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Mining and Murder in Ruby, Arizona

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Ruby Arizona Tailings and Montana PeakRuby, Arizona is one of the best preserved ghost towns 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 Apache inhabiting the area.

 

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 California 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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Ruby Mercantile, 1930's

The Ruby Mercantile in the 1930's.

 

Ruby Mercantile Today

Whats left of the Ruby Mercantile today, Photo by Kathy Weiser. This image available for photographic prints HERE!

 

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 regaining consciousness.

 

A cow's skull in Ruby, ArizonaThe Nogales’ 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."

 

Upon investigating, 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 the area.

 

Perhaps, there was something to the superstition, as murder and mayhem were not yet over at the Ruby Mercantile.

 

Ruby, Arizona todayThe Fraser heirs were shortly thereafter approached by Frank Pearson who was interested in buying the Ruby Mercantile. Though Pearson was vehemently warned of the potential danger, he brushed aside the advice, insisting that another attack was unlikely. The deal was closed and Pearson, his wife, Myrtle, and four year-old daughter, Margaret, moved in and reopened the store. Less than a year later Mr. and Mrs. Pearson would also be dead.

 

By this time, the town of Ruby was virtually deserted other than the mercantile and post office. Their closest neighbor was eight miles away. They soon sent for Myrtle’s younger sister, Elizabeth Purcell, and also her husband’s sister, Irene, to keep them company and help with the store.

 

On the morning of August 26, 1921, Mr. and Mrs. Pearson took a horseback ride in the surrounding hills, leaving their young daughter, Margaret, in the capable hands of their sisters. While they were away they spied several vaqueros galloping toward Ruby and believing that they might be needed at the store, they quickly returned.

 

vaquerosWhen the seven Mexican cowboys strode into the store, they immediately demanded tobacco. But as Pearson turned to get it, shots roared from behind him. Grabbing his gun from under the counter, he fired three wild shots at the bandits, but he was mortally injured and fell to floor dead.

 

Screaming, Irene Pearson ran to the rear of the building as one of the desperadoes pursued her, waving his pistol wildly. When she stumbled, the vaquero grabbed her by the hair and dragged her across the room. When Myrtle also began to scream, running toward Irene, the bandit threw Irene aside. Having spied five gold-crowned teeth in Myrtle’s open screaming mouth, he brought his gun down hard on her head. He then shot her in the neck, pried open her mouth, and knocked out the gold crowns with the butt of his gun.

 

While this terrible mutilation was taking place, little four-year-old Margaret appeared in the doorway, her eyes wide with terror. Irene grabbed her and the two hid under a couch. In the meantime, Elizabeth crawled behind the counter where she grabbed Pearson’s shotgun, but one of the bandit’s was quicker. Another shot rang out and Elizabeth slumped behind the counter.

 

Amazingly, Myrtle was still alive on the floor. Noticing her twitching body, another bullet was soon sent into her mutilated form and she was dead.

 

Ignoring the three young girls, the bandits then shot open the safe, pocketing anything of value, before helping themselves to items they wanted from the store. They then tore the phone from the wall as they left on fast horses, screaming like banshees and shooting their pistols in the air.

 

Irene and Margaret warily crawled from the hiding place and revived Elizabeth who had fainted and luckily had suffered no more than a graze to the arm by the bullet sent her direction. Traumatized, they eventually made their way to the nearest neighbor eight miles away.

 

By the time authorities arrived at the scene it was evening. They found Pearson behind the counter with two bullets in his back. His wife had a fractured skull, a shot through her neck, a bullet hole through her head, a broken jaw, and of course, the missing teeth. Even the crime-hardened authorities were appalled by the brutality.

 

Immediately, they suspected that it was those very same bandits who had killed the Fraser brothers. Pearson was shot in the back just like Alexander Fraser, the safe had been robbed once again, and the telephone torn from the wall as before. The description that the girls gave of two of the killers matched those reported a year earlier when the Frasers were killed.

 

The news of the brutal murders spread rapidly and ranchers from all over joined a posse to search for the killers. In the meantime, the superstitious Mexican locals crossed themselves as they spoke in hushed whispers about the old Tio Pedro legend.  As the lawmen combed the desert hills, an airplane was chartered from the army post at Nogales to fly over the area in a more comprehensive hunt for the vicious criminals. It was the first airplane ever used in Arizona for a manhunt.

 

 

A $5,000 dead or alive reward was soon posted for each of the seven outlaws. Mexican authorities agreed to cooperate with the Arizona lawmen in the capture of the vaqueros. During the following months, reports came in that two Mexican men, drinking in a Senora saloon, had boasted of robbing the Ruby post office. Though Arizona authorities followed up they still were unable to find the men. By April, 1922, they had almost given up when an Arizona deputy was in a Sasabe, Sonora cantina some thirty-five miles southwest of Ruby. As he was standing at the bar, he overheard the bartender trying to sell something to a customer. As he glanced over, he was shocked to see five gold teeth in the bartender’s hand. Immediately questioning him, he found that the bartender had bought them from another customer by the name of Manuel Martinez. Sure they were those of Myrtle Pearson, the deputy bought the teeth and returned them to the Arizona authorities. Familiar with Martinez, the officials knew that he was often in the company of one Placidio Silvas who lived in a shack in the Oro Blanco district. Silvas was soon brought in for questioning and was identified by witnesses as one of the vaqueros who had been at the Ruby Store the day of the brutal killings. He was quickly charged with the murder of Frank Pearson. On May 10, 1922, Placidio Silvas went on trial for his life.

In the meantime, a manhunt for Manuel Martinez was underway. Before long, he was tracked down in the mountains who threatened to lynch him as a ploy to get him to confess. In no time, Martinez spilled his guts. He was brought in just as the jury was out on Silvas’ verdict. Martinez was immediately booked for murder and Silvas’ jury was dismissed, pending further evidence from Martinez.

Despite his confession, Martinez pleaded not guilty in the Santa Cruz county Superior Court on May 16, 1922. However, two days later, it took 12 jurors only 40 minutes to find him guilty of first degree murder.

The very next day Silvas' trial began once again in earnest. Despite the evidence, the jury was hung and a new trial ordered.

 

A third trial was ordered for Silvas which lasted twenty-one days, going on record as the  longest criminal trial ever held in Santa Cruz County. After hours of debate, the jury finally found Silvas, too, guilty of murder.

 

Manuel Martinez

Manuel Martinez, courtesy Arizona Department of Corrections.

 

Ruby, Arizona Assay Office

Ruby Assay Office, Photo by Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!

 

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