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Oregon Trails: State of Jefferson

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YREKA, Calif. — Many Americans are celebrating the birth and independence of our nation. So this week, we’re taking a look at one of the most bizarre political movements ever on the West Coast. It wasn’t a new idea in 1941, but it came closest to happening then, on the eve of World War II.

“We’re mapping out a plan to try to get the public involved and this is going to be through the petition, initiative, referendum to secede from the State of California and form our own state,” said Anthony Intiso.

Anthony Intiso is chairman of the State of Jefferson Action Committee and the Greenhorn Grange. Both organizations are seriously considering resurrecting a statehood plan that almost came to pass just before world war two started.

It’s an idea that just won’t die: that counties in far Northern California and Southern Oregon could break away from their home states and form a new state, the State of Jefferson.

“We feel that we’re out-voted by the urban centers. They’re voting into law, laws and things into effect that just totally decimate our rural agricultural communities,” explained Intiso.

The idea of a separate state goes as far back as 1852, and has come under several names in the past: Klamath, Jackson, Shasta and Middlewestcoastia. It’s strongest and best chance came in late 1941, when local leaders, fed up with what they saw as abandonment by Salem and Sacramento, elected judge John Childs of Crescent City as governor in a gathering at Yreka on December 4th, 1941. There they declared Yreka the capital of the new State of Jefferson.

When the rallies and parades took place all the major magazines were in Yreka. There was even a mock border blockade where gun-toting citizens handed out Declarations of Independence. A film crew from Hollywood showed up to produce a newsreel to be shown in movie theatres across the country.

They decided, though, that it would look better if they staged the border blockade along the road to Montague, because there really wasn’t enough traffic at the Siskiyou Pass to make it look good! The film would’ve been in theatres, but three days later Pearl Harbor was bombed and the movement died for the sake of national unity.

The film footage was stashed in a vault in Burbank until it was re-discovered a few years ago. If the Japanese had not bombed Pearl Harbor just a few days after the State of Jefferson convention, who knows what would’ve happened? Matter-of-fact, maybe this ‘Welcome to Oregon” sign would not even be here, because we’d be in the middle of the State of Jefferson!

You can buy hats, tee-shirts, bumper stickers and suspenders with the double cross logo, symbolizing local resident’s feelings they were double-crossed by Salem and Sacramento. Once there was even a beer made in crescent city, but today the State of Jefferson is more than just a marketing gimmick for the region.

There are no marches and rallies yet, but Intiso says they hope to petition the legislature to carve out the Northern California, and maybe some Southern Oregon counties, to form a new state…but that’s a big “if”. It may be a long shot, but Intiso says support is building, and State of Jefferson supporters are not going to give up easily their plan to be the 51st state of the union.

Anthony Intiso says there are about a thousand registered members of the State of Jefferson action committee in Del Norte, Modoc, Shasta, Siskiyou and Trinity Counties, with more from curry to lake counties in Southern Oregon.