Gold Towns: Rough & Ready

It was one of the first mining towns in Nevada County, founded in September 1849 by the Rough and Ready Mining Company of Wisconsin—whose leader had served under “Old Rough & Ready” General Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War. For several months the company was able to keep the richness of the region a secret, but by 1850 the incoming hordes of gold miners couldn’t be held back any longer, and a sizeable town developed. In April 1850, with a population of around 3,000, it became the only mining town in California to declare its secession from the Union. The idea for a separate and independent government (motivated largely by the desire to avoid paying mining taxes) was proposed by Colonel Brundage in a high-sounding manifesto. He had a following for a short period until the whole idea drew such ridicule that the “Great Republic of Rough and Ready” dissolved into thin air. On June 28, 1850, the town suffered its first devastating fire, but recouped, and during the early 1850s decade boasted more than 300 substantial frame buildings. Its decline began with another destructive fire in 1859, coupled with the gradual exhaustion of the gold deposits. Today, the town is home to fewer than 1,000 residents, living in an area of about three square miles. The Fippin Blacksmith Shop is one of few historic buildings that still stand and presents a display of period artifacts. This was the place where young Lotta Crabtree entertained the miners with her dancing, leading to her long and successful career. Each year residents and visitors gather on the last Sunday of June to celebrate secession day with a musical melodrama, blacksmith demonstrations, an arts and crafts festival, and a pancake breakfast. Rough and Ready is a registered California Historical Landmark.

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