The cannons boomed. The drum and bugle corps marched in their scarlet uniforms. School was let out. The media was there in force with four Hollywood newsreel companies present along with Time and Life magazine photographers. The newly elected governor strutted about, posing with two bear cubs who were led on a string by a boy in a coonskin cap. Citizens armed with hunting rifles and pistols stopped traffic and handed out pamphlets. That was the scene on December 4, 1941 in Yreka, California at the secession of the State of Jefferson from California and Oregon.
The newsreels of this event were scheduled to be released in theatres across the US on December 8, breaking the news to Americans that a forty-ninth state was about to be born. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 cancelled that release, and the governor of the State of Jefferson released this report:
"In view of the National emergency, the acting officers of the Provisional Territory of Jefferson here and now discontinue any and all activities. The State of Jefferson was originated for the sole purpose of calling the attention of the proper authorities...to the fact we have immense deposits of strategic and necessary defense minerals and that we need roads to develop those. We have accomplished that purpose and henceforth all of our efforts will be directed toward assisting our States and Federal Government in the defense of our Country"
The State of Jefferson is an idea, almost a state of mind that has persisted in northern California and southern Oregon since the middle of the nineteenth century. There is the perception among the residents of this area that their needs and contributions are not recognized by the state legislators in distant state capitals. Indeed, the State Seal of the State of Jefferson secession movement in 1941 consisted of two X's painted on the bottom of a gold pan. The two X's symbolized being double crossed by Salem and Sacramento. The first legal action taken to recognize this discrepancy was a bill for a formation of a new state introduced in the California State Legislature in 1852 which was basically ignored. The basic idea, that of a state with borders dictated by common interests and common sense, didn't die, however and has been constantly revisited. The 1941 effort was one of the better organized efforts, and had a fair chance of succeeding if World War II hadn't interceded.
The physical boundaries of the mythical state can be defined as the twelve counties of Douglas, Coos, Curry, Josephine, Jackson and Klamath in southwestern Oregon and Modoc, Siskiyou, Del Norte, Shasta, Trinity and Humboldt in northwestern California. It's an area roughly the size of Wales or Brittany with a population of some 700,000 people and it is arguably the wealthiest region of the west coast in terms of natural resources such as timber, fish, gold and other minerals. It's a rugged, untamed area, both geographically and in terms of the attitudes of many of the citizens. Frontier mentality, with its distrust of outsiders and governments is common here.
The secession of the State of Jefferson in 1941 failed. Subsequent attempts have come to little fruition. The likelihood is that vast region encompassed in the mythical state will not be joined politically in the near future. There still exits, however, a recognition among the people of this area that there is a deeper link between the people of this rugged land. Banks, radio stations, businesses and organizations have taken on the name. Jefferson Public Radio, Jefferson State Bank, the State of Jefferson scenic byway, Jefferson State Mortgage company.....and many many more. The State of Jefferson may not exist on any sanctioned maps, but it exists nonetheless.