Puzzle 14

John Baez

Q: Where was the Republic of Rough and Ready, and why did it secede from the United States of America?

A: It was in the mining town of Rough and Ready, which is now in Nevada County, California. It seceded on April 7, 1850 after a mining tax was imposed by the federal government. The Republic lasted for 3 months -- apparently the citizens started feeling left out when the Fourth of July celebrations started in other nearby towns!

The town of Rough and Ready was founded in 1849 by miners led by Captain A. A. Townsend. Since Townsend had served under General Zachary "Old Rough and Ready" Taylor during the Mexican War, they called themselves the Rough and Ready Mining Company in honor of the general, and the camp they established got the same name.

I've given the more prosaic story as to why it seceded. But here's another one:

One day a stranger strolled into the area and offered to buy the claim of a miner named Joe Swiegart. But the stranger wanted to "test" the claim. If he could take out $200 or more in gold in one day's digging, he'd buy it for a lot of money. If he dug out less than that, he'd keep what he dug and the deal was off.

Knowing the claim was a rich one, Swiegart agreed and had a contract drawn up. And the stranger began to dig. But when he reached about $180 worth of gold, he decided that was enough, quit digging and started to leave with his find.

Swiegart and his buddies demurred, and offered to make the stranger taller, using a rope and a tree. But cooler heads pointed out that under U.S. laws, the stranger was within his rights.

So still cooler heads came up with another idea: Secede from the Union and form their own laws. On April 7, 1850, Rough and Ready left the United States. Then they took the gold back from the stranger and invited him to vamoose.

Source: The above quote is from a webpage on the California Gold Rush Centennial:


You can see what the town of Rough and Ready looks like now on this website:


and you can read a brief history of it here:


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