Storied history of the ‘Great Republic’ |

Storied history of the ‘Great Republic’

This postcard shows Rough and Ready circa 1857, of which the only remaining structure is the Odd Fellows Building (top center).
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ROUGH AND READY (Alta California) – Col. E.F. Brundage, a veteran of the Mexican War, was today elected president of the newly proclaimed Republic of Rough and Ready. He was unopposed in his bid for the presidency; however, some 50 write-in votes were counted.

The secession came while talks were going on in Washington regarding California’s admission to the Union. Sources in the nation’s capital claim formation of the new country will have no affect on congressional action regarding statehood.

The president-elect was not immediately available for comment, but a spokesman for the chief executive said the miners formed their own country because they felt that “there were just too danged many federal laws that us Rough and Readyans can do without.”

The West is dotted with the remains of scores of towns and camps that were and are no more. Rough and Ready, five miles west of Grass Valley on a highway that bears its name, refuses to “ghost” and has hung tenaciously to life long after the last pan of gravel was washed for its gold.

The town’s longevity is due in part to the novelty of its name and partly to the notoriety gained by the secession shenanigans by the hell-raising miners in 1850. Today, the well-attended annual celebration of “Secession Days” is observed each summer by the proud residents of Rough and Ready – please note “and,” and do not use the ampersand.

The camp was settled in 1849 by a company of men, who with their leader Capt. A.A. Townsend had served in the recently concluded Mexican War under the leadership of Gen. Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), “Old Rough and Ready.” To honor their hero, then President of the United States, they gave the camp his nickname.

Unfortunately, the general did not live up to his nickname. The rigors of the presidency coupled with contraction of cholera “did him in” after only 16 months in office.

Some 100 stalwarts supported President Brundage for almost three months. The Fourth of July was just around the corner, and the miners began to plan a huge celebration of the nation’s birthday.

“But,” reasoned one of the men, “we’re not part of the United States. How can we observe their Independence Day when we just had one of our own?”

The dilemma was quickly resolved. A vote was taken and the pioneer secessionists unanimously decided to dissolve the infant republic and return to the United States.

The gold camp’s name was made part of the literature of the American West by a sometime schoolteacher who roamed the foothills of the Sierra Nevada during the Gold Rush. Francis Bret Harte penned his way to fame with sketches set in the bustling country of the 49ers. His inspiration to write “The Millionaire of Rough and Ready” is said to have come after he visited the camp.

Another often repeated story concerns Lotta Crabtree, the diminutive darling of the late 19th century American stage who became show business’ first millionaire. In the early 1850s in Grass Valley, Lotta’s mother ran a boarding house three doors from the home of the fiery Lola Montez, Countess of Landsfeld and late favorite of Louis I, King of Bavaria.

Little Lotta would visit Lola who, according to legend, taught the tiny redhead to dance. One day Lola took the child with her on a ride to Rough and Ready where, on the great anvil in Fippin’s blacksmith shop, she made her “professional debut” dancing for the miners.

What a sight that must have been – the rugged bunch was so moved at the sight of the tiny child dancing that they showered the little curly head with gold nuggets!

In the first week in July 1962, the landmark Slave Girl Tree toppled across what was then state Highway 20 after a 112-year life span. The 75-foot cottonwood stood next to Fippin’s blacksmith shop and, according to our old friend legend, grew from a riding switch stuck in the ground in 1850 by Caroline Allen (some accounts call her Hannah), who had been brought from his Louisiana plantation by Col. William English to work the Old Slave Mine with his other servants.

Bob Wyckoff is a retired newspaper editor, an author of local history, a lifetime student of California history and a longtime resident of Nevada County. He writes history stories twice a month. You can write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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