Mining and Murder in Ruby,
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one of the best preserved
in the state, filled with history, including lawlessness, murder, and
mayhem, not to mention dozens of great photographic opportunities.
Nestled below Montana Peak, rich minerals were
first discovered here by the Spaniards who came through in the 1700's.
However, not rich enough for their tastes, they performed only limited
placer mining before moving on. The area remained undisturbed for nearly a
century until two mining engineers by the names of Charles Poston and
Henry Ehrenberg revived the old Spanish placers in Montana Gulch in 1854.
Discovering rich veins of gold and silver in the area, other prospectors
followed, but mining remained limited primarily due to the hostile
inhabiting the area.
The sand stirs from Ruby's tailings under
Montana Peak, Photo by Kathy Weiser. This image available for photographic
However, by the 1870’s, new prospectors made a
number of additional claims and the fledgling settlement that formed at
the base of the mountain was called "Montana Camp.” Other veins of lead,
copper and zinc were also found in the immediate vicinity, beckoning yet
more miners to the to the fledgling settlement.
The Ruby Mercantile was
first opened in the late 1880’s by a man named George Cheney. In 1891, a
large body of high-grade ore was discovered in the "Montana Mine” by J. W.
Bogan and company, who pronounced the Montana Mine to be a veritable
"bonanza.” When samples were assayed at eighty to ninety ounces of silver
per ton, prospectors began to flood the region.
In 1897, the Ruby
Mercantile was purchased by Julias Andrews. More than a decade later,
Andrews applied for a post office, which opened in the store in April,
1912. He named the post office, and effectively, the town -- Ruby, for his
wife, Lillie B. Ruby Andrews.
During Ruby’s early days,
camp life was unglamorous and most of the miners lived in tents or adobe
huts. There were no businesses other than the general store, which was the
only lifeline for the miners. Most men relied on hunting to provide food
for their families, but others would turn to cattle rustling.
In 1914, Andrews sold the
store to Philip C. Clarke, who soon built a bigger and better one just up
the hill, the remains of which still stand today.
Like most other early mining camps, Ruby had
its share of lawlessness, but for this camp, so near the Mexican border,
attacks by the town’s hostile neighbors were extremely common, so much so,
that store owner Philip Clarke and his wife, Gypsy, kept weapons in every
room of their house and store. In fact, Mr. Clarke felt that the town was
so dangerous; he insisted that his wife travel to
give birth to their son, Dan.
In the beginning, Ruby grew slowly due to its
dangerous location and high cost of processing the ore, hampered by poor
extraction methods and inadequate water. A dam was built to collect water
runoff and several small operators worked the ore but it would be more
than a decade before the rich minerals were worked in large quantities.
The Ruby Mercantile in the 1930's.
Whats left of the Ruby Mercantile today,
Photo by Kathy Weiser. This image available for photographic prints
In 1915, the Montana
Mine was leased by the Goldfield Consolidated Mines Company, which
began the first large scale operation. Soon the Montana Mine grew to
be a leading producer of lead.
Though Ruby was growing, it was still a
lawless place and finally Philip Clarke became so concerned for his
family’s safety that he moved them away to nearby Oro Blanco. However,
he continued to work at the Ruby Mercantile, as well as amassing large
amounts of land and cattle up until 1920 when he sold the store to
brothers, John and Alexander Fraser.
Clarke warned them of the Mexican bandits
who were prone to terrorizing the area, telling them to be sure to
always be well-armed. But, for the Fraser brothers, the warning was
not enough. Less than two months later, on February 27, 1920, they
were found shot in the store. Authorities were immediately called and
when they arrived they found Alexander Frazer lying dead near the cash
register, with a bullet in his back and another in his head.
Amazingly, his brother John was still alive with a shot through his
left eye. However, he would also die five hours later, without ever
Weekly Oasis stated in part, "…tragedy is nothing new over there.
In the wild and rugged region south from the Atascosa Mountains and
the Bear Valley region, there has been always a harbor for a bunch of
desperate characters, whose depredations have been felt by American
cattlemen and ranchers through many years."
the authorities found that the telephone, the only one in Ruby, had
been torn off the wall and its wires cut. The store and its post
office had been robbed. Upon questioning neighbors it was found that
two unknown Mexicans had been seen in the area and two sets footprints
were found in the dust around the mercantile. That same night a
prominent rancher in the area reported that two of his best saddle
horses and eight head of cattle had been stolen. Believing that the
two incidents might be connected, lawmen followed the cattle trail,
searching in vain for the rustlers. In the months that followed a
number of suspects were rounded up but no charges were made.
One investigator was
told by an old time local that there was a curse on the building.
Explaining further, the local said: "Old Tio Pedro died years ago. He
predicted evil for the occupants of the post office ‘cause it was
built over an old padre’s grave.” The investigator confirmed the
superstition with the local peace officer, who informed the
investigator that, yes; the legend was common among the Mexicans of
Perhaps, there was
something to the superstition, as murder and mayhem were not yet over
at the Ruby Mercantile.