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California is a former state of the United States of America, located in the Pacific Region of the country. Before the Yellowstone Eruption it was one of the country’s most populous states, as well as being the third most extensive by area, containing major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
California was located largely outside the radius of the Yellowstone Eruption and was not badly damaged immediately. As a result, the state government in Sacramento continued to operate as one of the only state governments on the west coast, and attempted to preserve the former state’s territorial integrity. In the years following the eruption, the state faced numerous natural disasters as a result of the eruption, notably ash and acid precipitation, increased rainfall causing flooding and mudslides, and minor earthquakes. Although the state was not overly dependent on the Midwest for its agriculture, preventing total collapse, the state also faced food shortages and an increasing refugee crisis, leading to conflict with neighboring state remnants. Its location on the west coast also forced the state to be involved in the Pacific War of the late 1930s, which further strained the state’s resources.
Aftermath of Yellowstone
On the morning of July 18, 1936, the day of Yellowstone’s fateful eruption, Frank Merriam was serving as governor in Sacramento. Although a conservative politician and member of the Republican Party, having defeated famed author and progressive Upton Sinclair in the 1934 gubernatorial election, once in office Merriam had come around on a number of more liberal policies. First in 1934 he proposed a tax increase of nearly $107 million, instituting a personal income tax similar to the one created that year by the federal government, and raising sales taxes by three percent. The law was passed by the legislature the following year, but not before Merriam gained the animosity of his Conservative backers and supporters, including newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.
The pressure wave generated by the colossal eruption at Yellowstone was felt as far as California, which was initially assumed to be caused by a possible earthquake. Merriam called a special meeting of the executive branch soon after, and by that time ash had already begun to rain down in Sacramento. Overall California was largely outside of the most severe ash radius, thanks in part to the wind patterns of that July. Los Angeles and southern California would report receiving about an inch of ash, San Francisco would would receive almost two. The most northeastern points of California near Reno would be hit the hardest in the immediate aftermath, with over three inches of ash being reported.
By midday a state of emergency was called by Governor Merriam, as it soon began to become clear how severe the incident at Yellowstone truly was. The national guard and any military personnel stated in the state were ordered to assist in evacuation and relief efforts. In the coming weeks the state saw a refugee crisis unfold, as thousands of people fled west from Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and other states, as well as from northern Mexico. In the immediate aftermath the state also saw extensive food shortages. California was still better off than most states in terms of agriculture and food supply, as the state was not dependent on the Midwest, which was now completely destroyed, however, the states’ farms were still damaged in some places by ash, and the growing refugee population only strained matters.
As the months continued following the eruption at Yellowstone the situation became more dangerous. Southern California was plunged into a “water year”, during which time rainfall heavily increased. The previous record for rainfall, caused by the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, was quickly broken, and massive flooding occurred near Los Angeles, as well as mudslides exacerbated by the high amount of ash and debris, as a result of the eruption and subsequent fires. Additionally the state witnessed frequent acid precipitation from the large amount of sulfur dioxide released into the stratosphere.
To help mitigate the food shortage crisis the government in Sacramento ordered large scale regulations to farms in the state, offering land and monetary subsidies to farmers to expand. New farms were also created in the northern half of the state, with the government mandating that crops such as peanuts, cassava, and sweet potatoes, which are quick-ripening, be used extensively. The government also focused on clearing ash from farmlands during the first several years after the eruption. In the northeast of the state there was damaging deforestation, especially in the Modoc and Tahoe National Forests, which the state sought to have slowly repaired in the following decade.
Initially most of the state cooperated with the government in Sacramento, allowing California to become one of the few largely still functioning states on the west coast. A notable exception was the city of Los Angeles, where communications were badly severed. Additionally the city’s mayor, Frank L. Shaw, purposely tried to isolate the city from the outside world. In general the south of the state was largely cut off from the will of the government, and any cities still in contact with Sacramento nonetheless acted highly autonomous.
One such city still cooperating with the state government was San Diego, led by mayor Percy J. Benbough. The city had been a hub of military buildup in preparation for the possibly looming war with the Japanese, prior to the Yellowstone eruption, and Benbough found himself in command of a large garrison of personnel from the national guard, army, and navy. Benbough quickly opened communications with nearby Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, led by Major General Clayton Barney Vogel, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, and other nearby installations, which would play a crucial role in helping to restore order to the city and surrounding areas. In nearby Coronado, California, former mayor and famous retired general Joseph Henry Pendleton, managed to rise to the head of the town following the death of the town’s mayor, and became an adviser to Mayor Benbough in San Diego.
With the assistance of the military personnel, Benbough managed to secure as far north as San Clemente, seizing or creating farmland in the area. As a result the city would play a crucial role in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. In late 1936, when communications were received from the government in Sacramento, Benbough was left with a tough decision of whether or not to recognize and obey Governor Merriam. Noting the crisis erupting in nearby Los Angeles, the people of San Diego decided they were better off cooperating with the rest of the state as best they could, and San Diego aligned itself with Merriam’s government, although they remained largely autonomous.
Outbreak of the Border War
With San Diego answering to the state government, they were soon placed on the forefront of the growing refugee problem. Across the border Mexican cities such as Tijuana and Mexicali had fallen largely into chaos, and there was a growing number of refugees arriving into the relatively more stable and rich southern California. With resources straining, Governor Merriam ordered the state to begin turning away refugees, from all areas, although the action largely targeted the Mexican border, thanks in part to xenophobic attitudes against Mexicans in place since the Great Depression. Additionally a report that Mexican cattle was grazing on the American side of the border near Organ Pipe National Park, and that settlers were potentially raiding American farms, turned public opinion strongly against the Mexicans.
In November 1936 US marines from San Diego fired upon an armed group of Mexicans seeking to enter the city, resulting in over thirty civilian deaths, the first major incident between the Americans and Mexicans. Additional skirmishes occurred near Imperial Beach, as the region south of the Tijuana River become the site of large shanties and towns of refugees, mostly from Mexico. In December Benbough ordered a military operation into this region to oversee and organize the relief efforts, however, by the end of the month this had quickly escalated into a military occupation, with American soldiers containing refugees within the small territory, and using the region as a base of operations to attack other migrants.
Nicknamed “Border Town”, the location became the site of numerous conflicts between American personnel and the Mexican citizenry. By the end of the year numerous militias had been formed by both sides, in Border Town, San Diego, Tijuana, and elsewhere. The Mexican militias in Tijuana were loosely centralized under Manuel Vallejo, a former military officer, and he would begin organizing proper raids into southern California. The small number of farms that supplied the San Diego region became under threat, and military garrisons were stationed at these locations by the end of the year.
Under pressure from the people of San Diego, and the especially hawkish military commanders of the city, Benbough ordered a full military operation, nicknamed Homecoming, in January 1937, targeting Mexican positions in Tijuana and other nearby towns. In retaliation a full scale uprising broke out in Border Town, which temporarily pinned down some of the American forces, and also led to an uprising that damaged southern San Diego proper. The American forces in the region would spend the next week restoring order in the outskirts of the city, while simultaneously invading the city of Tijuana.
During this time California and the rest of the world was being plunged into one of the coldest winters in recent history, and San Diego soon saw its resources strained. Supplies from the north of the state helped to mitigate food shortages, but at the same time the city found itself struggling to support a push into Mexico. Meanwhile in the east American forces also crossed into Mexicali and Yuma. Neither action would completely stop the flow of Mexican refugees or the reprisal attacks, although California would develop a military presence near Yuma that evolved into a checkpoint for refugees from Arizona.
The “California Border War” would ultimately continue for decades, although in 1938 there was a lull in the fighting, and the Californians begin construction of a wall running along the northern border of Tijuana. Later that year a cease fire would be called and a border wall was partially erected further to the east running further south than the pre-eruption American-Mexican border, leading to the creation of a limbo area devastated by frequent crime and food shortages. Numerous refugee camps and towns in the region would develop into isolated and segregated slums, often times run by a particular militia. These camps soon littered south and southeast San Diego, as well as the area around Tijuana.
One of the main ways the state of California remained in contact with the rest of the United States was through the United States Navy, which was operating in cities such as San Diego and nearby Hawaii at the time of the Yellowstone Eruption. The state saw a large number of ships operating in the region return to California in the ensuing weeks, with the city of San Diego in particular becoming a makeshift base of operations for the Pacific Fleet, which would slowly evolve into the American Pacific-Asiatic Zone, a loose political and military alliance of former American territories in the Pacific Rim.
Mayor Benbough worked extensively with the naval command, who in turned aided the Californians in conflicts such as the California Border War, and in aiding in relief efforts in general. In the meantime the US fleet began preparations to move its headquarters to Honolulu, Hawaii, near the major base of Pearl Harbor.
When conflict broke out between the American alliance and the Japanese in late 1938 Californians were among those who volunteered to serve against the Japanese, although the government of California was not officially aligned with the alliance. Governor Merriam had been a supporter of the military actions leading up to the war with the Japanese, which proved to be an unpopular stance. Although some Californians, particularly San Diegans, favored the alliance with Hawaii and other states, the majority of Californians were against a costly conflict when the state itself was struggling, and Merriam’s support for the war was a large reason for his failure to be reelected in 1938.
In November 1938 the first election since the eruption took place. Although a large and extensive process, the government under Merriam had pushed for retaining American ideals of democracy, and the election was carried out, although with a much lower turnout rate than usual. Merriam would lose the election to William Moseley Jones, a Democratic representative from Montebello. Before the eruption Jones had been an advocate for Roosevelt’s New Deal, and under Merriam supported a greater focus toward fighting poverty across the state.
Jones’ government immediately faced problems in early 1939. The government authority had begun to break down, as evidenced by the small turnout for the recent election, and most cities had begun to break away from the state or fall into internal conflict. Additionally the problem of refugees disrupting the state’s resources still loomed. To tackle the latter problem military forces were deployed in the region east of Sacramento, in an effort to retake eastern California and secure the route into California from Reno and Carson City. It was discovered that the efforts to rebuild the national forests of the region had been riddled with corruption and conflict, with Tahoe National Forest now home to migrating "tribes" of people from Nevada, criminal activity, and border conflict.
Jones’ deployment would remain in the region for most of his term, initially to restore order to the region. The mountainous and forested terrain made any full scale military operations difficult, and initially the armed forces focused on securing the roads leading into the region. They came into conflict with settlers of Lake Tahoe, a local hub for Nevadan refugees. Eventually the operation panned out to include securing the city of Redding as well, in order to monitor all people entering the state.
For the next few years of his term Jones would increase government subsidies to farmers in central California. The Farmland Act of 1939 was passed under Jones’ guidance, which greatly shaped the future of central California. A large territory in the state was converted by the government, or actively seized by force, and designated state farmland. Any citizen within the major cities was allowed to apply for enrollment under the act, at which point they would be allowed to move to and work at one of the designated plots of land, under close protection from the state’s armed forces. In addition to a salary from the government, workers were also granted a small percentage of their produce, and could gradually work to obtain full ownership of their land after a period of five years.
Although many flocked to join the program, controversially others were coerced with force in order to supply the farmland with enough workers. The sharecropper fields soon were manned primarily by convicts, illegal immigrants, migrants, homeless, and impoverished urban dwellers. Additionally living conditions within these lands were initially low, with the government unable to fully pay for or quickly produce adequate living spaces for all the sharecroppers relocating into central California. Cities in this region built around the already existing farms, such as Fresno saw a large population shift, as the government relocated people to abandoned sections of these cities, as many of the natives of the central and eastern cities had relocated within the first few years of the Yellowstone Eruption.
By 1940 the government had allocated most of its land, as well as formerly protected wildlife areas and national or state parks. The main farming region now stretched from Redding in the north to the edge of Bakersfield, and also included small pockets of farmland in the southwest, particularly in Monterey County. It soon became clear that some of the land the government had promised they didn’t necessarily administer of control. This led to numerous clashes between the incoming sharecroppers and small groups of locals who had been disconnected from the government, particularly in the north of the state.
Nonetheless the government’s actions help to alleviate food shortages in the state, and also unknowingly helped prepare the state for the future years of uncertainty to come. With the state’s food supply accounted for momentarily, the state also turned its attention toward other important resources. The region had been plunged into a fuel shortage immediately after the eruption, as imports completely ceased and production was damaged or halted. California would ultimately fair better than most states however, as it possessed several oil refineries and drilling sites. California’s production had been expanded to 77 million barrels by 1920, with new oil fields being discovered in the south of the state throughout the next decade. By 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression growth in production had stalled, with a large number of oil fields going unused.
As such in late 1939 the government in Sacramento ordered that oil production be supported once more in the state. A similar, albeit less impactful and widespread version of the Farmland Act would be formulated, known as the Energy Act of 1939, which saw a large number of the state’s oil wells reopened or repaired. Workers were likewise imported from the cities, although in small numbers, to man the oil fields and refineries, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley and in Kern County, in the southern half of the state. There was friction between the government of California and the state at Los Angeles, which controlled a large part of the state’s existing oil wells.
Additionally this strained the state’s armed forces, as in many locations armed guards had to be posted to protect important sites. Initially the government reserved the majority of its oil and gasoline output for their own uses, with the fuel being instrumental in the government’s ambitious relocations, redevelopments, and armed deployments. Despite initial fuel shortages for the majority of the first four years after the eruption, California quickly began to produce enough fuel for the government to begin selling to the public. The state would also become invaluable in supplying the states of the Pacific engaged in the Pacific War and other related conflicts.
Jones also became interested in stabilizing the economy of the region. The state had largely been relying thus far on a combination of barter and loose adoption of the former US currency, however, the government was finding it increasingly hard to finance its many redevelopment projects, and it became clear the state was in need of monetary reform. The California Mint was formally established in 1939 using the facilities of the United States Mint’s San Francisco base. At the same time the state also formally recognized United States currency as the new official currency of the state. Due to Executive Order 6102 in 1933, in which President Roosevelt restricted the private ownership of gold, there was very little gold still in circulation within the state, or in the government’s possession. The government responded by increasing gold mining, particularly in the north of California.
Conflict with Jefferson
Although the majority of the state had remained under government control, the government’s presence in the far north of the state was scarce. The north and northeast had been the hardest affected by the eruption and subsequent ash fall, and had been quickly cut off from the rest of the state. By 1940 the most northern city firmly under California’s control, enforced by a military presence, was the city of Redding, which had also become a crucial city in the mining industry and in controlling immigration into California from the north.
Although the government had previously sent scouts and laborers into the northeast, primarily into Modoc National Forest, these missions had largely turned up fruitless, with a large section of the northeast mainly under the control of various local governments and tribes. Many of the government issued employees sent to the region to oversee relief efforts had simply kept the government’s supplies and funds for themselves, forming their own breakaway governments outside Sacramento’s control. One of Modoc National Forest’s former park rangers, Steven Moon, was masquerading as the leader of Modoc and Alturas in 1940, clashing frequently with the settlers of Klamath, a tribe of Californians and Oregon refugees.
One of the few functioning governments in the north was the state of Jefferson, a confederation of towns in California and Oregon. The idea of another state being created within the region had existed before the Yellowstone Eruption, due to the region being largely separated from the rest of California’s population centers. After the eruption the confederacy was proposed by Mayor Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, Oregon, who was eventually joined by the mayors of Medford, Ashland, and others in Oregon, as well as Crescent City, Yreka, and numerous towns in California. Gable would become the first president of the union and select Yreka as the capital, which was roughly in the center of the nation’s claimed territory. California’s move into Redding essentially cut Jefferson’s claimed Californian territory in half, as the state had been trying unsuccessfully to court Redding into join its union, along with neighboring cities.
Jefferson’s presence in the region increased dramatically in late 1940, when Gable ordered the nation’s militia into Klamath and Modoc in an effort to pacify the settlers there. Both groups had been frequent raiders into Jeffersonian territory. The military action paid off, as in August the raiders from Klamath were forced to swear allegiance to Jefferson, Modoc was crippled, and towns such as Klamath Falls and Tulelake joined the union, grateful for the nation’s actions to help protect them. Additionally Jefferson began courting the city of Eureka. Although the inhabitants there had nominally declared for California, they had been almost completely independent for four years, and were more inclined to support Jefferson. News of both events reached Sacramento, straining relations with the new state to the north. By October the city of Eureka unofficially became a member of the nation of Jefferson, with representatives of the nation entering from Crescent City. Around the same time a wave of Jeffersonian migration south began, spurred by a sense of security brought about by the securement of Klamath and Eureka, as many hoped to settle the more temperate and hospitable regions in southern Jefferson in preparation for the coming winter. Some of these settlers reached as far south as the outskirts of Redding, but were largely denied by Californian authorities, leading to small camps growing around Lake Shasta.
The first clashes between Californians and Jeffersonians broke out toward the end of the year, especially when the first settlers under Jones’ work programs arrived in Redding to reopen the gold mines of the north. Jefferson soon found itself in a lucrative position, as it controlled a large percentage of the gold deposits of the north, and many of the Californian workers moved into Jefferson, either unknowingly or coerced by the government in Yreka.
Governor Jones began considering a military operation to retake the north of the state, however, the plan was slow to implement, especially with winter quickly approaching. It was not until November that the government forces were in position to enter Jeffersonian territory, and on 15 November armed forces entered the city of Eureka from the south, with additional support from the sea. Jefferson’s garrison, as well as a large number of the town’s able-bodied men, took the streets in an effort to repulse the Californians, but outnumbered and unprepared most of the city fell with relatively little bloodshed. The city center fell later that day, with a several dozen casualties on each side.
One of the Jeffersonian representatives, Jim Lowry, managed to flee the city along with a large number of militiamen and supporters, and as they fled north they gradually gained members from the settler population in the region. The group reached Crescent City late on 20 November, and a message was sent warning the rest of the Jefferson communities, as well as the capital in Yreka. Around the same time Governor Gable was already alerted from messengers from the south, as the Californian government announced their intentions to restore order to Eureka, which the government claimed had legally been a city of California, despite the Jeffersonian government and its support from the town inhabitants.
The Jeffersonians, not in a position to outright combat the Californian armed forces in battle, began constructing defenses around the major southerly cities, particularly Yreka and Crescent City. The settlers of the Shasta region were quick to join the levies being gathered at Yreka, including many former employees of the California mining companies. Despite neither government striking throughout the rest of November, a series of battles broke out in Shasta between the rival mining companies and settlements. At the Battle of Shasta City a Jeffersonian army successfully repulsed the Californian miners of the town completely, while further south in December a desperate raid against Redding failed, leading to a month long retaliation against the settlers around the Shasta Lake.
Additionally that winter there was increased activities from the tribes of the northeast, and after suffering the defeat against Jefferson earlier that year, many began to move south into Californian territory instead. Steven Moon’s tribe in Modoc, humiliated by the defeat against Jefferson, was one of the first to push south, winning a minor victory near Burney against a Californian detachment. Conversely the Jeffersonians also saw many flock to their ranks in the region, as throughout November and December they sent numerous scouting parties into northeast California, clashing with some hostile groups and recruiting others to join them against California.
The news of initial Jeffersonian victories, disruptions to the mining operations and communities of the north, and raids near Redding, propelled the government to take a greater interest in the north the following year. That January an additional force of 2,000 men was sent to Redding, including elements from the former National Guard 143rd Field Artillery and 184th Infantry regiments, all under the overall command of officer John Vinson. The Californian command would spend the next month securing areas directly around their territory. First Vinson ordered Shasta Lake secured, which fell with little resistance, as most Jeffersonians had already fled. Next a detachment was sent to follow the Sacramento River into Modoc-controlled territory to repulse Steven Moon’s incursions.
By the end of the month the Californians had surpassed the original border at Burney and now penetrated farther into the northeast than before. About half of the Modoc settlers, led by Moon personally, were held up in the Plumas region, and quickly rushed back north to defend Alturas. Modoc would suffer a disastrous defeat at Adin on 19 January, suffering some 100 casualties, including Moon’s second-in-command, Robert Etheridge. The Californians did not capitalize on their victory however, as the focus turned toward Jefferson primarily, and the approximately 400 men garrisoning Adin were ordered to fall back to Burney.
After being harassed by Jeffersonian skirmishers for the past two weeks, Vinson ordered his men to march north toward Mount Shasta on 29 January. The Jeffersonians were prepared, however, and engaged in a fierce guerilla campaign on the approach into Yreka. Another 200 Californians were either killed or wounded just in the approach to Shasta City, which the Californians would not reach until mid February. A siege ensued in the mountains, while elsewhere the Jeffersonians launched attacks into the south, even threatening to retake Eureka. Alarmed, Jones ordered another 500 men to Eureka in February, however, they would not arrive before the Jeffersonians.
Despite winning a series of skirmishes around the city handily, when Jeffersonians entered the city proper, beginning the Second Battle of Eureka, they soon found themselves engaged in a siege against a slightly outnumbered, but well disciplined and entrenched garrison. The battle would prove a costly blunder for the Jeffersonians, who retreated a week later.