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Yreka, historic capitol of the State of Jefferson and home of an exhibit to the movement | Bartell's Backroads

The battle for secession in Northern California and Southern Oregon has its roots on the backroads of Siskiyou County.

YREKA, Calif. — Northern California has a lot of natural resources the entire state depends on including lots of water, lots of lumber and lots of minerals. According to Grace Bennett, president of the Siskiyou County Museum, there is one thing Northern California doesn’t have a lot of...

“We do not have any representation, and the big cities make the rules and laws,” said Bennett.

The Siskiyou County Museum is located in Yreka and is home to the State of Jefferson display -- a movement that started back in 1942.

“The goal is to be able to govern ourselves.”

In simple terms, Bennett is talking about secession. Followers of the State of Jefferson want to become the nation’s 51st state with Yreka as its state capitol.

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The idea of secession started because of bad roads. Fed up with lack of maintenance and road construction, about a dozen counties in both Northern California and Southern Oregon started the State of Jefferson movement to call out the inaction of politicians in each state. In the early days, gun toting leaders of the movement gained support by standing in roads handing out petitions to commuters.

“They were not hostile,” said Bennett. “They would stop traffic and hand out flyers.”

The State of Jefferson was named after Declaration of Independence writer Thomas Jefferson, who hated “taxation without representation.” Secession made sense to locals, but the federal government had other priorities at the time.

“All this enthusiasm was going but then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” said Bennett.

During WWII, secession efforts were put on hold, but the State of Jefferson movement never died. Efforts to become a new state continued with each election. Today, more than 20 counties are involved, but its an uphill battle.

“The legislative bodies have to approve the state and so does the federal government, so the chances of it happening are not very high,” said Bennett.

The Siskiyou County Museum in Yreka is open weekly. Along with the State of Jefferson display, they have a large collection of Northern California historical artifacts and a new exhibit dedicated to Native Americans in the area.

Special thanks to the Siskiyou Media Council for archive video. You can watch old historic State of Jefferson video on their YouTube page.

HIT THE BACKROADS: California's state parks make for great road trips all year long. Don't miss John's list of the top five that you need to visit! 

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