citizens of Jefferson were many miles from the capitals and centers of commerce and culture of their respective states.  Jeffersonians tended to feel isolated and neglected and this sense germinated an independent spirit which has endured.

The first recorded "rebellion" of Jeffersonians was quite serious and occurred in 1852. At the first California state legislature a bill was introduced to create a "State of Shasta" which encompassed much of what is now Jefferson. The bill died in committee but only because of the pressure of other legislative business. The next year a new attempt was made with the proposed state to be called "State of Klamath" but this effort was interrupted by a major Indian uprising which occurred that year.

In 1854, a new separate statehood movement began, this time centered in southern Oregon, and variously called by the name "Jackson Territory" and the "State of Jefferson." A proposal to create such a state was actually presented before Congress and the agitation continued until Oregon was granted statehood in 1859.

Unlike these serious attempts, efforts to launch Jefferson in the twentieth century have been largely tongue-in-cheek. The major "uprising" came in 1935 when concerns over poor roadways, which hampered the logging, mining and agricultural industries, was the major focus.

The Spirit of Independence

John_Childs.jpg
John Childs was elected the first governor of the State of Jefferson.

In November, 1941, still aroused by the poor state of highways in the area, a provisional government was elected with Judge L. Childs of Crescent City as governor. The Yreka 20/30 Club printed a Proclamation of Independence and then local citizens, armed with hunting rifles and cheered by their neighbors, erected roadblocks across U.S. Highway 99 and began collecting tolls from travelers who were "crossing the state line." When a California Highway Patrolman arrived on the scene, he was told to "get back down the road to California." The group created the "Great Seal of the State of Jefferson"--a gold pan with "XX" painted on the bottom, which they said symbolized Jeffersonians being "double-crossed" by their mother states. To highlight their frustrations with poor road conditions, these parties issued a Proclamation of Independence which read:

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 Capital, Yreka

December 4, 1941 was to be a major event in Jefferson's development. The San Francisco Chronicle (which won a Pulitzer prize for its coverage), the Portland Oregonian, Life and Time magazines, and four units of Hollywood newsreel companies, all arrived in Yreka for the inauguration of Judge John L. Childs as governor. Signs were plastered throughout Yreka which read: "Our roads are not passable, hardly jackassable; if our roads you would travel, bring your own gravel."   Three days later the State of Jefferson blew away in the winds of war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the nation began unifying behind the war effort.

More Recently . . .

Since 1941, the Jefferson movement has had more tourist than political overtones and has been used to point out to the world that in the northernmost reaches of California and the southern most portions of Oregon lies the last great frontier of the Pacific slopes. However, some vestiges of political vitality to the Jefferson movement have persisted.

In 1956, groups from Cave Junction and Dunsmuir wreaked minor havoc in their respective state capitals by threatening to secede and take the "State of Shasta" with them. Quick action on their grievances at the state level temporarily mollified them.

In the early 1990s, California Assemblyman Stan Statham, of Redding, very publicly advocated the division of California into two, or three, separate states and pushed the process far enough that an advisory plebiscite over the state's division appeared on the statewide California ballot.  In Oregon, secessionist rhetoric has seldom been as seriously focused.

On September 3, 2013 the Siskiyou County board of supervisors made national news when it voted 4-1 in favor of beginning the process of seceding from California to create the State of Jefferson by joining other southern Oregon and far northern California counties which would have a similar interest.  Over 100 citizens attended the meeting during which residents complained about lack of representation in Sacramento and insufficient attention to major issues such as water rights and implementation of a rural fire prevention fee.

More About Recent Developments:

Sources:

  • San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 1986
  • History of the State of Jefferson, Yreka Museum

Other Resources:

  • In 2014, Oregon Public Broadcasting produced a half-hour documentary about the State of Jefferson which aired on many PBS stations.