The only way you’ve probably heard of Rough and Ready, California is if you’ve driven on Highway 20 between Yuba City and Grass Valley. In fact, the small town in Nevada County has a population of less than 1,000 people, but its rich history, and interesting name, has caught the ire of many local historians.
The town was named when the Rough and Ready Mining Company, led by Captain A.A. Townsend, settled in the area in 1849. The company had discovered gold nearby and named themselves after General Zachary Taylor, who had just been elected the 12th president of the United States, and who’d gained the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.”
Just a year after town was founded, the company made a bold move to avoid taxation and alcohol prohibition – they seceded from the Union. Aboutnevadacounty.com reports the scene in the town:
“Tents were pitched on the flat and along the ravines everywhere. Government became needed to control the rapidly rising population. It was during the uncertainty of 1850 that Colonel E.F. Brundage came up with the concept of separate republic. He issued a high-sounding manifesto, and called a huge meeting to organize the State of Rough and Ready. About 100 men became very devoted to him and excitedly began working to build their new country.”
The rousing speech from Colonel Brundage inspired the town, which quickly filed paperwork with the U.S. government, creating “The Great Republic of Rough and Ready” on April 7, 1850. But it didn’t take long for the town of nearly 3,000 residents to realize they had made a mistake.
Shortly after the secession, some of the townspeople traveled to Nevada City to purchase booze for their Fourth of July celebration, but were turned down for being “foreigners.” They returned home to tell their story and, on that very day, the town voted to rejoin the Union. The Great Republic of Rough and Ready lasted a mere three months.
Just 7 months later, the town attempted to establish a post office in Rough and Ready, but the United States Post Office didn’t like it, asking the town to change its name to either “Rough” or “Ready.” The townspeople refused and the U.S. Post Office caved, establishing the town in the 95975 area code.
As the chaotic Gold Rush began to slow, so too did the population of Rough and Ready. Today, the town is smaller than it was in 1850, but the residents remain committed to its history.
Many of the original buildings still stand and you may even find a local selling a hat donning “The Great Republic of Rough and Ready” on it. The town still celebrates the secession with a yearly event named “The Saga of Rough and Ready.”
While the town of Rough and Ready may not be well-known to most Northern California locals, its rich history provides a glimpse into the fascinating Gold Rush era that shaped the area we live today.