Rough and Ready

One of the first instances of a vigilance committee was in the Nevada County gold town of Rough and Ready, first settled in 1849. Because of the rich finds in the area there were soon thousands of men working there and in short order the number of thefts, robberies, violence and other outrages made the need for some form of government painfully apparent, but at that time there was no Alcalde, justice of the peace, mayor or any other peace officer any closer than Marysville, or Nye’s Landing as it was called in those days. And the residents of the gold country were not about to travel that far for a little justice that they figured was their business anyway and that they could likely do a better job at it than the residents of the valley would.

Rough and Ready, photo by Isaac Crumm

A mass meeting of the miners was called and three men, H. L. Roberts, James S. Dunleavy, and Emmanuel Smith were appointed as a committee of vigilance and safety to assume the reins of government. They were charged with looking after the public order and the administration of justice, and from their decisions there would be no appeal. They took up their duties at once and ruled, it was said, with a fair and equitable hand. They laid out a plan for the town, marked off each man’s claims, appointed a constable, issued writs, heard and decided all disputes of any kind calling a jury together when required, and punished those convicted of crimes. On one occasion they had a thief flogged thirty-nine times before he was escorted to the lower edge of the settlement where, with a parting kick, he was warned never to return on pain of death.

A waterfall on the South Yuba River

The success of the three-man committee of vigilance and safety was so great that it put an idea into the head of a miner named E. F. Brundage who proposed to form an independent sovereignty called the State of Rough and Ready. Brundage had enthusiasm aplenty for his idea though perhaps not the intelligence to carry it out, but he called a meeting of the miners that was attended by a large number of men. Here he proposed his scheme and argued that since neither he nor the great majority of the men in the room had voted for the recently ratified state constitution they were not bound by it. Whether anyone was truly persuaded by Brundage or if it was the influence of too much liquor that held sway but some men, about a hundred it was said, went along with his idea and therefore Brundage continued to agitate for his plan’s adoption. Still, the more it was discussed the more ludicrous it seemed. But in every cabin or beside each rocker and long tom for miles up and down the Yuba Rivers, men could be heard discussing Brundage’s State of Rough and Ready, although to a man each one of them was willing and able to shed the last drop of his blood in support of the United States. When Independence Day approached and the good citizens of Rough and Ready realized they would no longer be able to celebrate they quickly voted to return to the United States.



  1. I liked this piece of history. You should check out the country of ‘Forgotonia’ that was a movement in the 1960′ and 70’s in Illinois. Whether is was a hoax or for real it is a fun story.

    • I did check out Forgotonia. It’s a great piece of history. Rough and Ready was real I think, but I get the impression that even as it happened a lot of tongues were firmly in cheek.

  2. To think I live there. It is pretty fascinating. Thanks for checking it out.

  3. Harold Grice says

    The gold rush and men’s reaction to those conditions as resulted is fascinating. It is a great example of how free men (?-women?) solve situations that need resolve

    • The men, and what few women there were in the early days of the gold rush, were a determined, resolute and hardy bunch. They had given up a lot to come to California and suffered many hardships along the way. They would not accept failure and so they survived, and some even excelled. I agree with you, Harold, it was a fascinating time.

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