STATE OF JEFFERSON HISTORY
by James T. Rock
The "State of Jefferson" is a dream that is based upon perceived injustice and the typical American spirit of independence. Its seeds began in California and Oregon Territory around 1850 and the movement reached its zenith in December 1941. However, the state of mind that led to the various incidents related here did not die in 1941 but can still be found today.
The idea of an independent entity made up Northern California and/or Southern Oregon counties has appealed to residents of this area for years. The names proposed have not always been the same, but the basic perception of indifference and neglect from Sacramento and Salem is still with us today.
The concept of a "State of Jefferson" was first formally revealed in 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. The issue, however, was far from over. On December 19, 1853, the Daily Alta California of San Francisco editorialized on the need for a new state of made up of Nothern California and Southern Oregon. The area proposed for this new state was to have been from Cape Mendocino in California northward to the Umpqua heads in Oregon. A line would have been extended inland to the California border and from the Umpqua heads to the eastern edge of Oregon Territory. This state was to be called the "State of Klamath." The "State of Klamath" was quickly replaced by a proposal originating from Northern California and Southern Oregon for the formation of a new territory called "Jackson." The Yreka Mountain Herald called for Northern California and Southern Oregon citizens to meet in Jacksonville, Oregon to act upon this proposal. The meeting took place at the Robinson House by Lafayette F. Mosher. Mosher was married to Winnifred Lane, daughter of General Joseph Lane. Lane, who lived in the Roseburg area, was Oregon's Congressional representative who later became the first Territorial Governor.
L.F. Mosher had political connections. He also had, or is rumored to have had, close connections with the Western Division of the Knights of the Golden Circle. He was commander of this pro-Southern forerunner of the Ku Klux Klan. However, his pro-slavery and anti-Indian sympathies were not those of a large number of citizens who met in Jacksonville. Nevertheless, the meeting concluded with plans for a general convention to be held in February when delegates from both Northern California and Southern Oregon would be there for the purpose of considering the organizing of a new territory. The convention elected officers: H.G. Farris of Yreka, California and Samuel Colver of Phoenix, Oregon shared vice-presidential honors; T. McFadden Patton and Charles S. Drew, both of Jacksonville, Oregon, were elected, jointly, secretary. The convention passed a resolution urging the formation of the "Territory of Jackson," and sent it to the United States Congress and the legislative bodies of both the State of California and the Territory of Oregon.
General Lane opposed the formation of this new territory, but because of his association with Mosher and his Southern background, his political fate was sealed. The proposed new territory never materialized. Rightly or wrongly, it was perceived that this Territory would have become a slave state in the Pacific Northwest.
The various territorial movements were consistent with the behavior of the miners from both Northern California and Southern Oregon. They thought of themselves as a unit distinct from the remainder of their respective states and acted accordingly. The citizens of Yreka and Happy Camp, California would vote in elections being held in Jacksonville and Waldo, Oregon, and vise versa. They would also claim either state as their own, depending on which state's tax collector was at hand. In reality, they did not recognize, or chose to ignore, the state and territory boundaries.
The California Legislature considered a plan to trisect the state during its 1854 - 1855 session. This plan would have created "The State of Colorado", "The State of Shasta", and "The State of California". Monterey, Merced and part of Mariposa counties would comprise "The State of Colorado". "The State of Shasta" would have consisted of Klamath (now Modoc), Siskiyou, Humboldt, Shasta, Trinity, Plumas and portions of Butte, Colusa and Mendocino counties. "The State of California" would have taken in the rest of California as we know it today. The California State Assembly endorsed this plan but the Senate let it lapse.
In 1856 the "State of Jefferson" was once again proposed. The Alta California urged the State Legislature to learn the wants of the citizens of this area, deal with the general feeling that this area was not getting sufficient military protection, had poor mail service and too high taxes.
A group of prominent people in Yreka, including Ad Winckler, J. M. Watson, and Elijah Steele persuaded State Assemblyman W. F. Watkins to introduce a bill in 1859 that would allow Californians living north of the fortieth parallel to withdraw from the state and form a separate government. This action would have included all or parts of Siskiyou, Del Norte, Klamath, Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, Plumas and Tehama counties (Cal. Assembly Journal 1859: 291, 552, 752-753). Reasoning behind the proposal was simple: these areas were under-represented, overburdened and neglected by the existing state government. This bill was a mirror reflection of one that California Governor, John B. Weller, had previously signed that would have allowed the southern counties of California to form a separate state. The Southern California counties and the State Legislature had approved this action, but the act allowing this split was not approved by the United States Congress.
In the legislative session of 1877 - 1878, the State of California decided to revise its Constitution and carve out a "State of Shasta", but this came to nothing.
In September 1880, an event took place which typifies the situation that led to the dissatisfaction of the residents of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The President of the United States came to visit. Rutherford B. Hayes on this occasion was forced to take the "last stage coach trip of any length taken by an American President." He came up the West Coast by train until reaching Siskiyou County, California where the track ended. The party included "Lemonade Lucy," Hayes' wife (a strong temperance advocate) and William T. Sherman, the famed Union General. They stayed in Yreka, California, Jacksonville, Wolf Creek and Roseburg, Oregon, from where they once again were able to take the train to Portland. It wasn't until 1887 that one could travel through the "State of Jefferson" by train. The railroad transportation system and roads for this area have always been lacking or behind the times.
The "State of Siskiyou" was proposed by a group of Southern Oregonians in 1909, but as the Curry County Coastal Pilot reported on July 7, 1982, this movement really never got off the ground.
John C. Childs, a judge in Crescent City, Del Norte County, California, took action to draw attention to the poor condition of roads along the redwood coast in 1935. He declared himself governor of a facetious secession movement...named Jefferson. The movement went nowhere, but Childs got the State of California's attention and the roads were improved somewhat.
The same year that Judge Childs drew California's attention to the neglect of Del Norte County by the state, Gilberts E. Gable moved into Southern Oregon just north of the California line on the coast. He settled in the little town of Port Orford. Through the force of his dynamic personality, Gable led the town to become the first incorporated community in the area and they in turn elected him mayor. He, it seems, had his hand into everything. He was the organizing force and head of the Oregon Engineering Company, the Port Orford Dock and Terminal Company, the Last Frontier Realty Corporation, the Trans-Pacific Lumber Company ;and the Gold Coast Railroad Company. But the projects were not enough for him. He felt that the area which he had moved into was neglected by the state and decided to do something about it. It did not take long form him to learn that the citizens of the "State of Jefferson" were in agreement with his views for the most part.
Gable led a delegation of Curry County citizens into the county court on October 2, 1941 and presented arguments for the separation of the four Southern Oregon counties and the formation of an alliance with three Northern California counties. The judge, who apparently knew that this event was going to take place, approved the proposal and appointed a commission consisting of Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, Elmer Bankus of Brookings and Collier Buffington of Gold Beach, to study the procedure for the formation of a new State of Curry; Josephine, Jackson and Klamath counties of Oregon; and Del Norte, Siskiyou and Modoc counties of California. Shortly after this, Gable, recognizing that an alliance with California might be of benefit for Curry County, Oregon, wrote Governor Culbert L. Olson of California and asked for an appointment to discuss the possibility of a transfer.
Not to be upstaged by little Port Orford, "The Oregon Cavemen," a Grants Pass, Oregon Booster Club, proposed that instead of Curry County joining California they join with Josephine and form an independent State of "Cavemania". The Oregon Cavemen had been around since 1922 when they "incorporated in the depth of the Oregon Caves" for the purpose of tourism, traveling and expressing good will for the area, specifically Grants Pass. They were led at this time by E. K. Miller, called "Chief Big Horn." Other officers of the "Tribe" were "Rising Buck," "Wing Feather" and "Keeper of the Wampum." Their board of directors called itself "Council of Eagle Eyes." They contacted Governor Olson of California and set up a meeting with him on the same day Gable was to be there.
The Attorney General of Oregon was not impressed by the idea of Curry County becoming a part of California. He said, "...in effect, that Curry County was free to annex itself to a dry lake." All they would need was the consent of the United States Congress, the Oregon and California legislatures, and the approval of a majority of the Oregon electorate" (Reinhardt, 1972:37). The Attorney General may have been flip about annexing to a dry lake, but, in effect, he was correct, since Article IV, Sec. 3 of the United States Constitution states that no new state can be admitted to the Union without first securing the consent of the legislatures concerned, as well as the consent of Congress.
On October 4, 1941 the Portland Oregonian said: "CURRY BEWARE"...."If your ambition be realized, Curry would of course immediately acquire the glorious climate of California and become a have of retired mid-west farmers; and development of its mineral riches would add much more to the population" (Davis 1952:126). The secessionist movement gained national attention when on October 4, 1941 the New York Times reported that Curry County, Oregon planned to secede to California. On October 14, 1941, Governor Olson of California was quoted in the Oakland Tribune as saying, "We are glad to know they think enough of California to want to join it." Governor Olson hosted both delegations from Oregon on October 30, 1941. He listened tolerantly to the Curry County delegation led by Gable and suggested that they first work to get the consent necessary from Oregon and then come to California to get their endorsement. The "Oregon Cavemen" protested Gable's proposal for secession from Oregon. Could it be that they were a little jealous of all the publicity they were not getting?
The feeling of being left out or laughed at by the state in general was reinforced 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" (Wacker 1974:13). This type of condescending attitude led the citizens of this area to be receptive when the Siskiyou Daily News ran a banner headline stating "Siskiyou Has Been Double Crossed Again" on November 3, 1941.
The original promoters came to Yreka, California on November 17, 1941 to meet with representatives of California's Del Norte and Siskiyou counties to discuss the development of a six-county alliance to promote the development of Northern California's and Southern Oregon's mineral and timber resources. To achieve this goal, they wanted to obtain state and federal aid for road and bridge construction and improvement. They knew that without these improvements the rich bodies of chrome, manganese and copper ore and timber could not be efficiently utilized. Economic development was the focus of this meeting; the idea of secession was incidental. It was also at this meeting that the Californians, rather than join the Curry County, Oregon movement, took the lead away from them.
Yrekans liked the concept of forming the 49th state. On November 18, 1941 the Yreka Chamber of Commerce voted to investigate the possibility of forming a new state. It was to consist of Siskiyou County, Del Norte County, and Modoc County, California; and Curry County, Josephine County and Jackson County in Oregon. In fact, its new name was to be "Mittelwestcoastia." The counties considered were the ones that felt they had been slighted - in fact, abandoned - by both Sacramento and Salem. "Mittelwestcoastia" may have been the chamber's choice of a name but the Yreka paper had a better idea and held a contest to name the new state.
The 18th was a busy day. Besides the Chamber of Commerce proposal and the newspaper contest, the Siskiyou and Del Norte counties boards of supervisors established five-man commissions to investigate means of securing better roads to reach the mineral areas. The commission at Yreka was headed by O. G. Steele, a Yreka Power Company official.
Overall, Gilbert Gable and his ideas were very well received. The Siskiyou Daily News commented, "Hizzoner is one smart cookie."
The newspaper contest received quite good response. Such names as "Orofino," "Bonanza," "Del Curiskiyou," "Siskardelmo," "New West," "New Hope," "Discontent" and "Jefferson" were all proposed.
Modoc County Supervisor E. F. Auble declared on November 19th that Modoc County, California would join the drive for independence.
Several days later it was announced that the new state would be "The State of Jefferson." The winning name was submitted by J. E. Mundell of Eureka, California. By November 23, 1941 trouble had been stirred up in Modoc County by Auble's declaration. The ranchers in Surprise Valley had countered by declaring that they were prepared to join Nevada rather than the new "State of Jefferson." This split forced Modoc County to withdraw from the secessionist counties and remain with California proper.
The San Francisco Examiner highlighted some of Gable's fiats. The "State of Jefferson" was to free itself of obnoxious taxes. It would outlaw sales taxes, income taxes and liquor taxes. Strikes would also be forbidden for the duration of "the National emergency." One of Gable's best proposals concerned slot machines. He considered them unfair competition for the local stud poker industry and hence wanted them outlawed. Also on November 25, the Siskiyou Daily News pointed out the "State of Jefferson" may be a state of mind, but the underlying seriousness of the issues cannot be denied.
On the next day the San Francisco Chronicle reported that John W. Childs had led a delegation from Del Norte County, California and Coos and Curry counties, Oregon to ask Jackson County, Oregon to join the secession. Judge J. B. (Bud) Coleman informed the delegation that Jackson County was not prepared to take this step.
It was about this time that 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" (Davis 1953:130). The seal clearly illustrated that the area had been double-crossed once too often.
The interest of newspapers and peoples well beyond the Northern California and Southern Oregon area had been sparked. The San Francisco Chronicle had dispatched a young reporter named Stanton Delaplane to cover the secession movement. He reported from Yreka on November 27 that when he arrived the day before it was 18 degrees above zero and that his informant, a garage man, had told him that if the area's roads and bridges weren't improved there was no telling what might happen. His report was titled, "It's No Joke - We Need Some Good Roads." The locals had been seeking assistance from Sacramento for 30 years and had gotten none. The secession movement appeared to Delaplane to be more than half serious. His information was obtained on the 26th and printed on the 27th.
The activities in the "State of Jefferson" were moving rapidly along. The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors supplied $100 to O. G. Steele for the study of the new state possibilities. Lassen County, California showed interest in joining the secession and this fact was reported in both the Medford, Oregon Tribune and the Siskiyou Daily News.
Gilbert Gable, acting as governor of the new state, sent a telegram to Governor Olson of California informing him that the "patriotic" rebellion on the "State of Jefferson" was going to begin collecting a penny sales tax for its own needs. Homer Barton, local undertaker and self-appointed "comptroller," urged local merchants to place good road buckets beside their cash registers for collection of the penny sales tax. The declaration was made, "No more copper from Jefferson until Governor Olson drives over these roads and digs it out. We have plenty!" (Reinhardt 1972:40).
Others who were part of this interim government were George Milne, who declared himself a candidate for U.S. senator; Heinie Russ, manager of the Yreka Inn, who felt that he would make a good state treasurer and William "Buffalo Bill" Lang, a cattleman who offered to train the state militia.
Perhaps the single most important event that took place on the 27th was the issuing of the "State of Jefferson" PROCLAMATION OF INDEPENDENCE by the "State of Jefferson" Citizens Committee. A message was sent to Governor Olson from this committee stating that the "State of Jefferson" would secede every Thursday until California and Oregon began to seriously cooperate with "Jefferson" in the National defense effort.
The citizens committee was made up mainly of members of Yreka's 20-30 Club. Members of this civic club "took to the streets" and began stopping traffic on U.S. Highway 99. Armed with deer rifles and target pistols, they passed out yellow handbills proclaiming the independence of the "State of Jefferson" and red and blue windshield stickers which read, "I have visited JEFFERSON, the 49th State." Needless to say, the California State Troopers were sorely tried when the Jeffersonians blocked Highway 99.
Lassen County, California joined the secession movement on the 28th. The State of California took the movement seriously enough to respond and denied the charges of neglect. Delaplane's second article reported that "The Yreka Rebellion" was underway. He further stated the "Highway is Barricaded by Gun-Toting Miners; Olson Told to 'Dig' for 'Sales Tax." The citizens committee reported from Yreka, the "provisional capitol," that the "State of Jefferson" now consisted of Curry, Del Norte, Siskiyou, Lassen and Modoc counties. Perhaps they had not heard that Modoc had withdrawn on the 23rd, or they just were not willing to accept this action.
Not all residents of this area felt that secession was the best way to attain the desired results. One impractical alternative was prepared by Dr. Ralph Lake of Yreka. He proposed instead of forming a new state that the Klamath River be turned into a canal which could be used to take the resources of this area to the ocean. He felt such a project would solve the access problem and would only require 150 locks.
Delaplane's third article appeared in the Chronicle on the 29th. Its caption was "The Yreka Rebellion: Why it is Growing? - Our Scout Tries to reach the Grants Pass Highway - He's Still Stuck Halfway." On the 30th, Delaplane reported by telegraph from Crescent City datelining his articles "Hard Scrabble Creek." He was on his way to Port Orford to interview Gable. When he met Gilbert Gable, the two of them struck it off quite well. They sat in Gable's redwood cabin and "cut the chill" with 150-proof rum and watched the rain while the interview was conducted. This meeting was reported in Delaplane's fourth and last article in the series, which he datelined "Pistol River, Secession State of Jefferson."
The San Francisco Chronicle did not lose interest in the story. On December 1 they reported that the Associated Farmers of California had wired Mayor Gable asking him what he thought of the rest of California's rural counties joining the secessionist movement. Time and Life Magazines photographers came to Yreka to record the 49th state movement photographically. They were taken to Happy Camp to see the lack of adequate roads and bridges for themselves. An ore truck, stuck in the mud just this side of Happy Camp, helped to support this contention. It was carefully explained that these conditions were not the result of county neglect, but rather the direct result of the state not maintaining its highway in a satisfactory, usable manner.
An anonymous handbill written in Yreka on November 30 was circulated. Its statement wanted to "Disown those who seek to betray us. Citizens, this is treason. Down with the 49ers." It was signed by the "Anti-Jefferson Committee." Their banner-cry was "48 States or Fight." On December 1st when the editor of the Siskiyou Daily News reported this handbill's existence, he wasn't exactly unbiased in his opinions. He felt the handbill and its anonymous origin showed lack of character from its authors and the tactics employed similar to the Nazis in Europe. However, this attack on their character did not prevent the "Anti-Jefferson Committee" from writing Governor Olson pledging their allegiance to California.
Alan McCurry, Alden James, Charles Harrison and Robert Angles of Siskiyou County,
who were college students at this time, proposed that the new state also found a new university.
"Jefferson University" would emphasize the Colleges of Mining, Forestry and Agriculture, if
they had their way.