In A Nutshell
Rough and Ready was a booming mining town in California’s Nevada County. Tired of the taxes that the government was putting on their mining operations, they elected their own president, wrote their own constitution, and seceded from the country. Three months later, they realized that they weren’t going to be participating in all the Independence Day fun that neighboring towns were planning. They quickly voted to return to the United States and reinstate the party.
The Whole Bushel
In 1849, the Rough and Ready Mining Company of Wisconsin founded the town of Rough and Ready in Nevada County, California. It was the California Gold Rush, and men had already struck it rich in the area. The small, initial settlement in the area met with good results, so more men were recruited from Wisconsin to come out and work this newly discovered patch of rich mining property. In its heyday, the town was home to about 3,000 people. All of them were hoping to find another 8 kilogram (18 lb) gold nugget like the one that was said to have been found by a single miner.
But all was not well in this gold miner’s paradise. Those who were toiling day in and day out to find their fortunes were growing sick of the taxes that the government was implementing on all claims.
On April 7, 1850, the town voted to secede from the United States. They elected a president, Colonel E.F. Brundage, and appointed a Secretary of State, Hans Q. Roberts. They wrote a constitution, called “Brundage’s Manifesto,” that stated their reasons for withdrawing from the States. That included the “unscrupulous practices of those not of us,” and a feeling of being able to do nothing but valiantly and unsuccessfully protest their treatment by the government.
That lasted about three months, until the townspeople started preparing their annual Fourth of July festivities. It was then that they realized that they technically couldn’t participate in them anymore. Preparations in the towns around them went on, and the townspeople of Rough and Ready looked on as everyone else planned parades and picnics.
To add insult to injury, those same neighboring towns started to refuse to sell alcohol to anyone from Rough and Ready. They weren’t going to sell to dirty foreigners, after all, and they certainly didn’t want them in their saloons.
An emergency meeting of the town of the Independent Republic of Rough and Ready was called, and the secession was revoked. Brundage’s presidency was removed, and the town returned to the United States.
In 1851, the town built their own post office. All was fine until World War II, when the post office was decommissioned for the war years. When the town reapplied to get their post office back, the postal service tried to tell them that they needed to name the town either “Rough” or “Ready,” as “Rough and Ready” was too long a name. A quick records check showed that the United States had never actually, officially agreed to let the town back into the country. The letter making their reinstatement official didn’t come until June 16, 1948.
Today, the town is still there, home to around 1,000 people and a number of historic buildings that have survived the fires that have plagued the little town. On the last Saturday in June, the residents reenact their brief succession from the United States with food, festivals, and parades, leading us to wonder why they didn’t just vote to celebrate their own Independence Day in the first place.
Ironically, the town got its name from the president at the time. Zachary Taylor was affectionately known as “Old Rough and Ready” by those who had served in the military alongside him, including the owner of the mining company that founded the town.