JEFFERSON: A STATE OF MIND

November 23, 2001 12:00 am
Map shows counties that were to secede to form new state, according to plaque along Jefferson State Byway. Although maps vary, Curry, Del Norte and Siskiyou are common to all maps of mythical state. ().
Map shows counties that were to secede to form new state, according to plaque along Jefferson State Byway. Although maps vary, Curry, Del Norte and Siskiyou are common to all maps of mythical state. ().

It was 1852, and the isolated Southern Oregon and Northern California coastal region was full of treacherous trails that were barely passable.

Oregon was still seven years from statehood.

Thousands of miners swarmed into the area after Californias second largest gold strike in 1849.

Citizens of that region, mostly hunters, trappers and miners, felt their tax dollars should be going toward better roads and bridges and the development of the areas vast mineral resources.

That year the mythical State of Jefferson actually had its start. A bill was introduced in the California Legislature to separate the north from the rest of the state and incorporate it with Southern Oregon as a new state. It failed, and another bill in 1853 also failed.

But the idea had caught fire, and off and on would be fanned into a flame even into the present.

Jim Bley, a retired Harbor resident, is a walking advertisement for the mythical state. He sports his gray suspenders with bold gold letters reading State of Jefferson. And he often wears one of his State of Jefferson caps around town.

Im plain ticked off in being forced to live my rural life according to the dictates of the metropolitan way of living, Bley said. With a ready smile, one doesnt know whether to take Bley seriously.

Raised in Los Angeles, he grew up hearing his parents talk about seceding from Northern California. But he didnt take an interest until the last presidential election. Thats when I saw this map showing that the majority of people did not live in the majority of the land, he said.

The people in the rural areas are stuck with the whims of what the metropolitan people want, he said. We dont have many votes. Yes, I would like it to be a state. Or for this part of the state to get a little more representation.

Bley was a volunteer driver for the Department of Human Resources until recently. He quit to devote more time to his chess playing (at Chetco Senior Center and in tournaments), the Masonic Lodge and State of Jefferson work.

Im an old man! he said. I want to do what I want to do.

Sitting at the kitchen table of his mobile home on a wooded hill, he pulled his voter registration card from his wallet.

I dont want to get up in arms and start a revolution but (change things) by voting, he said.

Bley sells the cards for $2 a piece. He helped design them, and had 100 made. He has some for the Curry, Coos and Del Norte counties.

The money goes to purchase more cards, Bley said. Im not into it for making money. Im gonna have a million dollars worth of fun.

He also sells State of Jefferson hats. A man in Seiad Valley, Calif., makes them.

I am selling them for six bucks a piece and make a dollar profit, he said. I found out who the treasurer is its me!

There are about a dozen people in the Brookings-Harbor area that are in the State of Jefferson chapter, Bley said. One of them is his reluctant but good-natured wife, Evie.

She lets me do whatever I want, and she does what she wants, Bley said.

When he was 18 Bley moved to Beaver Creek on the Klamath River in California. He took a starter job in logging, and ended up doing logging work most of his life.

Bley has lived in the Klamath River area off and on throughout his 78 years. He lived in Happy Camp for 27 years before moving to Brookings. His daughter-in-law is a member of the State of Jefferson State Chamber of Commerce in Happy Camp.

In fact, the Klamath River area keeps alive the State of Jefferson mystique. Cooley and Pollard, a merchandise store in Yreka, carries State of Jefferson items like suspenders, hats and handkerchiefs.

They sell booze, liquor, tobacco, all kinds of good redneck stuff, Bley said.

Bley pulled out a State of Jefferson brochure; he got a stack of them with his hat order. It has the great seal of the mythical state on the front two Xs standing for the citizens being double crossed by their government.

Also on the brochure are State of Jefferson slogans such as: The promised land; our roads are paved with promises, and Our roads are not passable, hardly jackassable.

Inside is a history of the secession movement and on the back is a map of the Klamath River area showing Highway 96, which in 1992 was officially named The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway.

There are several things that must happen for an area to become a state, Bley said. Boundaries must be established and someone must petition for statehood according to the United States Constitution. And then the citizens of that area must vote the state in.

Until then, Bley said, we must settle for the State of Jefferson as a state of mind.

For information on the State of Jefferson, visit http://www.jeffersonstate. com.