Now, some folks may accuse me of telling tales that involve murder and mayhem so often in these pages, that the western territories of the United States were filled with killers and badmen of every stripe. Weren’t there any peaceful mining towns anywhere? Well, I had to look hard to find one, and I thought I had found one in Ruby, Arizona, but now I’m beginning to wonder.
Ruby, Arizona began to rise in the 1870s when a few prospectors posted claims at the bottom of Montana Peak year the Mexican border. The camp was originally called “Montana Camp.” One of the first businesses to open there was the Ruby Mercantile owned by George Cheney which began selling goods in 1880 and it appears the town adopted the store’s name. One of the best ore bodies was discovered in 1891 by J.W. Bogan who named the find the “Montana Mine” (not much originality here.) The ore samples were assayed at eighty to ninety ounces of silver per ton – a rich number.
During the town’s early days, camp life was unglamorous. Most of the miners lived in tents or adobe huts. Few had wives, so life was pretty lonely. The mercantile store was the only business in town, so many miners saved their skimpy wages and relied on hunting to provide food for their existence. A few tried their hand at cattle rustling just to stay alive.
That’s not to say the Ruby didn’t have its share of lawlessness, but this camp, so near the Mexican border, found that most problems came from hostile neighbors who could hide from the law by crossing south into the sanctuary of their native state. Such incursions were so common that Phillip Clarke, who had purchased the Ruby Mercantile in 1914, and his wife Gypsy, kept firearms in every room of their house and the store just in case these renegades made a quick hit-and-run on the place. In fact, Mr. Clark felt that the town was so dangerous; he insisted that his wife travel to California to give birth to their son, Dan.
Clark finally moved his family to Oro Blanco, a town nearby, keeping his holdings in Ruby, but he finally sold out to the Fraser brothers – John and Alexander. He warned them, at the signing of the transactions, about potential problems across the border. But, for the Frazer 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 lying dead near the empty cash register, with a bullet in his back and another in his head. Amazingly, his brother was still alive with a shot through his left eye. He would also die five hours later, without ever regaining consciousness.
The Nogales’ Weekly Oasis newspaper stated in part: “… tragedy is nothing new over there [in Ruby]. 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.”
Living near the border in the old west could be dangerous in many ways.
Copyright Harold Hickman, 2015 All rights reserved