The Roop County War

On Sunday morning, February 15, 1863, the quiet of the town of Susanville was broken by the sound of gunfire as forces of Roop County Nevada and Plumas County California battled for control of the Honey Lake region.

The stage had been set for this conflict two years earlier when an act of Congress approved the boundaries of Nevada as a territory. The concluding line of the act read as follows: '..excepted from the area covered by this description any portion of California that might be included, unless that State should assent to such segregation.'

Surveyors had measured out the boundaries of Nevada such that the town of Aurora in the Esmeralda gold fields was on the Nevada side of the line, and the town of Susanville in the north was on the California side. Both states claimed jurisdiction over these areas and attempted to govern them simultaneously. Saloon fights, and embattled tax collectors became common place.

Despite pleas by Nevada Governor James Nye, the California Legislature refused to acknowledge the Nevada claim to the Honey Lake region. Bowing to the wishes of some of the citizens of the area, that they not be ruled by the officials of California's Plumas County, Nevada organized the disputed area into a new county called Roop. Named after Isaac Roop, Nevada's first Territorial Governor, it's county seat was established at Susanville.

Injunctions were issued by both sides to prevent the other from conducting governmental business, and both sides ignored these injunctions. Finally, Plumas County Judge E. T. Hogan sent Sheriff E. H. Pierce and Deputy J. D. Byers to Susanville with arrest warrants for Probate Judge John S. Ward and Roop County Sheriff William Naileigh.

They arrived in Susanville on the 6th of February, and were immediately served with a counter warrant from Judge Ward. After several arrests and counter arrests, during which Naileigh, Ward, Pierce, and Byers were in and out of each others custody things began to come to a head on the evening of February 13th. About 9 o'clock that night a group of over zealous Roop citizens at Toadtown heard of the latest arrest and release of their officials and rode to Susanville to set things right. Taking the beleaguered Judge and Sheriff into a kind of protective custody they retreated to an old log fort on the edge of town. They posted sentries and settled down to see what the Plumas contingent would do next.

The morning of February 15th found thirty or so Roop county men inside the old stockade originally build by Isaac Roop as a defense against Indians, and almost 100 Plumas County men occupying an old barn on the corner of Union and Nevada streets, about 150 yards away. While attempting to collect lumber to help fortify the barn, the Plumas men came under fire from the men stationed in the old fort, and the battle was on.

The hostilities soon settled into a 4 hour exchange of mostly intentionally inaccurate gun fire. Both sides feeling the disagreement was not worth killing or dying for. All the while negotiations were going on between members of each party that slipped in and out of their respective strongholds. Finally both sides agreed to a 3 hour truce and broke for dinner together at the Cutler Arnold Hotel. Men who had spent the day shooting at each other now spent a pleasant meal talking and trading stories about the recent fighting!

After dinner the men parted company and headed for their respective redoubts to strengthen the fortifications for the next day's battle. Pierce quickly sent for reinforcements, but learned it would be ten days before any help could be expected. He knew by then his own small force would probably be surrounded by the local Roop County men. When a delegation from the town showed up with a petition to cease the hostilities, Pierce took the opportunity to offer the Roop men a deal. An armistice was signed pledging to cease the battle and submit the grievances of both side to the proper officials in California and Nevada to be settled.

A new survey was ordered and it was determined the town of Aurora lay in Nevada and the Susanville and Honey Lake areas were in California. These boundaries were ratified by both state's governments by early 1865, stranding the Roop County people over the border in California. Unable to completely accept this situation, the Honey Lake residents finally gained independence from Plumas County by forming Lassen County with it's seat at Susanville.

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