Up The Road: To Yreka, Capital Of The State Of Jefferson

Jun 29, 2017

Today we head Up the Road to the heart of the State of Jefferson and its once (and possibly future) capital, Yreka.

There’s something profoundly different about a place proud to be in a constant state of rebellion. In the bigger picture that place would be California, which has considered more than 200 different independence proposals since statehood in 1850. Some of the first serious attempts to break away came from thoroughly dissed Los Angeles, still a dusty cowtown when the streets of San Francisco were almost literally paved with gold, after the gold rush.

But in terms of consistent, almost constant rebellion, no place beats far northern California—including the currently proposed State of Jefferson—which have been trying to break away since 1852. That year a separate State of Shasta was proposed to the California legislature, then headquartered in Vallejo, a bid for more military protection, better roads and mail service, and lower taxes. That bill died in committee, but it was hardly the end of the idea. In 1853 came the call to form the State of Klamath, running roughly from Cape Mendocino north to the Umpqua River. The following year, a meeting in Jacksonville, Oregon, was convened to plan the statehood convention for Jackson, a proposal revisited in 1855.

Mount Shasta is a steadfast companion in and around Yreka.
Credit Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Those who sought separate statehood felt isolated and victimized, complaining about the area’s inadequate roads and lack of protection against militant natives. The territory even seceded internally, resulting in the eventual creation of Modoc and Lassen Counties from Siskiyou County and the Nevada Territory, respectively. But organized acts of rebellion weren’t confined to settlers. Attacks by native warriors expressed their rage over decimation due to disease and violence. Most famous of these unwritten histories, as Joaquin Miller would call them, was one actually written—the long-running Modoc War of strategically brilliant “Captain Jack” and his band of warriors, among the last major Indian Wars fought by U.S. troops.

Secession came up again in the 20th century. On Nov. 27, 1941, the first and original State of Jefferson officially seceded from Oregon and California. Citizens of the new state put up roadblocks on Hwy. 99 and stated their intent to secede each Thursday until further notice—or until they got good roads into the copper belt that stretched between the highway and the sea. The short-lived state of Jefferson extended from the Pacific over to the high plateau in Nevada, north to Roseburg, Oregon, and south to Redding, California. The new state’s capital was Yreka, and its symbol was a gold pan. In the center of the state seal was a double-X, indicating just how the people here felt about California and Oregon: double-crossed.

From Yreka, set off on the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway.
Credit Photo by Bruce Fingerhood

On December 4, Judge John L. Childs of Crescent City was selected as acting governor of the new U.S. state, and his inauguration ceremony took place on the lawn of the courthouse in Yreka. Signs posted for the benefit of Time, Life, and film crews in attendance read: “Our roads are not passable, barely jackassable; if our roads you would travel, bring your own gravel.” Plans to release film footage of that event, the formation of what was to be America’s 49th state, on December 8 were foiled by the greater news of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor the day before. If it weren’t for World War II, California travelers today might cross Jefferson on the way to Oregon. But the rebellion wasn’t ineffective. The far north now has graveled and paved roads, including a major interstate freeway—today’s I-5—and Stanton Delaplane of the San Francisco Chronicle won a Pulitzer Prize for his news coverage.

Take your time exploring Yreka and Siskiyou County, where worthy attractions include the Siskiyou County Museum at 910 S. Main, and the Klamath National Forest Interpretive Museum, part of the headquarters complex on Fairlane Road. From Yreka head out on the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway to O'Brien, Oregon. At the turnout near the California-Oregon border, take in the Klamath River Valley views. Is that landscape jackassable, or what?