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What Is Rough and Ready, California?

Can you name the presidents of the United States? Maybe a few quickly come to mind, like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, and others.

But there are lesser-known presidents who many of us have probably never even heard of. Zachary Taylor is probably one of those.

But his leadership prior to his election earned him the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.” He was a war hero and a military commander who wasn’t afraid to get his boots dirty with his troops.

His leadership and bravery led a Wisconsin mining company to name itself after this former president. And that mining company’s workers later settled in a small town in California they also called Rough and Ready.

Let’s see what’s up with this town.

The History of Rough and Ready, California

Imagine the typical western town you’ve seen in films like “High Noon” or “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” That’s Rough and Ready, California. Settled in 1849, this town became a prime location for gold miners. A Wisconsin company called the Rough and Ready Company established the town during the California Gold Rush. In 1850, the town became famous when it seceded from the Union and named itself the “Great Republic of Rough and Ready.” But it didn’t last long, and rejoined the Union shortly after that.

Even though fires ripped through the town several times, the people continued to rebuild because of the lucrative gold mining operations. Rough and Ready reached its peak population of 3,000 during the 1850s. Miners earned an average of $6 to $10 per day, and thousands of fortunes were made. But after another fire in 1859, the town quietly declined, and the townspeople moved on to new locations.

Where Can You Find Rough and Ready, California?

Today, you can visit the town of Rough and Ready, California. About 500 people still call it home. Located 65-70 miles north of Sacramento, Rough and Ready only covers about three square miles of land. While you’re there, you can check out the Tahoe National Forest. Lake Tahoe is about 70 miles west.

How Did Rough and Ready Get Its Name?

When the Wisconsin mining company settled the area, they named the town after the man whom the company was also named after: General Zachary Taylor. Also known as “Old Rough and Ready,” the general recently won his election to become President of the United States.

In fact, three towns in California were named Rough and Ready. However, this one was the only one to survive.

How Many People Live in Rough and Ready?

Rough and Ready, California, had approximately 3,000 people at its peak population. Most of them were mining families seeking gold during the California Gold Rush. When fires tore through the town, residents were anxious to build it back and keep searching for gold.

However, once the enthusiasm dissipated, the residents scattered. Today, fewer than 500 people are living in the town. Unfortunately, many of the residents live in poverty. According to, the poverty rate is almost 24%, which is much higher than the state average of 16%. 

Visiting Rough And Ready, California

Each year, its rich history and unique name bring many tourists to Rough and Ready, California. You can even celebrate the yearly event named “The Saga of Rough and Ready” to commemorate its secession. If you’re into history, especially the Gold Rush era, you’ll want to put Rough and Ready on your list of towns in California to visit. Many of the old buildings still remain, and the residents hold fast to their unique heritage.

Jayna Ashcraft and her husband have lived in Rough and Ready for two decades. She says in an article published in The California Report Magazine that, “It’s that kind of community where we’re very involved with our little town. We’re very proud of our history.” 

But you’ll also feel the charm of this old gold rush town. You’ll see musicians sitting on porches playing homemade instruments and small shops selling hats, flags, and mugs with tributes to “The Great Republic of Rough and Ready.”

Ready to Get Rough and Ready?

Have you ever heard of Rough and Ready, California? Probably not unless you’re a big California gold rush history buff. But that doesn’t mean you should drive on by as you travel along Highway 20. It’s only about three miles north of the highway. 

Next time you’re in the area, make time for a stop in this charming town. Take a short detour and explore this historic town. Pick out a mug, snap a photo, and tell your friends you’ve been to “The Great Republic of Rough and Ready.”

Even though its glory days are long gone, take a step back in time and imagine what once was. When will your next visit through northern California be?

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