For UO professor, Jefferson state a pipe dream worth writing about

Area's history of secession aspiration detailed in new book

Threats of secession from Siskiyou County, Calif., are nothing more than a charade that is doomed to failure, charges a University of Oregon professor who wrote "The Elusive State of Jefferson."

Peter Laufer published his book just before the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 earlier this month to start the process to secede from the state of California.

Some Siskiyou County residents hope the secession movement spreads to Southern Oregon.

"It is an impossibility," Laufer said. "What's amusing is how much traction the idea has received in the media."

Siskiyou supervisors say their effort is for real, and they hope other rural, conservative Northern California counties will join them. They say they're being ignored by Sacramento legislators while being saddled with excessive regulations.

Modoc County supervisors are scheduled to vote on the issue on Sept. 24.

Secession supporters believe they can garner sufficient support for their idea, but have acknowledged it faces severe political challenges.

Laufer's book, available online and at bookstores, traces the history of various efforts to carve out a separate state in Southern Oregon and Northern California. In 1854, for example, there was talk in Jacksonville of creating a Jackson Territory that would be separate from Oregon.

The effort had a decidedly racist message behind it, Laufer said.

While the $18.95 book does contain amusing anecdotes, it also describes timber and natural-resource issues that confront the elusive "State of Jefferson."

"This book is absolutely a history of the region," said Laufer, whose parents lived in Ashland.

He said the Sept. 3 vote in Siskiyou County was nothing more than a giddy attempt to feel empowered.

"But what Jeffersonians ought to know by now is that they will never carve a new state out of the wilds between Roseburg and Redding," he said.

To create a new state of Jefferson would require approval from lawmakers in Salem and Sacramento as well as in Washington, D.C., he said. Lawmakers in Washington would never agree to a new "red" state with two new Republican senators, he said.

Also, Siskiyou County receives more money from Sacramento to pay for roads and social services than it pays in taxes.

Laufer said the often-cited 1941 attempt to create a new state didn't stand a chance because it was based on a publicity stunt.

"This is about a time that never existed rather than a time that has passed," Laufer said.

In 1941, he said, "local yokels" manipulated "city slickers" into believing the secession was imminent, only to use it to gain support for fixing bad roads and to draw tourist dollars.

The publicity machine was honed in Oregon by Port Orford Mayor Gilbert Gable and in California by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1941 for his Jefferson dispatches, Laufer said.

Recent news accounts of the secession effort "gin up" the historical accounts to give them more weight than they deserve, Laufer said.

Laufer suggests the new state be called "Garbo," after the famous actress Greta Garbo, who became a recluse at the height of her career.

"Garbo is an ideal name for a place that just wants to be left alone," Laufer said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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