Ruby mining site endures as well-known ghost town


Arizona Daily Star, July 29, 2013

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


Walter S. Pfrimmer married Natalia Allison on April 18, 1928. The Pfrimmers raised their family, including their eldest daughter, Tallia – born in 1929 – and her sister and brother in the mining town of Ruby in Santa Cruz County.  Pfrimmer, a graduate of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo., worked for the Eagle-Picher Mining and Smelting Co. and spent much time surveying the surrounding land for ore deposits.

Some of Tallia’s fondest childhood memories of Ruby are of her association with the children of local miners and the “good life” that Ruby provided its residents.  Because of Ruby’s large Mexican population (90 percent), Tallia was exposed to Spanish at an early age. She attended a three-room schoolhouse in Ruby that included 150 students in grades one through eight where teachers worked to teach English to students mainly of Mexican descent.

When Tallia was 5, her father took her on her only visit to the Montana Mine in Ruby. Her father asked, “How would you like to go to work with me this morning?” They walked from their house to the mine. There, she got to ride the elevator known as “the cage,” which Tallia in a recent interview described as a “rickety ride” into a dark and wet domain.  This would be her first and last experience underground, which as she tells it did not last much more than five minutes. It left her wondering why men worked in the dark when they could work outdoors.

Ruby was a company town – everyone paid rent to Eagle-Picher. They bought coupon books for $5 through the company and paid for their groceries using those coupons. The town had electricity powered by diesel engines and a physician, Dr. Woodard, hired by Eagle-Picher in 1930.  A concrete jail was erected in 1934 as a temporary holding cell for prisoners who were transported to Nogales. Before the jail was built, prisoners were secured to a mesquite tree. Remains of the jail still stand.

Between 1928 and 1940, 773,197 tons of ore were milled from the Montana Mine at a profit of $4.5 million. Eagle-Picher built a 400-ton flotation mill and developed the workings to a depth of 750 feet with six main levels extending several thousand feet along the ore vein.

From 1935 to 1939, the Montana Mine was the largest producer of lead and zinc in Arizona. It ranked third in silver output in 1938. The lead-silver ore was shipped to a smelter in El Paso, while lead-zinc ore was shipped to the Eagle-Picher mill at Sahuarita.

By 1941, profits from the mine diminished, and Eagle-Picher ceased mining operations at Ruby.  Tallia and her family had left Ruby before then, in November 1938, when she was in the fourth grade. After a year with the Placer Dredging operation in Linden, Calif., the Pfrimmers moved to Tucson, where Tallia spent the rest of her youth. Tallia’s mother always spoke fondly of Ruby; in later years, she said that if the mines hadn’t played out, the family would have stayed there forever.

Today the town of Ruby is privately owned and one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Arizona, with several dozen structures.

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


“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


Pima Community College offers tours of the town of Ruby featuring Tallia Cahoon, who was born there in 1929. It will set up tours for six or more people, or you can attend a scheduled tour. The next scheduled tour is Nov. 8. Cost is $99 and includes travel and lunch. For more information, call 206-6579 or register by calling 206-6468.

Sources: 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.