Sunday Sept. 24, 2000

By Sandy Kleffman

"Our Roads are Not Passable, Hardly Jackassable."

"No more copper from Jefferson until Governor Olson drives over these roads and digs it out!"

Those were the cries that nearly gave birth to the State of Jefferson in 1941.

They reached such a crescendo and attracted so many prominent local politicians that many believed the revolt would have succeeded were it not for the advent of World War II.

From its beginnings, the State of Jefferson has been marked by heavy doses of down-home humor, spirited rebellion and a fierce independence.

It's often impossible to tell what is serious, what is tongue-in-cheek and what is aimed simply at making a point.

The movement to create a new state dates to 1852, when a bill to split California was introduced in the Legislature and quickly died. Numerous other attempts have been made over the years.

But it was in 1941, when Mayor Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, Ore., decided to lead the fight, that it ignited.

Gable, a prominent businessman who believed the area was neglected by the state and federal governments, had plenty of ideas about rules for the new state:

No sales tax. No income tax. No liquor tax. No strikes.

And certainly no slot machines, because they interfered with the thriving stud poker industry.

Gable tapped into the anger fueled by roads that became a sea of mud in the winter, stranded trucks and made it virtually impossible to bring out the minerals and timber that were key to the economy.

Unable to convince California officials to build a decent road, frustrated secessionists adopted a state seal that included two crosses etched on the back of a mining pan, symbolizing a "double cross" by state and federal politicians.

The borders of the new state fluctuated, but at times included Siskiyou, Del Norte, Modoc and Lassen counties in California and Coos and Curry counties in Oregon.

The Siskiyou Daily News held a contest to pick a name for the proposed state.

The suggestions were plentiful: Mittelwestcoastia, Bonanza, Discontent, New Hope.

But in the spirit of independence, someone suggested naming the fledgling state Jefferson, in honor of Thomas. The winning entry earned $2.

A road blockade called national attention to the movement, drawing reporters from the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and shocking more than a few motorists.

Miners, armed with deer rifles and target pistols, stopped traffic on Highway 99 and passed out fliers announcing people were entering Jefferson, the 49th state of the Union.

"Until California and Oregon build a road into the copper country, Jefferson, as a defense-minded state, will be forced to rebel each Thursday and act as a separate state," the flier said.

On Dec. 4, 1941, the movement spilled into the streets of Yreka with a large torchlight parade and the inauguration of Judge John C. Childs as governor of the new state. Schools were let out early, cannons boomed and new state officers were announced, representing the participating counties.

But three days later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Childs disbanded the state of Jefferson in view of the national emergency.

Folks in the area still speculate about what might have been.

"I'm convinced that if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor, the state of Jefferson would exist today," said former Shasta County Assemblyman Stan Statham.