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State of Jefferson still lives ( 17:36:24 TueMar 18 2008 )

Saw this yesterday and tought I'd pass it on


Yreka still full of secession fury
Residents of region near California-Oregon border still want their own State of Jefferson
By Michelle Locke

Article Launched: 03/17/2008 03:03:01 AM PDT

YREKA -- Along the far northern edge of California, far from the bright lights of Hollywood and the foggy charms of San Francisco, exists a place many have never heard of -- the State of Jefferson.
But for those in the know, the name -- a slogan from a quixotic past -- says a lot about the state of mind in this wild, beautiful and sparsely populated country.

Jefferson, a would-have-been 49th state made up of a handful of neighboring counties in northern California and southern Oregon, lasted only a few days in 1941 before it was squashed by the cold reality of Pearl Harbor.

More than six decades later, the yearning for a state -- or at least an identity -- of their own still lingers in residents who suspect their concerns are overlooked and undervalued by decision makers in more populated parts of California.

"We've always fostered an independent streak up here," says Pete LaFortune, executive director of Yreka's Chamber of Commerce.

The State of Jefferson began as part publicity stunt, part political gesture, and even today the movement is made up of tourist-friendly whimsy intertwined with more serious themes of discontent.

Step into the Palace Barber Shop -- "Expert cuts ... fades ... flat tops" -- on Miner Street, the main drag of Yreka's frozen-in-time downtown, and you enter another world. On the wall hangs an animal skull decorated with the XX brand adopted by the Jeffersonians of 1941 to signify their disgust with being "double-crossed" by

It's said people have been getting their hair, mustaches and beards trimmed on this spot since the days when Yreka was a Gold Rush boom town. A mirror runs along one side of the deep, narrow room, reflecting the shop's antique fixtures, a collection of funky hair products and the maroon-smocked images of barbers John Lisle and Richard Pease.

"Here, try this," teases Lisle, holding out an old and tightly capped concoction of crude oil and coal tar that appears guaranteed to fix your hair problems, or at least fire up your Model T.

Siskiyou County, home to Yreka, has about 46,000 residents spread over 6,400 or so square miles. Although registered Republicans only have a modest edge over registered Democrats, residents are often at odds with more liberal chunks of the state.

In the 2004 election, the Siskiyou County vote was roughly 61-38 in favor of keeping Republican President Bush, compared with the 54-44 statewide total that favored putting Democrat John Kerry in office.

"A lot of the laws and different things that affect us are voted on by people who've never been here and don't know anything about us," Lisle says.

"When we vote on something, it doesn't make much difference at all because one precinct down there outnumbers the whole county here," Pease says. "You vote, but you feel like your vote is going down the tube."

Roy Hardy, in for a trim, has a single, succinct reason for supporting a move to the State of Jefferson.

"Wouldn't have to put up with all those dumb (people) from down south," he announces to general laughter. Only he doesn't say "people."

The 1941 secessionists were inspired by anger over the region's substandard roads that became unusable in winter.

These days, it's not hard to get to Yreka. Interstate 5, which runs the length of California, is a long, smooth swoop through fir-studded hills and past the monolithic grandeur of Mount Shasta, a popular recreation spot.

But there is plenty of resentment simmering about long-standing government curbs on logging and fishing and a proposal to rip out a series of hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, which runs through the heart of the State of Jefferson, to help struggling salmon runs.

Bill Overman, chairman of Siskiyou County's board of supervisors, is among those who are concerned that removing the dams will hurt the property values for people living along the reservoirs.

Like leaders of earlier times, he chafes at the feeling that outside forces are calling the shots.

"We would like to be able to take care of our resources and be able to manage them properly and we can do that if we're just allowed to," Overman says.

The idea of forming a separate state out of the mountainous region along the Oregon-California border, has come up a few times, says Jay Mullen, professor of history at Southern Oregon University.

"It's really a very, very old historical tradition in America that people sort of removed from the center of power resent the center of power," Mullen says.

A passion for secession has arisen in various other spots across the nation from time to time as well as within California, where talk sometimes surfaces of splitting the state in two, north and south, or even three.

The 1941 movement got going when Gilbert Gable, mayor of Port Orford, Ore., announced that a number of Oregon counties should join with California neighbors to form a new state. His idea was to draw attention to the region's rotten roads. It caught fire, especially in Siskiyou County, and Yreka became the nascent state's temporary capital.

Jefferson "seceded" in late 1941 and got national attention; San Francisco Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane's articles about the rebellious move won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

But with the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the movement was shelved.

Today, the brief chapter is memorialized on a Web site, and a barn south of Yreka painted with the name "State of Jefferson," and in the name of Jefferson Public Radio, based in Ashland, Ore. License plate holders reading "resident of the State of Jefferson," are a popular item.

Still, the Chamber of Commerce's LaFortune doesn't expect to see citizens marching on Sacramento any time soon.

"It's more mythical than anything else," he says. "The State of Jefferson is that state of independence. It's that state of being able to take care of yourself -- the Jeffersonian ideals that the government is not the answer. People are the answer."
[1 edits; Last edit by ratled at 17:37:08 Tue Mar 18 2008]


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