By Brian Helsapple
State of Jefferson slogans
If down our road you will travel, bring your own gravel.
Our roads are not passable, hardly jackassable.
The Promised Land: Our roads are paved with promises.
Originally trappers working for the Hudson Bay Company ventured into our remote mountainous area in the early 1800s. Then in 1949 California’s second largest gold strike lured thousands of miners from across the nation to challenge the rugged isolation found in the real Northern California.
Those few who remained, staked small claims along the winding Klamath River and many of its tributaries. In the wider valleys, 100 acre homesteads were stepped off. For years the only path in and out was a trail that climbed the mountain behind Hawkinsville, descended down Humbug Creek and continued as a path along the south side of the Klamath River. A treacherous mid-connection also followed along the Scott River. Both were miserably muddy in winger and dusty, run filled dirt trails in the summer. Over which the vast amount of timber had to be transported ‘During WW! Strategic deposits of chrome and copper ores were hauled out. This simply deepened the ruts. The resources left our region to build up the big cities. No tax revenue was returned to the area to improve the trail.
The mythical State of Jefferson actually had its start in 1852. The bill to separate the North from the rest of the state failed to pass the California State Legislature. In 1953 a second failed attempt proclaimed: ‘Southern Oregon and Northern California presents a country of uniform character that is distinct from the rest of California and Oregon. It is necessary to form it into a separate state whose interests were fairly represented in the U.S. Congress.” The spirit behind separation was found in the miners of the far North. At the heart of succession lay better highways and bridges and the development of the vast mineral resources. For almost 100 years, Sacramento and Salem refused to recognize this isolated area. During that time, all the minerals and timber continued to be transported out over trails that were hardly passable by goats. With no tax revenues returned, the citizens justifiable felt betrayed and “double crossed.”
During the fall of 1941, Mayor Gilbert Gable, of Port Orford, Oregon, once again ignited the succession movement. “A spark of rebellion struck fire instantly in the woodsy canyons of the border country.” The Yreka Chamber of Commerce voted to form a 49th State. The Siskiyou Daily News announced a, “name the state” contest.
“Jefferson” was selected. Mayor Gable trickled publicity to the wire services; “Jefferson would be free of obnoxious taxes, no sales, income or liquor taxes…
On Thursday, November 27 and every Thursday thereafter, The State of Jefferson Citizens Committee (members of the Yreka 20-30 Club) voted to barricade the North-South road, 263. They stood with rifles next to bonfires and barrels of burning kerosene, passing out yellow handbills to the few automobiles going by. One of the miners had drawn two X’s on a gold pan that symbolized the “double crossed.” It quickly became the state seal.
The San Francisco Chronicle sent Stan Deleplane, to go up Highway 99 to Yreka, “wherever that was” to do a series of articles. These were to provide some relief from the impending war headlines. In Yreka a garage man explained to ‘Deleplane that the roads were so bad that folks can hardly get out. Unfamiliar with the route conditions at the time, Deleplane headed down the Klamath River Road, attempting to get to Port Orford to interview Mayor Gable. He made it to Happy Camp where he was stranded for three days because the good dirt road ended and the road over to Oregon was impassible. He had to travel back to Yreka and over to Medford to get to the coast. Mayor Gable unexpectedly died the day after the interview
Prose and publicity had a nation watching. The second succession Thursday found the narrow streets of Yreka being covered by four newsreel crews. The small parade of shivering participants of needed to be prodded into action. A somber candlelight parade at twilight defined the final hours. The succession movement had lost its impetus, but officially ended three days later when Pearl Harbor was bombed
With World War II came orders from Washington to the state of California to create a passable road to get the strategic minerals out. This resulted in the present connection at 263 where it passes the Klamath River. The new Highway 96 would be blasted out of rock and built on the opposite North side of the River from its historical location. The original road remains passable but still unpaved today. Remember all the tonnage for WWI and almost half the total for WWII which snakes over Humbug. This route is visible if you stop at an overlook just west of Tree of Heaven Campground.
A total of 2.305 of chrome from Seiad Valley was hauled out, and thousands of tons of copper from Happy Camp. Millions of logs moved over the old route during peace time.
Though the original 49erswere very thorough. Some trace amounts of gold claim to be found today by recreational gold miners using suction dredges. As usual, gold miners do not openly brag about their strikes or locations. Much more recreation gold waits to be explored.
The Klamath River is one of the major sites of seasonal spawning runs of King Salmon and Steelhead.
In the 1930s Herbert Hoover spent many seasons enjoying the river and made a yearly charitable donation to the Honolulu school built on the Kannaka Bar, to provide the children with hot meals between Empire and Lumgrey Creeks. The lure of fishing kept most of the motels and small stores alive and attracted many people to build vacation homes.
In recent times the fish populations have been heavily impacted by many factors affecting their habitat, including eight years of drought. While fishing recovery will take time, other opportunities to explore the area have increased dramatically. Mining, logging and forest management practices all have contributed to a large system of roads that provide almost unlimited access to the quiet forest/
These roads wait patiently to be driven, hiked or mountain biked without the fear of noisy logging trucks careening over them. Seasonal mushroom pickers and deer hunters as well as forest biologists and tree planters tend to be the only traffic. Usually the only evidence of others is a parked pickup
In the million acres of forest you will discover new generations of wildlife that may never have seen a human; bear, bobcat, mountain lion, grey squirrels and chipmunks and thousands of birds and bats. Owl’s willll lull you into sleep beneath a blanket of a billion stars. At dawn, particularly in spring, the area becomes alive with some 222 species of resident and neo-tropical birds that choose this forest to produce their offspring. The pure air is filled with pine tree aromas laced with forest floor mushroom scent. During spring, the lush green conifers are splashed with a multitude of flowers. In fall, vibrant red and gold colors signal time for deciduous leaves to go to sleep forever. The Klamath National Forest has four definite seasons, but none that are extreme.
Easy access to six uncrowded campgrounds can be found along Highway 96. The side roads of Scott River, Grider, Indian Creek and Curly Jack, each offer more remote sites for camping. One of the least visited is Grider Creek, it marks the location of the Pacific Crest Trail that gives hikers access to the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area. Traveling to the campgrounds you travel a stretch of the Klamath River that oftentimes finds a resident bald eagle perched on its traditional pine tree looking for a target. Sometimes it can be seen standing in the water upstream of the shallow island below. This road still resembles the wagon trail our pioneers trekked along to get to a ferry that crossed over to reach Seiad Valley. From this view can be seen a vast amount of gold tailings resulting from a 1940’s bucket line gold dredge operation.
Back on the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway, Osprey, woodchucks, Canadian Geese, Common Mergansers and River Otters are easily viewed from many elevated turnouts all along the route. Deer and Bear can often times be seen crossing the river to get to the fruit trees in people’s yards or just the other side of the river A river that waits to be rafted and played in or perhaps just paused beside to hear its song. Venturing into this land you can discover the pleasure and beauty its isolation provides. Here resides absolute peace, solitude and serenity, perhaps the real meaning and clue to the State of Jefferson.
Highway 96 was officially named the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway in 1992. This roadway travels alongside the river to Happy Camp. The byway then continues over Greyback (4500 feet) to O’Brien and Highway 199. Snow blocks this part of the Byway in the winter, sometimes nearly until June.
The southwest part of Highway 96 was named the Bigfoot Scenic Byway. Beyond Happy Camp, Highway 96 continues to follow the Klamath River to Weitchpec. Highway 96 continues on to Willow Creek and 299. Along, g the way you will discover the Klamath National Forest Six Rivers National Forest, Marble Mountain Wilderness and the south portions of Rogue River and Siskiyou National Forest.