An Archivist’s Journey: Ruby, Arizona

22 Feb
The peak in the distance. Mining business buildings below.

The peak in the distance. Mining business buildings below.

One of the great parts of working with a collection that originated from a local area is that you can actually visit the place where your materials were created. There will never be enough time for me to visit every place I come in contact with through the Arizona Historical Society’s collections, but I made an extra effort for the first collection that I am processing here at the Arizona Historical Society: a collection from the Eagle-Picher Mining Company’s Montana Mine in Ruby, Arizona.

The mine is closed now, and the land privately owned. However it’s not a long journey to get there from Tucson. You may want to note that a significant portion of the road is dirt, though pretty well maintained. The area around Ruby is really lovely hills and mountains, perfect for a day trip at any time of year. I expected a few sad remnants of buildings along with the usual interesting mining equipment rusting away, so I was surprised when I saw how much of the town has actually survived over the years. Your first stop should be to visit the caretaker. There you can pay the entrance fee, get a quick history lesson, and snag a quite excellent map of the area that shows all the buildings and tells you what they used to be.

The lake at the end of the tailings pile.

The lake at the end of the tailings pile.

I loved walking across the pile of tailings, white as snow, to reach the lake on the other side. I had the illusion of walking through a gorgeous white desert towards an oasis. A different feeling from the rest of Arizona. Also impressive was a house which once belonged to one of the mine bigwigs that was perched on the side of one of the hills with a good view of the mine shaft. We could immediately tell upon peering inside that this was at one time a very nice house. Quirky built-in furniture that had been left behind allowed me to paint a picture of what life might have been like so close to the daily work of the mine. I felt the same way about the schoolhouse with its old furniture, sad abandoned piano, and the precarious slide. I could imagine living a very good life in this little town.

Probably the best part of Ruby however, stems from a lucky coincidence. At some point in time a section of the hill collapsed and washed away, leaving a large gaping hole into the mine itself. This mine is definitely NOT safe to enter, but this lucky washed-away slice of hill let me see directly into the mine. I could see tunnels and old support structures and utterly unfathomable blackness. It was a simultaneously breathtaking and terrifying experience to think about the men who worked in these passages every day.

The Ruby jailhouse.

The Ruby jailhouse.

Ruby has a really interesting history that reads like an adventure novel at times. Besides being a mining town, Ruby was also the site of an amazing, horrific series of double murders that spawned the biggest manhunt in the Southwest (at the time). If you want to learn more about Ruby, I suggest checking out the book “Ruby, Arizona: Mining, Mayhem, and Murder” by Bob Ring, Al Ring and Tallia Pfrimmer Calhoon. Tallia actually grew up in Ruby, which gives their account of its history even more sharpness. Conveniently enough, you can pick up your very own copy of this book at the Arizona History Museum’s Arizona Mercantile gift shop, which is located in the same building as the Historical Society (ask for directions at the front desk if you have trouble finding it).

I hope you will stay tuned for my post at the end of next month, where I will be sharing some photos from the processing of the mine collection and some of the interesting details that I have found so far.

A view of the Ruby Mercantile. The site of Ruby's (in)famous murders.

A view of the Ruby Mercantile. The site of Ruby’s (in)famous murders.

Inside the Ruby schoolhouse.

Inside the Ruby schoolhouse.

An old piano in the schoolhouse. No music anymore.

An old piano in the schoolhouse. No music anymore.

Slide at the Ruby schoolhouse. I definitely wouldn't want to take a ride on it!

Slide at the Ruby schoolhouse. I definitely wouldn’t want to take a ride on it!

One of the many buildings still standing in Ruby. This was the home of one of the mine bigwigs and it looks out towards Montana Peak and some of the main mining buildings.

One of the many buildings still standing in Ruby. This was the home of one of the mine bigwigs and it looks out towards Montana Peak and some of the main mining buildings.

Inside the mine bigwig's house.

Inside the mine bigwig’s house.

Looking down into the collapsed mine shaft.

Looking down into the collapsed mine shaft.

Close-up of the collapsed view into the mine shaft.

Close-up of the collapsed view into the mine shaft.

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One Response to “An Archivist’s Journey: Ruby, Arizona”

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  1. Adventures in Processing: the Montana Mine | Arizona Historical Society Library & Archives - Tucson - March 15, 2013

    […] may remember from my last post on visiting Ruby Arizona that I am currently working on processing the records from the Eagle-Picher Mining […]

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