Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho, the effort to turn most of rural Oregon into a Gem State, has received a lot of attention over the past two years. But a truer — and much older — Oregon secession movement is now coming back into the conversation.
The dream of creating an entirely new state, called Jefferson, from vast swaths of northern California and southern Oregon has been around for decades.
Last year, journalist James Pogue, author of the Malheur occupation-focused book “Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West,” traveled to Redding, Calif., in a borrowed Tesla. It was a poor choice of transportation for the trip.
As soon as he arrived in the small town, he wrote in the April 2022 issue of Harper’s magazine, a man materialized next to the high-end car and began banging on a window.
“We don’t want you here!” shouted the man in the vehicle.
The reason Pogue had come to such hostile territory: Anger over pandemic restrictions had breathed new life into the Jefferson State movement.
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Pogue insists the secession effort has always been a bit of a blur. This includes his name.
“The State of Jefferson was probably named for Thomas Jefferson,” he wrote. “But the name may also have been a winking homage to Jefferson Davis. No one is really sure.
Some things are known for certain, such as the fact that secession activities have deep roots in the region. During the Civil War, the Southern secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle, promoted the idea of an independent Pacific Northwest, and some evidence suggests its agents aimed to “take over” the Pacific. ‘Oregon. There was no doubt that Jefferson Davis, the president of the ill-fated, slave-owning Confederate States of South America, had many supporters in remote Beaver State, whose constitution prohibited black people from settling in his borders.
Talk of secession — and some action — has been around in Oregon ever since.
That said, most of Jefferson State’s recent activity has come from California, which comes as no surprise. Siskiyou County, in particular, has a long history of secessionist desires. In 1909, even the distant New York Times noted that it had heard reports of secessionists in the California border county hoarding guns and ammunition. “California father, mothered by Oregon, unfilial Siskiyou emerges with threats and violence from his parental boundaries,” the editorial wrote.
The Jefferson State movement, however, essentially began in Oregon.
In 1941, Port Orford Mayor Gilbert Gable decided that the state and federal governments were neglecting his corner of the country, especially its roads and mineral resources. He announced that his county, Curry – “Oregon’s Cinderella County”, he called it – could lead a kind of revolution. He sought the creation of a 49th state, and he found plenty of takers not only in Curry but also in Jackson and Josephine counties.
A committee has been formed to study the possibility of secession, and its spokesman RS Smith argued the effort was no joke, insisting it could become “as funny as the Boston Tea Party”.
Secessionists showed how serious they were by printing a “Proclamation of Independence” on fliers, setting up roadblocks on US 99, and distributing them to motorists.
“You are now entering Jefferson, the 49th state in the Union,” the flyer read. “Jefferson is now in rebellion against the states of California and Oregon. …For the next hundred miles, as you drive along Highway 99, you travel parallel to the greater copperbelt of the Wild West, seventy-five miles west of here. The United States government needs this vital mineral. But the blatant neglect of California and Oregon deprives us of the roads necessary to extract copper ore.
The flag created by Jefferson supporters features two black Xs. They symbolize, Pogue points out, “the way the area had been traversed by Salem and Sacramento.”
On December 4, 1941, in Yreka, California, a “Provisional Territorial Assembly” appointed retired Judge John L. Childs as Governor of Jefferson.
A torchlight parade down Main Street followed the official unofficial ceremony.
Two days later, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce invited the “rebel leaders” to visit.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor torpedoed secessionist plans of civil disobedience and possibly armed conflict for the State of Jefferson, but the desire for a new state lingered in the region and carried over from generation to generation.
Drive along the rural roads of southern Oregon and northern California today, and here and there you’ll see signs proclaiming Jefferson the “51st State” – a designation Norman Mailer gave more famously to New York 50 years ago during a fanciful campaign for mayor.
A former Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Deputy organized and continued the Jefferson movement about 10 years ago. The focus is no longer on dug-out roads or underutilized mineral resources, but on restrictive federal logging rules.
The polarization of our national politics and the rise of extreme social media rhetoric have fueled it.
“Run now, while you can,” one man told Shasta County supervisors at a public board meeting Pogue attended in Redding last year.
The local citizen was not kidding. The council, after all, had refused to join other neighboring counties in passing a Jefferson State resolution.
The man added:
“When the urn is gone, there is only the cartridge. You have made the bullets expensive. But luckily for you, the strings are reusable.