Guess the time is ripe to create a whole new state.
That's the thinking up here along the border between
California and Oregon, where 12 sparsely populated,
thickly forested counties in both states want to
break away and generate the 51st star on the
nation's flag - the state of Jefferson.
You can see the signs of discontent from Klamath
Falls to Dunsmuir, where green double-X "Jefferson
State" flags hang in scores of businesses. You can
hear the talk of revolution at lunch counters and
grocery lines, where people grumble that politicians
to the north and south don't care.
You can even hear the dissent on the radio, where
21 area FM stations broadcast from Oregon into
California under the banner of "Jefferson Public
"We have nothing in common with you people down
south. Nothing," said Randy Bashaw, manager of the
Jefferson State Forest Products lumber mill in the
Trinity County hamlet of Hayfork. "The sooner we're
done with all you people, the better."
Talking about secession has been a quasi-joking
conversational saw since 1941, when five counties in
the area started things by actually declaring
themselves - briefly - to be the state of Jefferson.
But now, with the economy in trouble and
unemployment soaring, the idea of greater
independence is getting its most serious
consideration since World War II.
Locals complain that federal and state regulators
have hampered the fishing and timber industries to
protect forestlands and endangered species such as
sucker fish and the spotted owl. Jobs are so scarce
that the median income in the area is only
two-thirds that of the rest of the state. Most water
from the rainy Shasta region is shipped south, with
little economic benefit to the area. Even the
California sales tax draws sneers.
If they ran their own state, the reasoning goes,
folks in Siskiyou, Modoc and the other potential
Jefferson counties could whack the red tape from
both federal and state officials and get rid of the
The Grange Hall of Yreka, a farm-based service
organization, is activating 51 of its brethren halls
in the area to collect 1 million signatures to have
a statehood advisory measure put on the California
ballot. Tony Intiso, a runoff candidate in the Nov.
4 election for Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors,
has pledged to force the issue and is running
campaign ads calling for regional freedom. The
number of registered users of a decade-old Web site
advocating partition has suddenly shot from dozens
to more than 900.
"Heck yeah, it's a darn good idea," said Richard
Mitchell, manager of the Cooley & Pollard Hardware
Store on Miner Street, the main drag in the
blink-and-you-miss-it town of Yreka. "Those liberal
people down south don't understand us at all, and if
there was a vote today to form a new state, it would
pass in a heartbeat.
"I would bet on it."
The window of Mitchell's store, where he tends
the register in worn work boots and a camouflage
hunting cap, displays T-shirts and flags sporting
the state "seal" of Jefferson: Two X's denoting the
double-crossing the area supposedly gets from the
capitols of California and Oregon.
Movement began in 1941
Mitchell also posts a copy of the original
declaration of Jefferson independence, drafted in
1941 by the angry miners and loggers who pushed for
secession over the appalling condition of roads.
That movement - the coverage of which earned
Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane a Pulitzer
Prize - lasted just two weeks before the Pearl
Harbor attack, when the movement dissolved in the
name of national unity.
But it was never forgotten.
"It started out as a big joke back then, but then
some folks got real serious and before long they had
elected a governor and all that," said Frances
Wacker, 95, whose husband, the late George Wacker,
was one of the 1941 Jefferson movement leaders.
"I think some folks have become serious again and
think they have something going."
Sixty-seven years ago, Wacker recalled, locals
were frustrated because they were ignored when they
complained to lawmakers that they couldn't easily
ship copper and timber south to ports and markets on
the axle-cracking roads. The roads have improved
since then - the same trip now takes four hours, not
the eight of 1941 - but the unhappiness has not.
"It's not rocket science to see why it makes
sense, and how we could do it," said Brian Petersen,
a landscaper who runs the main online forum
advocating statehood, www.jeffersonstate.com.
"The capitols of California and Oregon ignore us. We
"All we have to do is get an initiative on the
ballot and vote to get things going."
Peterson has run his Web site for 10 years. For
most of the time since, the site had a mailing list
of about 100.
In the past year, though, as the Grange began its
petition drive and unemployment throughout the
region rose to about 10 percent - almost three
points above the California average - the mailing
list grew nearly 10 times in size.
"If you want any chance of fixing things,
sometimes you have to break the system," said Leo
Bergeron, master of Yreka's Greenhorn Grange Hall
and past master of the statewide, agriculturally
oriented Grange service club. "Now, we have to break
For years, he said, locals have proudly claimed
Jefferson is a "state of mind" born of living in an
expanse of forestlands and hamlets that is roughly
the size of Wales and has about the same population
as San Francisco. Redding, with a population of
80,000, is the closest thing to a metropolis. And
with 60,000 cattle, Siskiyou County has 15,000 more
bovines than it does people. Along the way,
tourist-minded locals have come up with the flags,
an official state cow ("Moo-dona," a huge sculpture
alongside Interstate 5) and an official beer (microbrewed
in Etna). The legend of Big Foot is also big around
But Bergeron's not playing around.
"If you do it seriously, some people will think
you're a kook," said Bergeron, who spearheads the
Grange effort. "But 9 out of 10 people have an
interest in this - and we need to reach the ones who
are really serious."
Working toward '09 measure
Bergeron's first goal is to gather 1,200
signatures in Siskiyou County to put an advisory
secession initiative on the county ballot in 2009.
At the same time, he is urging the 51 Grange Halls
in Jefferson territory, and those on the mailing
www.jeffersonstate.com, to gear up for
collecting 1 million signatures to take the advisory
"We'll need the approval of both states and the
federal government, but it can be done," he said.
"And even if we don't become a new state, we will
have made a statement and can at least get some more
independence in our own affairs."
Such a statement would be news to most in
"Never heard of Jefferson," said Aaron McLear,
spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We are
going to decline comment."
Gail Fiorini-Jenner, co-author of two books on
the state of Jefferson, said the almost 900,000
people who live in the territory aren't hicks. Just
feisty. And that, she said, is not new: Since the
1850s, there have been similar attempts to create
the states of Klamath and Shasta.
"Everyone thinks we're dumb rednecks, but we have
the far left, the far right and a lot of the middle
up here," she said. "Our only trouble is we have no
political power. It's no wonder people want to