Ruby is the mining camp that supported the Montana mine, about 70 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona in the Oro Blanco Mining District, near the Mexican border.
Ruby is located in south-central Arizona, only four miles from the international border with Mexico.
Settled at 4,200 feet altitude, amongst beautiful rolling hills and rugged canyons west of the Atascosa Mountains, the mine and old mining camp lie at the foot of 5,370-foot Montana Peak, the most distinctive landmark in the area.
Spanish prospectors first came to the Oro Blanco area around 1740 and named the region Oro Blanco (white gold) because the gold they found had a high silver content, giving the gold a whitish color. The Spanish, then the Mexicans after winning their independence from Spain in 1821, worked the gold mines of Oro Blanco for many years. After the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853, prospectors from the United States started mining in Oro Blanco.
Americans first recorded a claim for the Montana gold and silver mine in 1877. The Montana mine was different from the other mines in the Oro Blanco Mining District. Gold and silver were less prevalent minerals than lead and zinc. But early prospectors discovered the gold and silver first, on or close to the surface of the ground.
The Montana mine attracted a significant number of miners by the mid 1880s, and a small mining camp, initially named Montana Camp, began growing.
From 1877 to 1912, the Montana produced mostly gold and silver, but was not among the most successful gold and silver mines in the Oro Blanco Mining District. Montana Camp’s population during that period never exceeded 50 people.
When Arizona became a state in 1912, Montana camp opened the “Ruby” post office, named for the postmaster’s wife, whose maiden name was Ruby. Gradually the entire camp became known as Ruby.
During the years 1912-1926, the Montana mine successfully transitioned from producing silver and gold to producing lead and zinc (with some silver).
In 1917/1918 the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company accomplished the first significant mining of lead and zinc at the Montana. The company produced $202,000 worth of ore in a short one-year operation.
Ruby residents of that period built most of the adobe buildings that stand today in ruins.
In 1926, under the Eagle-Picher Lead Company, the Montana mine began its most productive period. By the mid 1930s, 350 men worked at the mine, in three shifts per day. The mine shaft dropped to 750 feet below the surface of the ground and there were six principle working levels extending thousands of feet along the ore vein. In the late 1930s, the Montana mine produced more lead and zinc than any other mine in Arizona.
Ruby reached its population peak in 1938, a bustling mining camp of 1,200 people. The mining camp had a nine-bed hospital with a doctor and a nurse. More than one hundred and fifty children went to a school with eight grades and four teachers. Ruby had a confectionary, a pool hall, a jail, and the infamous Ruby mercantile, where in the early 1920s two double murders shocked southern Arizona. For recreation, Ruby had a baseball team and a rifle team. Living accommodations included a few adobe and wood frame houses, two bunkhouses, a couple of boarding houses, and a sea of temporary housing in the form of wood-foundation tents.
The Montana mine closed in 1940 when the ore gave out. Eagle-Picher sealed the mine by dynamiting the main shaft entrances. Estimates of total Eagle-Picher production value range up to $10,000,000.
Local assayer Hugo Miller took over the Montana mine in 1944 and for the next 17 years explored nearby shafts and tried (generally unsuccessfully) to mine the old ore tailings from the Montana.
In late 1961, Hugo Miller sold the Montana mine and Ruby mining camp to five Tucsonans. Hugo Miller and his wife Gladys, and one of the new owners Lawrence Roberson and his wife Genevieve, signed the “Deposit and Receipt Agreement,” dated November 25, 1961.
The property included the 19-patented mining claims of the Montana group of mines. Long time mine owner Louis Zeckendorf had patented ten of the claims in 1907. Eagle-Picher Company patented the other nine claims in 1933.
The mining claims covered a total of 362 acres. The northern Montana Group of 16 contiguous claims covered 302 acres. The southern Gold Boulder Group of three contiguous claims covered 60 acres.
The property also included two lakes and 700,000 tons of mining tailings, the residue from decades of deep mining for lead and zinc.
About a dozen buildings remained to remind the new owners of Ruby’s up and down again mining history. The Montana mine’s mill and primary mining buildings overlay the original Philadelphia mining claim. The mining camp started in the 1880s atop the Montana Dam claim. Over the years, Montana Camp, named Ruby since 1912, expanded eastward and northward from the Montana Dam claim to spread over the Mineral No. 1, Mineral No. 7, and Excelsior claims.
Ruby is 300 plus acres of wonderful memories of gold, silver, lead, and zinc mining. The two lakes and 700,000 tons of mining tailings remind visitors of Ruby’s unique history. Only about a dozen buildings remain and sadly, they are deteriorating rapidly. Now Ruby lays still, except for the wind-whipped clatter of aged, bent, pieces of rusted galvanized iron that once provided cover over the homes of Ruby residents.
In the 1930s, Ruby extended over the hills surrounding Ruby Lake, one of the reservoirs created to supply water for the mill. Up against a good-sized hill on the south end of the camp, are the remains the Montana’s mine pad with head-frame and shaft, the mill to process the ore, the assay office, and the warehouse. The large area of snow-white mine tailings punctuate an area southeast of Ruby Lake, and provide a dam for Finger (Sobaco) Lake.
Living accommodations for the people of Ruby, used to spread over the surrounding hills. Neighborhoods evolved. Residents called the west area “Snob Hill” because it was on a hill and because the General Manager of Ruby and mine management personnel lived there. Adobe and frame houses were common in this neighborhood. Anglos (including author Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon’s family) lived on the north side of town, called Hollywood (for unremembered reasons). Here a mix of adobe and frame buildings, and tents could be found. The Mexican area was on the east side of town, with four or five frame houses, but mostly tents.
One Ruby businessman had to build his pool hall, where one could get mixed drinks, outside the company fence because the manager of the mine didn’t want liquor on company property.
Ruby Road used to come right into the camp from Arivaca and then, south of the school, turned sharply north towards Nogales. Today, the Ruby Road cuts across the northern boundary of Ruby.
Author Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon describes the old mining camp today:
"These days the gate at the entrance to Ruby is open during daylight hours. In the recent past it was often locked. In that case the honk of an automobile horn would rouse the caretakers.
The major mining buildings still look out over the valley below. The warehouse is still in pretty good shape. The galvanized roof of the old mill building provides a shelter for Ruby’s caretakers.
Remnants of the assay office are still standing.
The lake is still there where I remember it. The size of the lake depends on the amount of local rainfall. The dam built in the late 1890’s is still there, doing its job. I understand that the lake is stocked with bass, catfish, and bluegill.
The tailings pond, the fine-grain, sand-like remains of milling the ore from the mine, still covers a huge area. You would swear it was a white sandy beach.
Only the walls of the mercantile and post office, the scene of the infamous Ruby murders, still stand.
The schoolhouse remains a whole structure. Books, pieces of furniture, and an old oil stove can be found inside. The teeter-totter board and the large slide are still there, outside the school.
The combined doctor’s office and hospital building is still recognizable. The two bunkhouses remain in fair shape.
The concrete jail appears ready for use today. The outside wooden door is covered with metal. The inside door is entirely made of steel.
The mine superintendent’s house, the home of hippie squatters in the 1970’s, may be the building in the best shape, along with the school.
My old house is rapidly deteriorating and it is sad to see. Only a few adobe walls remain to remind me of my years in Ruby."
And perhaps saddest of all, there are piles of lumber, piping, and wire sitting in front of the old bunkhouses. Trucks delivered the material just a few years ago, when dreams of preserving or renovating Ruby were blooming. But these modern building supplies remain unused (except for occasional roof repair and for picnic tables), apparently left to the same fate as Ruby.
So as evidence of man in Ruby slowly disappears, nature’s rebirth continues. When asked what animals and birds they see today, the Fredericks' listed an occasional mountain lion, deer, javalinas, gray hawks, and osprey.
Also despite its location near the international border with Mexico, Ruby has not had any serious problems with drug smuggling or illegal alien traffic.
The public can see the ghost town of Ruby, either privately, or on regularly scheduled tours from Pima Community College.
Private visitors at this time can only visit Thursday through Sunday. Permits are $12 per day per person for hiking, wildlife viewing, and exploring. You can also fish in one of Ruby’s two lakes, stocked with bass and blue gills, for $18 per day or $30 for the weekend. The lakes are private, so you won’t need a state fishing license.
The owners permit camping on the property but do not allow hunting. Howard Frederick says:
"We treat it as a primitive area. What you bring in, we ask that you take out. Also, because some of the plant life is rare, we ask that you bring your own firewood. . . Because of the way the mine was dug there are some hazardous spots that need to be avoided and that the risk of land collapsing in these areas should be respected."
You can get to Ruby by automobile from two directions on Ruby Road. The first approach is through Arivaca, coming from the north. About five miles south of Arivaca on the Ruby Road (Forest Road 39), at the Santa Cruz County line, the paved road turns to dirt and remains so for the six additional miles to Ruby. The terrain is relatively flat; the roadbed is sometimes graded and does not require a high clearance or 4WD vehicle.
The second approach to Ruby is from the southeast on AZ 289, which starts a few miles north of Nogales, off Interstate 19. AZ 289 is paved for about 10 miles, before becoming a dirt road (Forest Road 39) for the remaining 14 miles to Ruby. This dirt road twists and turns through the Atascosa Mountains and offers a spectacular view of the Oro Blanco country. Though longer and somewhat more primitive than the approach from Arivaca, this road also does not require a high clearance or 4WD vehicle.
Today, Ruby is still owned by Ruby Mines, Inc., the Tucson consortium of the children of the five 1961 purchasers. Pat and Howard Frederick represent the owners.
Coordinates: N 31.27.652, W 111. 14.211
Click here for a 12 minute video produced by Pima Community College: http://services.ltc.arizona.edu/MediaServices/glogoff/ruby_az.mov