Jefferson Davis marker.
The Vancouver marker circa 2005.

Jefferson Davis Highway Markers

Field review by the editors.

Ridgefield, Washington

Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America. So why are roadside markers, etched in granite, dedicated to him all the way north and west in Washington state? That was the question asked in 1998 by the city council of Vancouver, Washington, where one of the markers was located. Finding no answer to its liking, the council voted to remove the marker, installed nearly 60 years earlier by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). It was dug out of the ground and stuck in a shed.

Jefferson Davis markers, 2020.
Caged Jefferson Davis markers in 2020.

Four years later, according to Brent Jacobs, Oregon division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, his group -- along with groups such as the Sons of Union Veterans, which represent the North -- bugged the city council so much that it asked Vancouver's citizens what to do with the marker. The citizens decided that it should be moved to the Clark County Historical Museum in town. The museum's director agreed, and the marker found a new home on the Museum's front lawn, along with an interpretive plaque that tried to explain why the thing was there.

That ended in the fall of 2006. A new director took over at the museum. The marker was again dug up and stuck in a shed -- this time along with its interpretive plaque. Various reasons were given, all of them trying very, very hard to avoid stating the obvious: that the marker commemorated Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy -- traitors and catalysts of so much national misery.

"They put it in the people's hands, gave them the right to decide, and now they're saying that it really didn't matter," Jacobs told us at the time. "That's not very democratic."

Jacobs argued, as did the UDC, that Jefferson Davis had a 40-year political career for the United States before the Civil War, and that as Secretary of War under President Pierce he had traveled to Washington state, stayed at Fort Vancouver, and sent out the survey teams that later made possible the roads that made possible the settlement of the Pacific Northwest. The official purpose of the marker, in its original location, was to designate US Highway 99 as the Jefferson Davis Highway -- a title created by the UDC but not recognized by the state of Washington.

Surprisingly, a solution was again found. "The city, I guess, felt bad about it," Jacobs told us at the time. "They said they'd store it for six months and deliver it anywhere we want. They just want it to be gone."

Jacobs raised some money and bought a small plot of land near Ridgefield, the next town north of Vancouver, on an old stretch of US Highway 99 next to the Interstate. In April 2008 the marker was moved there. "More people will see it now than ever before," he told us, "so we're not upset." In 2010 a second marker was added, this one from Blaine, Washington. It had been in storage since 2002.

The markers' moment in the fresh air and sunlight was comparatively brief, however. By 2020 both had been encased in steel cages, and covered with so much graffiti and gunk that their inscriptions were unreadable.

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Jefferson Davis Highway Markers

Address:
NW Maplecrest Rd, Ridgefield, WA
Directions:
I-5 exit 14, east on Pioneer St., cross freeway, veer right and then left. Turn right onto 10th Ave., drive south one mile, turn right into Carty Rd, cross back over freeway, quick right onto Maplecrest. Monument will be on the left.
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