Monday, November 08, 2004

States of Mind: Jefferson

So on the way down to Corning a few weeks back, Kate and I passed an open-sided hay barn on the east side of I-5. The roof was covered with a banner with the words “State of Jefferson” on it (and it being the 21st century, a web site address. Being the curious person I am, I searched it and came into contact with the colorful, if brief, history of the State of Jefferson.

Here’s the short form: during the Depression, the natives of the rural counties of Southern Oregon and Northern California were irritated about not getting their due of state support, in particular in regards to transportation. In November of 1941, they announced their own secession movement, planning to leave their original states and form their own 49th state. Originally the proposed name of this new state would be Mittelwestcoastia, but wiser heads (and a newspaper contest) selected Jefferson instead. Declaring that it would secede “This Thursday and every Thursday until recognized”, gun-toting proponents set up barricades on the main highway, (then I-99), stopped motorists, and handed out their proclamation of independence and windshield stickers advertising Jefferson. Their currency was going to be the wooden nickel, and the state flag a gold pan with two “x”s on it, showing the double-cross they were getting from the state governments in Salem and Sacramento.

Their grievances were solid, though you get the feeling that tongues were deeply lodged in cheeks. In taking the course they did, the locals brought a lot of attention to the area (newsreel crews from Hollywood, and a reporter from San Francisco, Stanton Delaplane, who would win a Pulitzer for his coverage). On December 4, local judge John L. Childs was elected governor and inaugurated after a torchlight parade in Yreka. Looking back after 60 years, you get the feeling that the rebellion was equal parts civic boosterism and civil disobedience.

Of course, three days later, Pearl Harbor. The would-be secessionists put away their banners, the governor stepped down and called for national unity and the counties joined the country at war.

The Jefferson “State of Mind” has persisted, in ways that the original founders would probably be amused by. A chain of NPR stations. A “chamber of commerce” doing road clean-ups. A jazz band. One of the founders of the current movement builds solar-powered homes. This is the legacy of the rebellion, just as quirky as the original secession.

But there is another legacy, one not covered in the website, but rather marked at the Klamath roadside oasis just south of the CA/OR border. The oasis is rather luxurious, and named after California State Senator Randolph E. Collier, the “Silver Fox”, who served in the state house 1938-76. A quoted supporter of the secession movement, Collier ended up on the State Transportation Committee, and used his influence not only to get Northern California its major roads, but oversaw the entire California Interstate system, model for the national system. The three-day independence movement in Northern California (as well as its mineral wealth) probably had something to do with freeing up southern dollars for northern transportation issues.

More later,