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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Governor Isaac Roop

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

A cabinet photo of young Isaac Roop courtesy of the Lassen Historical museum

by Susan Couso

Most people from the Honey Lake Valley have heard of Isaac Roop and seen his mural on the South Lassen Street wall, but few know who he really was.

Isaac Roop was born in Maryland in 1822. He was from a farming family, and when Isaac was 16 years old, the family moved to Ohio. Isaac’s large family included nine boys and two girls. Shortly after arriving in Ohio, Isaac set out on his own and opened a saw and grist mill.

Isaac soon met Nancy Gardner, a well-educated local girl, and in 1840, they married. Nancy is credited with educating Isaac. Some sources say that he was illiterate before Nancy’s guidance, but others say that he was an educated young man – but he was educated in German. Whatever the truth, Nancy certainly inspired Isaac to realize the importance of education.

Nancy and Isaac Roop had three children: Susan, John and Isaiah. Then tragedy struck and Nancy died of typhoid in June of 1850, when the children were still very young. By September of that year, Isaac had secured the children with relatives and left for California to join his brother Josiah.

Isaac’s daughter, Susan joined her father ‘out west’ in 1863, but he never saw his sons again. The eldest, John, became a surgeon and eventually settled in Oklahoma. His youngest, Isaiah, was wounded in the Civil War battle of South Mountain in 1862. Weakened from his injuries, he died in 1864 from smallpox.

Isaac’s brother, Josiah, had arrived in California in 1849, and been quite successful. Isaac arrived in California in 1850 and worked as a merchant in ‘Oak Bottom’ until 1852 when he joined Josiah in ‘Redding’s Diggings’ in Shasta. Together they operated a store and hotel, the ‘Old Dominion House’, and they were both postmasters there.

Things were going well for the brothers, so in May of 1852, Josiah made Isaac his agent and left for Ohio to get his wife and children and bring them to California. Unfortunately, tragedy struck again. Josiah died on the way to Ohio and was buried at sea. To add to Isaac’s misfortune, The Old Dominion House was destroyed in a fire in June of 1853, with a loss of $10,000.

In September 1853, Isaac ventured into the Honey Lake Valley looking for new prospects. He claimed the land that is now Susanville, and then returned to Shasta. In early spring of 1854, Isaac returned to his claim to build his cabin. The cabin was his home, a trading post, and the center of the community for many years.

In June of 1854, he laid out the town and built a sawmill.

On September 7, 1859, Isaac Roop was elected first Provisional Governor of the proposed Territory of Nevada. When Nevada became a Territory in 1861, Governor Roop was elected to the Territorial Senate, and in 1865, he was elected to the office of District Attorney for the young Lassen County. Roop never gained prestige or money because of his accomplishments.

Isaac Roop was well-liked by most everyone. He worked to create a new town and was successful. He died in Susanville in February of 1869 of pneumonia. He was only 47 years old.

Through the hardships of his life, Roop was made a better man. His accomplishments are not well-known, and the Roop name does not appear often. Isaac was not even given a proper monument on his grave until 45-years after his death. The huge granite marker was quarried from the Perkins Ranch at the base of Diamond Mountain and shaped and lettered by Robert Brodie.

Without the encouragement and determination of Asa Fairfield and Roop’s fellow Masons, it is doubtful that there would be much today to mark the life of our city’s founder. Isaac Roop, a man who had obstacles thrown in his way throughout his life, never gave up. He should be a role model for all of us.

Roop’s Fort in the late 1860’s from the Nevada Historical Society collection.

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