In Northern California and Southern Oregon there is a place not officially recognized by the United States, but felt in the hearts of many people who live there: the State of Jefferson.
For those who live in the Sacramento area, Jefferson may not be an unfamiliar name, as homes in nearby northern counties can be seen flying the State of Jefferson flag or sporting lawn signs with the would-be state’s seal.
The origin of the would-be 49th state dates back to the mid-19th century. Soon after California became an official state in 1850, those living in the far north of the state and those in southern Oregon felt like they were far from their respective capitals and their needs were not being met.
In response, a bill was introduced to the California state legislature in 1852 declaring the creation of the “State of Shasta” in the area of what is now considered Jefferson.
The bill was killed, and in 1853 another attempt was made with the “State of Klamath,” but a Native American uprising interrupted the effort and also died out.
A third effort was made in 1854 for the Jackson Territory, which would be presented to Congress and eventually led to Oregon being granted statehood in 1859.
It would not be for another 90 years that a serious effort was again put forward to create Jefferson.
In 1941, residents in the proposed area of Jefferson were angered by the poor road conditions in the region that impacted overall transportation as well as the timber and mining industries.
In November 1941, Judge L. Childs was elected as Jefferson’s governor, a Proclamation of Independence was created, and armed citizens with hunting rifles manned roadblocks across Highway 99 and began collecting tolls.
A seal of Jefferson was created, a gold pan with “XX” painted on the bottom, with the pan symbolizing the residents being double-crossed by their states.
In a PBS show called the “Oregon Experience: State of Jefferson,” these events were captured by Hollywood cameramen and reporters from across the nation. According to the show, much of what is seen in the newsreel footage was staged by the reporters and cameramen to make the whole event look more exciting.
The newsreels were planned to hit theaters, but the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941 caused the footage to be hidden away as the nation unified for the war effort. Childs even drew back from the secession efforts to focus on unifying the war effort.
Since the effort in 1941, the State of Jefferson has become more of an ideal and a way of living rather than a politically realized place. The possibility of exclusion, escape from authority, cheap land and the beauty of the area drew people of all types to this almost mythical state.
In the 21st century, there has been a resurfacing of efforts to secede, with the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voting 4 to 1 in favor of starting the process of secession in 2013.