Rough and Ready

In the fall of 1849, the “Rough and Ready Company” of emigrants, under Captain Townsend, composed of some dozen men, from Shellsburg, Wisconsin, arrived by the Truckee route at a point on Deer Creek near the mouth of Slate Creek; they mined successfully there, a few weeks in the bed of the creek; one of their number went out to kill some game, deer and grizzly being plentiful, and in quenching his thirst at the clear stream of the ravine below Randolph Flat, discovered a piece of gold on the naked bed-rock. Consequent prospecting by the company satisfied them that the new found diggings were rich, and removing their camp, they prepared winter quarters by building two log cabins on the point of the hill east from and overlooking the present town of Rough and Ready. Two of their number struck out through the woods “on a bee line” for Sacramento, to procure provisions, and thus made the first wagon tracks on what afterward became the Telegraph road. From the name of this company, the settlement and town afterward derived its designation…


Early in January, 1850, the first family arrived at these diggings; these were James S. Dunleavy and wife… Dunleavy was sent out a year or two before from the East as a missionary to Oregon, and it may be that the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, for he opened the first whisky shop in this settlement, just about where Major Wood’s store now stands, and he had so far advanced in civilization and refinement a few months after that I had the honor of a special invitation from him, in the fall of that year, to dedicate his new ten-pin saloon, the first in this part of the country, by rolling the first game on his 90-foot alley…In February, H. Q. Roberts arrived at Rough and Ready diggings—the population around there numbering some thirty or forty within a few miles—and after working a few weeks in the mines, he brought in a pack train of provisions, tools, etc., and opened the first regular store in the place, although, it was not even a place as yet. The “store” consisted, walls and roof, of a mainsail of some large vessel, originally brought up to the Anthony House by some sailors, and was supported by pine poles cut on the spot. The fame of the rich diggings reached the Sacramento paper, people began to crowd in, and thus commenced the town, about the first day of April, 1850.

The town of Rough and Ready increased very rapidly, and was for a while the principal place in what now constitutes Nevada county, and at the election held in October, 1850, polled a little less than 1,000 votes…The cholera extended into the mountains, but in a modified form, and a few fatal cases occurred at Rough and Ready and in the vicinity, not exceeding, however, seven in number. The members of the orders of Odd Fellows and Masons organized themselves in September, into associations for benevolent purposes, not merely to assist their own, but other cases of distress, of which the number was legion. The reputation of Rough and Ready for richness had gone abroad throughout the East, and immense numbers of the emigration of 1850 poured into the neighborhood, worn out, broken down, penniless, destitute and diseased, and it is reasonably estimated that the citizens of Rough and Ready were equally as heavily taxed per capita, that year from the causes just named, as were the people of San Francisco or Sacramento.

…in July, 1853, the whole town was destroyed by fire, save only a few buildings on the outskirts. The town was partially rebuilt, in a more concentrated body…but again on July 8, 1859, a fire occurred which swept away every frame building in the main body of the town. At this time the placer diggings around the vicinity had become exhausted to a great extent, the palmy days had passed, and no quartz veins had, as yet, been opened successfully; therefore this last blow proved too heavy, and the town, as such, seems to have become among the things that were. About twenty-five or thirty houses now occupy the place where once stood about three hundred, some of which were then among the finest buildings in the mountains…

I have not sketched the local excitement arising from quartz discoveries, commencing with the discovery on Kentucky Ridge, and continuing on late into ’52, when every man, woman and child (what few there were of the two last) rushed furiously after a fortune by “taking up” and recording every seam of white rock, or quartz bowlder, visible above ground, as a ledge, and bought stock and paid assessments until every body became, just as the bubble did, flat broke; nor of the quartz epidemic in 1855 and ’56, following the discovery in Osceola, when every body again went and did likewise, or rather like-foolish; nor of the repetition of the same old story, now in fact in 1865 and ’66, become a “thrice told tale;” nor of the discovery on Sailor’s Flat, and the building of Newtown, in September, 1850; nor of the great Ripple Box Tunnel…

…nor of the curious mingling of civil authority and lynch law in the hanging of the Indian “Collo” for killing a young man, whose name is forgotten; nor of the terrible affair at Bridgeport, committed by a drunken crowd who tried (or enacted the farce of a trial) by a lynch court, and hung an innocent man in March 1851 on pretense that he was Knowles, a noted Oregon and California horse thief, and concerning those who sat as jurors and officiated actively otherwise, I have been told by one who was present, and afterward noted the facts as they occurred, that not one of them died otherwise than by sudden and violent death, viz: by shot, or stab, or bludgeon, or drowning or cholera, or by fire; nor of the killing of Campbell by Larue; nor of the murder of Scobey, and our midnight raid, en-masse, horse and foot, to surround and capture his murderers; nor of the scout, by your humble servant as J. P., with a posse comitatus, and capture of Wemah and his beautiful boy “Lulu,” to hold as hostages for the surrender of certain murderers of his tribe; nor of the inglorious defeat of another posse in the same campaign, by Walloupa and his naked, breech-clout warriors, much to the chagrin of said posse and to our satisfaction…

…nor of the “Hounds”, the “forty thieves” who took and tied up an innocent man and gave him fifty lashes, on a charge of stealing, while the actual thief stood by and encouraged the Hounds in their work…nor of the robbery of Jack Elder, Constable, caught under his chin and lifted out of his saddle, pistol in hand, by the limb of a tree; nor of the shooting of his partner, Wilson, while stealing a wagon load of barley left on the road; nor of Brundage’s mass meeting of the people, called in 1850, to organize the State of Rough and Ready, adopt a constitution, secede from the United States, and set up on our own hook an independent government…

…nor of the preacher who wanted “a show” when the boys staked off the grave yard into mining claims whilst he was saying the last prayer over the corpse, the prospect having been discovered “rich” in the loose dirt thrown out of the grave…nor of the grizzly that chased Robinson into Deer Creek, when it was cold enough to freeze the ears off a brass monkey; nor of the first sermon in Rough and Ready, when the “boys” rolled up their monte and faro banks—fifteen tables going—on a Sunday afternoon, listened to an eloquent sermon, preached in the gambling saloon, took up a collection of $200 and presented it to the preacher; nor of the first ball or dance given in our town, where we had six women to two hundred and fifty men, more fights than you could count, and six pistol shots fired through the floor of the ball room from below, nobody hurt…

…nor of our prospecting trip to Grass Valley after night, blankets, pick and shovel on each man’s back, when gold quartz was first discovered on Gold Hill, in October, 1850, and of our getting there at daylight, among the first on the ground, to the chagrin and surprise of the Grass Valleyans, who thought they had it all to themselves.

And so on, and so on, through a thousand of wild scenes and strange incidents that would, in this day, sound, perhaps, more like shadows from Baron Munchausen’s adventures than sober truth; but you have told me to “cut it short,” and you see I have done so.

From Bean’s History and Directory of Nevada County, California, 1867

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6 thoughts on “Rough and Ready

  1. Welcome back Jim. Was beginning to think Flo’s loss had done you in.

    So this snippet from the settlement of the west – a fascinating look into the life of the time and place. Is this a personal volume?

  2. Thanks Clem, much appreciate the kind words. It did indeed do me in in and it’s not over yet, if it ever will be, which it will not.

    Bean’s is a personal volume only in the sense that I have a large and growing historical collection from HathiTrust and Google Books digital sources of stuff now out of copyright (> 100 years). There’s much more of this stuff than I realized and it’s collectively invaluable for understanding early CA history, which is a source of endless fascination for me. It is slow going to wade through it all though–typically pretty wordy. And when it concerns a place I actually lived in (Grass Valley, near Rough and Ready, Nevada County), it’s just that much more interesting.

    • For sure it will be more interesting if its about a place you’ve lived or are currently living. At home as a boy I’d walk the woods wondering what it was like on that spot 100 or more years before. Europeans would have been there 100 years before me and many of them were buried in the cemetery in town, but at 200 years before my childhood that part of Southern Illinois would still have been 1st Nations folk.

      Here in Ohio I sometimes come across information on the early settlement and it’s amazing what life was like and how their lives made marks in the landscape (roads, cemeteries, etc) that persist to this day. I suppose one could compare it slightly to the marks Flo made in your life – indelible and very special.

    • Sorry Clem, comment was held for approval for no apparent reason by WP again…thing’s got a mind of its own.

      It’s interesting that you thought about such things as a kid–I don’t think I ever thought about anything historical at all as a kid, had no clue really. Which is unfortunate, given that some pretty important stuff happened within 25 miles of where I grew up. We don’t know our own history, and it’s a crime.

      S. Illinois eh…whereabouts?

  3. Jim, Thanks for the entertaining and extremely colorful history!

    I especially got a laugh from “every body again went and did likewise, or rather like-foolish”.

    • Thanks Harold, I’m glad you got a kick out of it. Most of these early CA histories are more or less entertaining, but this one caught a little more of my attention, since I lived in the area for a couple of years. There’s a lot of this kind of stuff in the old literature–it seems like everybody of the time was an entertaining writer.

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