Ruby was prosperous town, attractive mark for outlaws


Arizona Daily Star, July 22, 2013

by William Ascarza
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on the mining town of Ruby.


The Oro Blanco mining district 30 miles northwest of Nogales was first prospected by the Spanish for gold deposits.  A highly sought-after quartz vein known as the Montana vein was discovered by Americans there in the 1870s.

Placer mining, a method of extracting gold from sand and gravel accumulations in washes and streams, was one of the earliest forms of mining in the area. The Montana Mine became the prominent mine in the area, first operated by the Orion Mining Co. with the erection of the Ostrich mill. More mills were built at the nearby Austerlitz, Golden Eagle, Old Glory, Oro and Yellow Jacket mines.

By the early 1900s, amalgamation and cyanide mills were built on the Montana property to recover the gold and silver mined in the district. The area was known as Montana Camp until the application for a post office by Julius Andrews, a prominent merchant in the camp.  Named after Julius’ wife, Lillie B. Ruby Andrews, the town of Ruby was established in 1912 and reached a peak population of 1,200 during the 1930s. Three- hundred men were employed at the mine and the mill.

From 1916 to 1918, the Goldfield Consolidated Mines Exploration Co. operated the Montana Mine, extracting $265,000 in gold, silver and lead. These were prosperous times.  Ruby was not without its perils, especially given its proximity (four miles) to the Mexican border and concerns among ranchers and miners regarding cross-border raids by Mexican revolutionaries.

Ruby’s general store was the scene of several grisly murders. One occurred in 1920, when the two brothers, Alex and John Fraser, who operated the store, were killed during an armed robbery conducted by two Mexican laborers from the nearby Twin Buttes Mine.One of the robbers was killed in a shootout. and the other escaped to Mexico.

Eighteen months later, Frank Pearson and his wife, Myrtle, who took over the store, were the victims of another robbery. They met the same fate as the former managers. Two of the seven bandits involved in the second robbery were captured – Manuel Martinez and Placido Silvas were convicted of the crime – and the former was executed.

The Eagle-Picher Mining and Smelting Co. assumed control of the Montana Mine property in 1926. That year the company hired Walter S. Pfrimmer, a graduate of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. Much of his time was taken up surveying the surrounding land for ore deposits.

In 1928, Pfrimmer was asked to design a route for a pipeline from a well near the Santa Cruz River to Ruby (covering 17 miles over the Atascosa Mountains) to bring water to the mine and town. The pipeline went through Peck Canyon, Hells Gate Canyon and Corral Nuevo and into Ruby.  Trestles were built in the canyons to stabilize the pipe. Construction on the iron pipeline was completed in early 1930 at a cost of $100,000.

Amado, a station on the Southern Pacific Railway 36 miles northeast of Ruby, served as the supply point for the pipe brought by rail from the Texas oil fields. The pipe was trucked or hauled by pack mule to the work site.


“Mining Tales” writer William Ascarza is working on a book about the history of mining in Arizona, and he’s looking for historical and modern-day photographs depicting mining operations, towns and camps to include in the book. If you’d like your photos included, email him at

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author of five books, including “Southeastern Arizona Mining Towns,” available at Antigone Books, Cat Mountain Emporium and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Email him at Sources: Personal interview with Tallia Cahoon, daughter of a Ruby mining engineer, conducted July 13, 2013; Bulletin No. 158 “Arizona Zinc and Lead Deposits”; “Ghosts of the Adobe Walls” by Nell Murbarger; “From Southern Arizona’s Oro Blanco Region, Ruby, Arizona: Mining, Mayhem and Murder,” by Bob Ring, Al Ring and Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon; “Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps” by Philip Varney.