S2 E2: Republic of Rough and Ready transcript
Listen to the episode here.
Welcome to countries that don't exist anymore. A historical entertainment podcast about countries that don't exist anymore. On CTDEA we're not afraid to dig deep into historical obscurity to unearth the tenuous relics of even the most ramshackle national experiments. Squint into the darkness of the past and protect a your lungs from deadly fact dust, as we rush to 1850s California to exhume The Great Republic of Rough and Ready.
Where was the Great Republic of Rough and Ready?
The GRoRR grew out of the town of Rough and Ready in Nevada County, California - about 5 miles west of Grass Valley - which is an incredibly bland name for a valley.
SFX: OLD WAGONS, PRAIRIE MUSIC, SETTLIN’ STUFF
What shall we call that valley?
The one with all that gold and all them prostitutes dwelling in it.
What about...Grass Valley?
How long did the Great Republic of Rough and Ready last?
Just under three months, between April 7th and July 4th 1850.
It’s a weird name for a country. Rough and Ready. Almost sounds like a Victorian music hall double act. I imagine it going something like this….
FX: Imaginating effect
FX: Music hall audiemce, intermittent applause and laughter to be dispersed throughout.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your delectation and delight - my name is Mr Rough and I would be honoured, in such esteemed company to introduce you, to my associate and partner in merriment, Mr...oh where is he? He’s still backstage. I say. Are you Ready?
I am, sir.
Then come out, sir, and greet these fine people.
I’m not ready.
But you just stated to the contrary.
I did not. I merely confirmed that my name was indeed Mr Ready. I made no such affirmations about my status.
Enough of this tomfoolery. Come out at once, sir….
I apologise for the miscommunication and give my word as a gentleman that no such ambiguity will occur for the furtherance of this appearance. Let’s shake on it ...owww...gadzooks, sir. Like shaking hands with an emery board. Why are your hands so rough?
Why are my hands so..?
My patience is quite exhausted. Fisticuffs. [sfx of fight with thunderous laughter and applause]
Take that, and that, don’t get Rough, don’t get what…
Yeah. Something like that.
Why was Rough and Ready called Rough and Ready?
In Autumn 1849, the town of Rough and Ready was established by the Rough and Ready Mining Company during the California Gold Rush. The company was named by Captain Absalom Austin Townsend, also known as Cappy. Cappy had served under the recently elected 12th President of the USA, Zachary Taylor - whose nickname was "Old Rough and Ready." The two had served together during the Black Hawk War of 1832 - a war that was incidentally a young Abraham Lincoln’s first taste of action.
What was the California Gold Rush?
I think I can answer this one, Ed. It was the rush...to California...for...gold?
Yes, that's about the size of it.
See? I don't need you anymore. I can do this whole show without you. So, to sum up. The California Gold Rush led to the town of Rough and Ready because people went to that area and established that town. And they discovered gold. Lots of it. All kinds of gold. Oh, I could tell you about the varieties of gold: Gold, white gold, Golden Graham's, Goldy Looking Chain, Terrys All gold, Goldfinger, Goldeneye. Gold… hand… is that a bond film? ...Gold. The song. By Spandau Ballet. And going for Gold the game show. Henry Kelly...how much time did I fill?
How much time left?
Gold. Always believe in your soul. You have the power to know you're indestructible. Always believe it. Let's cut to a commercial….
*SPOOF COMMERCIAL HERE FOR HARRY'S RAZORS?*
Phil: Ed, have you ever posted a letter?
Phil: Please answer yes, for the purposes of an advert.
Phil: I was in there the other day, trying to post CTDEA merchandise…
Ed: Do we have merch?
Phil No, but for the purposes of this advert. Anyway, I was posting merch to listeners
Ed: Do we have any listeners?
Phil No, but for the purposes of this advert. So I was in the queue for ages, I was stuck behind this old guy in a grubby wax coat and et.et.et. do you know what I needed?
Phil Can you answer what or no, for the purposes of the advert
Phil Stamps.com. The easy way to post without annoying trips to the post office. Just go to stamps.com and enter the promo code LP on the Left
Ed: Woah - wait a minute, are stamps.com paying us?
Phil No, I just thought I’d do it and they’ll pay us later.
Ed: That’s not how this works
Phil Yes it is - you do an advert, you get paid.
Ed: No - you have to approach them first and make a deal.
Phil Right. Use stamps.com or don’t They’re great.
Ed: I hate stamps.com
Phil: Stamps.com. A better way to cook.
So, back to the California Gold Rush…
The Mexican-American War ended on Feb 3, 1848 with an American victory that effectively transferred Upper California to the Americans – though at this point California was not yet a recognised state.
The California Gold Rush kicked off in 1848 when gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. This seemed like bad news to mill owner John Sutter who, rather than celebrating having loads of gold on his land, was rather annoyed that his planned farming operation might be disturbed.
It was also bad news for Mexico, who had no idea that the land was worth anything.
Before we hand the territory over, are you sure it’s not actually really valuable?
Si. Completely worthless. You can’t even plant crops because of all the shiny yellow metal all over the place. You’d think that people would clean up after themselves.
This isn’t the first time incredibly valuable land has been basically given away. We all remember the time when Russia sold the USA Alaska totally unaware of the wealth of oil underground.
You're welcome to it. That sticky vodka they have everywhere is disgusting.
News of California's vast gold wealth was spread by the #FakeNews media and 300,000 people flooded in from all over the world to strike it rich. Up until then, California had been the home of a few Mexicans and a mule with dreams of stardom but a day job in a mail room.
But the influx of miners and the accompanying services to support them made California rich. Up until then California had been of little interest to the United States but for some strange, shiny, golden reason they decided it should definitely be a state now yes please.
What was good news for the local economy was terrible news for the local native American population who were driven off their land and wiped out by disease, starvation and good old fashioned genocide. U-S-A, U-S-A! [cut in clip from Bin Laden death?]
For better or worse, California was transformed. San Francisco’s population swelled from 200 residents in 1846 to 36,000 in 1852.
California was suddenly developed with roads, schools and churches. In 1849, a state constitution was written. In September 1850, California was admitted as a state into the Union during an event called the California compromise. The compromise between the Northern and Southern states went something like this.
We don’t think we should have slavery anymore.
Well, let’s compromise by keeping slavery.
Agreed! Let's never go to war over the subject.
Within a matter of years California went from western backwater to suddenly producing the Republican presidential nominee for 1856, John C Fremont.
And there was much rejoicing. Except for James Sutter. Not only were the miners taking over his land and stealing his crops and cattle, but for some reason he couldn’t seem to keep workers interested in cattle farming with so much gold going spare.
You flash in the pan nitwits! You see what comes out of the back of cows? That’s brown gold.
At the end of February 1850, and only after a few months in the area, old Cappy Townsend and his Rough and Ready company extracted over $40,000 of gold. At that point the water springs failed and there was nothing more to drink. But as the old poem goes, "when the last well is dry… just drink money."
Townsend was so impressed with the results of the first few weeks of prospecting, that he went off to Wisoncsin to recruit more minors. Unless you’re a character in Game of Thrones, travelling such a large distance takes a while. By the time he got back with reinforcements, however, he found the place a riot of 400 miners who'd moved in, bagsied all the best spots and were in a frenzy of mining activity. There was barely any unclaimed land left for the new Rough and Ready Company employees to pitch their tents.
In the age of the California gold rush, anything was possible. The West was wild and free. Young men came barrelling out west to seek their fortune without the moderating influence of family, well established local governors or churches.
The result? Party time.
FX: Banjo music, yee haws and gun shots.
It’s pretty freeing, aint it? No women, no church, no government. We all do as we please and get rich doing it.
Want to get naked and break 9 out of 10 of the commandments?
Thought you’d never ask.
Song: Born Slippy
Lager lager lager lager
Lager lager lager lager
Lager lager lager
Digger digger Whoring
Digger digger Whoring
Digger digger Whoring
But the party wouldn’t last forever. California was trying to get admission into the United States and this meant cleaning up their act and looking like a respectable, governed kind of place. The Federal government also wanted a piece of this lucrative mining industry.
Rough and Ready quickly exploded to a population of 3000 after it was reported that a gold nugget weighing 18 pounds had been found. So, the town of Rough and Ready was barely established before it seceded from the Union and established itself as the Great Republic of Rough and Ready. But why?
Well, it seemed to all come down to three main reasons:
Federal government were proposing a new Mining Tax.
Possible alcohol prohibition demanded by Nevada County. Whether this was going to happen or not, word was going around that the government was going to try and stop gold miners from drinking. Bad idea.
Government’s ineffectual approach to law enforcement. Essentially, Rough and Ready had turned into a chaotic anarchy or drunken miners squabbling over claims, prostituion and incredibly long fist fights. I mean...if you will call a town Rough and Ready, what do you expect? They should have called it Law and Order.
So Rough and Ready went from a little village to a mass shanty town of tents, alcoholism and prostitution. What the miners liked was drinking. What they didn’t like was paying tax. And the way they wanted things run was the way they wanted to run things.
At a hastily called town meeting, townsfolk decided to forge out on their own and secede from the Union. Their first action was to appoint one E.F. Brundage as their leader. They then came up with this proclamation, known as Brundage’s Manifesto:
“We declare because it be God’s will to perpetuity, we cease to be reduced to seeing our property and lives being taken over by those not of us, but those against us. Therefore, we the people, of the township of Rough & Ready, deem it necessary and prudent to withdraw from the territory of California and from these United States to form peacefully, if we can, and forcibly, if we must THE GREAT REPUBLIC OF ROUGH AND READY.”
They also appointed a Secretary of State (Justice of the Peace Hans Q. Roberts).
They made and raised a flag, which looks a bit like a Sex Pistols album cover.
They also wrote out a constitution, which seemed to be cherry picked from the US’ Declaration of Independence and Constitution. But Article I of the Rough and Ready Constitution really tells us what the Great Republic was all about:
“All men are by nature created free and independent, and have certain rights, among which are the enjoyment and defending of life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property….and...err...the pursuit of happiness.”
Did you see what they did there?
It also defined its borders which amounted to 200 hundred square miles of land. This may be the same size as the average American’s garden shed and may sound like very little for a Great Republic but this effectively made them 40 square miles larger than Barbados and 20 larger than Andorra. Not too shoddy.
There's also a local legend that a con man was scamming prospectors in the town with a mining scheme, and as soon as the town seceded, the con man was hanged. What this tells us is that at this time in American history, things like secession wasn’t quite the big deal it would be today. These unknown parts were being discovered, established and made up as people went along. This was the era of the Wild West.
This is reflected in the response of the central government that happened after Rough and Ready’s provocative declaration. Was this met with charging cavalry and firing cannons from California? Nope. In fact the creation of this new republic barely registered. The Great Republic of Rough and Ready looked like it could exist in peace. But it was not to be.
So why did the Great Republic of Rough and Ready last for only 3 months?
This is the time when I would usually tell you about foreign policy and domestic policy and all that but, as far as we can tell, very little happened. People got on with the business of mining and whoring. In fact that most momentous event in the country’s brief history was a large fire that swept through the town on June 28, 1850.
Immediately after independence, everybody was in high spirits and so they did a lot of drinking. Then there was the fire, which people drank their way through, but then they realised that the biggest party of the year, Independence Day on July 4th, was no longer something they could be part of.
What miners really, really liked more than anything was a party. Rough and Ready was pretty much partying 365 days a year anyway, but all this revelry was just a warm up for the 4th July celebrations. See, back in the 19th century, there was no bigger party than the 4th July and the idea that the Rough and Readyans would miss this shindig was unfathomable. It didn’t occur to them that there would be a problem with this just because of the minor detail of seceding from the Union.
It’s even said that the reality of this state of affairs struck home when Rough and Readyans went to neighbouring towns to buy liquor, only to be told “we don’t serve foreigners.”
Shocked at this state of affairs, President E.F. Brundage called another town meeting on 4th July and after much discussion it was decided to rejoin the union.
Followed immediately by a massive party.
So the Great Republic of Rough and Ready came to and end because people wanted to get really drunk?
That seems to be literally the reason.
But this isn’t to say that this event didn’t forge a strong local identity. For example, there was a big dispute when Rough and Readyans had lobbied hard to get a Post Office.
Stamps.com. Ed, I was in the post office the other day, trying to deliver some merch to the listeners….
Ed: We’re not doing a stamps.com advert - I told you, they won’t pay us.
Right fine. Stamps.com - the better way to cook. Ed, do you like cooking? Stamps.com will send you different letters every week to try a new recipe.
That’s blue apron.
Great idea - get a blue apron mattress. No more bad backs or sleepless nights.
That’s Casper Matresses
So wait, that’s three adverts? We’re going to be raking it in! Woo! Talk about a gold mine!
I’ve already done that, we’re on to Post Offices.
Ed: (talking over)
Although a Post Office finally opened there on July 14th 1851, the US Postal Service wanted to change the town name to either Rough or Ready. Thus taking the rough or the ready out of Rough and Ready. And locals weren’t having that. They were Rough and Readyans and that was the way it was going to stay, and does to this day.
Why should we care about the Great Republic of Rough and Ready?
Well, for one thing, it seceded from California and the United States purely because it didn't care for outside interference. It didn't like outsiders telling them how they wanted to run things. This mentality would be replicated on a much larger scale when southern slave-owning states seceded from the Union as a precursor to the Civil War.
In the case of Rough and Ready, there was no Civil War. In fact, in 1948, it was discovered that Rough and Ready had never actually been officially allowed back into the Union, and the US Attorney welcomed it back almost a century later.
The events of Rough and Ready's brief melodrama are annually celebrated in Rough and Ready which includes celebrations, a traditional play commemorating the events and... you've guessed it...drinking.
But national fervour and a feeling of not belonging has never quite left.
In 2014, there was substantial support amongst townsfolk for secesion. There was a sense of unrest about the distant and uncaring nature of county and state politicians. As social and fiscal conservatives, they felt quite apart from liberal California. Rough and Readyans demanded freedom from government oppression and an end to the brainwashing of their precious children by the corrupting liberal media.
See kids? And that's how Adam and Eve won the Superbowl while riding dinosaurs.
You get the idea.
Secession supporters wanted to keep more of their tax dollars, control their water resources, and reopen their long-abandoned gold mines. Sound familiar?
But how were these social conservatives planning on supporting themselves? Unlike back in 1850, Rough and Ready can't bankroll themselves on gold.
Step forward, Mayor Ronald “TK” Parker. His solution? Legalize prostitution and gambling in an effort to attract more tourism. He says:
“We like to refer to this as the ‘sexcession’ of Rough ‘N’ Ready. We want to be recognized as the entertainment destination of rural Northern California that’s not really ‘in’ California."
Forgive me for generalising, but those Conservative Christian types seem to hate the sinner, but love the sin.
Other ideas that have been tossed around to bring in more revenue are: interactive gold-panning, full service Asian foot massages and Merica, a retail store that only sells items that are made in the USA.
So maybe we might still see the Great Republic of Rough and Ready rise again as a mining themed Disneyland for patriotism and prostitution.
It's what Jesus would have wanted.