Shasta, Klamath, Jackson, Siskiyou, Jefferson
by Chant Thomas
A region, a land of dense tangled mountains coursed by wild twisting rivers, mountains of barren red rock; a region unique, its variations from surrounding areas being basic to its character. This is the Klamath Mountain Bioregion, the oldest mountains in the West, the longest continually vegetated land in western North America. Here ecosystems have evolved uninterrupted for scores of millions of years, at least until the arrival of the white man. We can only theorize about the Indians native to the bioregion and their concept of its uniqueness. Not being extensive travelers, the Indians may not have been aware of the differences from the much younger Cascade Mountains or of the lowlands north and south.
However the white people immediately recognized the region’s uniqueness. The trappers saw that it was relatively barren of beaver compared to the Cascades and the Basin and Range region to the east. Early settlers considered it a great obstacle to transportation of people, cattle, and supplies between the great valleys of California and the Oregon Territory.
Although trappers first entered our region in the late 1820’s, it was the Gold Rush years of 1849-55 that brought miners and settlers into the region as its first permanent white inhabitants. As communities formed and grew, a feeling of kinship developed among the new population, a feeling which also led to an increasing dissatisfaction with government by the State of California in the south and by Oregon Territory to the North. These two governments did provide limited funding and military protection during the Indian Wars of the 1850’s; however, for years after hostilities ended, virtually the only official acts were assessing and collecting taxes. Many miners along the border playfully avoided these taxes by posing as residents of one state as the other state tried to collect, while voting in both states. But many of the region’s residents were resentful of the lack of services provided in return for the taxes collected. A strong regional identity began to develop and the two states were viewed as colonial forces trying to divide and control a very distinct and different place.
Several attempts were made in the 1800’s by the Klamath Region’s citizens to gain formal statehood separate from California and Oregon. In 1852 the California State legislature met at Vallejo and a bill was introduced to create a “State of Shasta”. The settlers of that time felt that region had ample natural resources to support its own economy, but were disgruntled by the high California taxes, poor mail services, and lack of protection from the Shasta Indians. Local settlers on both sides of the “border” cooperated in fighting the Indians, and these campaigns helped forge a feeling of regional oneness. Thus there was sympathy on the Oregon side for the State of Shasta effort, a pattern that recurred during subsequent statehood efforts.
The Shasta Statehood Bill was not considered by the 1852 Legislature due to more pressing business at hand. However, a year later in 1853 a bill was introduced at the new California State House at Benicia to create a “State of Klamath”. There was strong support for this statehood effort, and the leading paper of the day, the DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA of San Francisco, urged “Southern Oregon and Northern California…presents a country of uniform character and is distinct from the rest of either California or Oregon. It is necessary to form it into a state by itself and have its interests fairly represented in the United States Congress…Let our local resources be developed by a government identified with our locality; let us have a voice in the national councils where we can urge upon Congress our wants.”
Although Crescent City was intended to be the capitol of the State of Klamath, the plan had support in the rival cities of Yreka and Jacksonville. However this statehood effort died like that of the year before. Within weeks the statehood activity began reorganizing at Jacksonville in early 1854. A political convention of sorts was held at the site of today’s U.S. Hotel with representatives from northern California counties and those of S.W. Oregon. Elections were held and a resolution urging formation of a new “Jackson Territory” was sent to the U.S. Congress and the legislative bodes of Oregon Territory and the State of California.
However another political council was also held in 1854, a council that spelled defeat for the creation of Jackson Territory. The great Indian chief Kamiakin of the Yakima Nation called a major war council at the Grand Ronde Valley in N.E. Oregon. Lasting for five days, this was the greatest assembly of Indian Nations ever seen in the Pacific Northwest, with representatives of tribes from Canada to central California in attendance. The Indians decided that their nations had no room for states such as California and Washington or territories such as Oregon and Jackson, and they laid plans to drive all whites from the Pacific Northwest. Soon after the next U.S. army attack on the Yakimas, signal fires blazed atop mountain peaks from Canada to the Sierras. The Indians attacked white settlements along a 1,000 mile front, and the drive for Jackson Territory was scuttled as white settlers turned to the tasks of defense and survival.
The Indian conflicts lasted for decades in places and the next serious statehood effort came when the 1877-78 California Legislature decided to revise its constitution. A State of Shasta was again considered. Although this effort failed, it was not the last.
Many people in Sacramento and Salem, and in the rebellious bioregion, thought that the separate statehood issue would be permanently put to rest upon the completion of the Oregon-California Railroad in 1887. After 20 years it became obvious such was not the case. In 1909-1910 a movement in Southern Oregon proposed the new “State of Siskiyou”. Although supported by some local newspapers this effort, too, failed to gather sufficient strength.
The Klamath Bioregion was particularly hard pressed during the depression. Transportation to and through the area was still something of an adventurous expedition; commercial growth was inhibited by the inability to quickly ship the region’s products out to the urban markets. Many of the local population felt over taxed, under supported, and generally neglected. As Jack Sutton states in the introduction of his book THE MYTHICAL STATE OF JEFFERSON: “That the area’s natural blessings and beauty were exploited by their respective states without thought of replenishment for future generations of Jeffersonians was too much to accept passively. Using the sad condition of existing roads and highways as their theme song, the border counties of Oregon and California united in a determined effort to do something about the situation.”
Thus the state was set for the most recent and best known of the several statehood attempts. As perhaps an indication of 90 years of frustration and changes in attitude, this effort was not a formal legislative process of submitting requests and resolutions, it was more like an insurrection, boldly setting up a new government. Also unlike most earlier efforts, this one originated on the coast, first in Oregon at Gold Beach, then shifting to Port Orford, as that city’s mayor Gilbert Gables became unofficial governor and chief instigator. Judge John L. Childs of Crescent City was the main proponent on the California side and was officially inaugurated as governor of the State of Jefferson in Yreka on December 4, 1941, one day after Gables died of a heart attack in the midst of all the frenzy.
The Jefferson Sate movement was officially supported by Siskiyou, Del Norte, Trinity, Lassen and Modoc counties in California and by Curry County in Oregon. Included in the “boundaries” with unofficial support were Jackson, Josephine, and Coos, and parts of Klamath and Douglas counties in Oregon, and part of Humboldt County in California.
The primary purpose (indeed the sole purpose according to Gov. Childs) of the formation of the State of Jefferson was tot protest the neglect of the region by the Oregon and California State governments. This neglect was specifically described as the lack of roads into what some Jeffersonians perceived to be the “greatest copper belt in the far west”, on which they pinned hopes for the region’s economic and social salvation. A quote from the Jefferson State PROCLAMATION OF INDEPENDENCE dramatizes the situation: “Until California and Oregon build a road into the copper country, Jefferson, as a defense minded state, will be forced to reel each Thursday and act as a separate State.”
An interesting and very basic paradox is evident in the Jefferson State movement: protesting Oregon’s and California’s exploitation of the area’s natural “blessings and beauty” without plans for replenishment, while also protesting the states’ neglect in development of the copper and mineral resources. This paradox remains and it’s necessary to examine the past to see where them movement is today.
The fifty years prior to 1941 saw a tremendous and reckless exploitation of the privately owned forests of the region. As railroads and roads penetrated ever further into the wilderness, vast forests were cut with resulting erosion and stream damage. Added to locally severe mining damage, the amount of resource devastation became a concern in some local circles.
In the thirty years preceding 1941, the U.S. Forest Service began offering federal timber sale, mostly in the Cascades. Prior to 1941, the U.S. Forest Service planned to keep much of the interior mountains of the region as wilderness, with most development limited to some river corridors. A one million acre preserve was planned for the Kalmiopsis area, the Siskiyous were considered mostly too steep and unproductive to develop large scale logging and vast wilderness preserves were planned for the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Yolla Bollys. In the late 1930’s National Forest Recreation Director Bob Marshall proposed a Wilderness National Park to embrace most of the wild areas of the bioregion.
The local citizens who were concerned about the states’ neglect in protecting private forestlands from complete destruction and rivers from mining devastation, held the wilderness of the National Forest to be a sort of heart and soul of the region and a base of present and future economies such as fishing, recreation, and tourism. They thought local statehood could be a way to safeguard the natural environment that they saw as necessary to the region’s economic and social survival.
Meanwhile other citizens sought local statehood to exploit the interior wilderness of the region. They saw extraction of the minerals (at first gold and copper, then nickel and chrome) as the way to put the area on the map and provide the economic stimulus to pull the region out of isolation and depression. These people were delighted as two events took place in 1937 that ominously hinted at the widespread changes about to take place on federally owned forestland in the region. It was in 1937 that the O&C Act passed which gave counties 50% of the receipts of timber sales on much federal forestland. If the counties would cooperate and support a growing timber industry, they would gain a major new source of revenue. That same year the 40 mile long Mt. Ashland Loop Road was built from Ashland through the highest peaks of the Siskiyous and down to the Applegate River above McKee Bridge.
Publically billed as an “access road for fire protection and timber harvest”, the road also accessed major chrome and nickel deposits, as yet still undeveloped. The road unexpectedly became a major tourist and local attraction as people took advantage of the easiest new access to high mountain splendor and natural beauty.
Both events of 1937 have become central in shaping the past four decades. The loop Road ushered in an era of road building unprecedented in the region. Peaking in the 1960’s and 70’s, this activity opened over half the region’s wild areas to development in a few short decades. The resultant logging of the forests accessed by the new road system created the region’s timber boom, which has made some counties particularly wealthy by the influx of O&C revenues. The timber boom also caused great influx of population to service the expanding industry. Unprecedented growth rates were further increased by even greater accessibility of the region provided by completion of Interstate Highway 5 in the 1970’s and by jet airline service to Medford, Crescent City, Eureka-Arcata, and Redding. Indeed the economic and social growth of the timber boom and the end of isolation by access to quick modern transportation has solved the major complaints of the Jefferson Statehood movement 45 years ago. Federal timber replaced copper as the spoils of the desired roads; and one could now travel in a personal vehicle from Yreka to either San Francisco or Portland in about 5 hours.
Yet in wandering about the region for the last decade and attending to various local social gatherings at restaurants and bars, county fairs, school picnics, fire house BBQ’s, environmental meetings, grange halls, and “pioneer days, I know that the “movement” has not been put to rest. Although the target of complaint today is less the states and more the Federal government, there is still a strong feeling that some form of regional self-determination is an attractive goal. It is also obvious that there are several different reasons behind this feeling, for the paradox still exists that self-determination is supported both by people advocating and also people opposed to increased natural resource exploitation.
It would be good to get beyond the differences and to realize that we are still a small population in a large area rich in natural resources, and that most of these resources are owned and managed by the federal government. Long term federal forest plans are being developed which would convert vast stretches of undeveloped forest into commercial tree farms. Large-scale mining and smelting operations are being supported or seriously considered by some of the area’s federal agencies. These two issues have the potential to change our bioregion’s physical appearance and social-economic structure far beyond any past or present changes. Local governments (counties, cities) and citizens should be aware of the federal plans and their implications. The quest for any degree of self-determination must involve a discussion of the colonial relationship we all have with the federal agencies. Working on these challenges together can be an important step in creating our bioregion as a state of mind, and eventually, a state in time.