Column No. 10

The Ring Family Mystery

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

This is a story from Ring family history, the mystery that initially sparked Bob and Al Ring’s interest in the Oro Blanco area.

The Mystery Deepens

The clues are 33 photographs taken in 1905/1906 by our paternal grandparents, Ambrose and Grace Ring, and a cryptic entry in Grandfather’s diary about his first job in the mining industry - a job he abandoned after only three months, for unknown reasons. Our grandparents never discussed this initial experience of their life together with the rest of the family.

Clinton Ring (Ambrose and Grace’s son, and our father) eventually inherited the old photos. But they languished unnoticed in an old family album, buried in some boxes in Clinton’s Tucson retirement home. Rediscovery of this family album and a coincidence of family relocations spurred interest in the old photos. By 1998, both of us (Bob and Al) lived in Tucson and were very interested in the rediscovered photos.

Captions on the photos refer to places and people around gold mines in southern Arizona’s Oro Blanco country. So the mystery was: Could we figure out where the photos were taken, and why our grandparents left the Oro Blanco area?

Ambrose and Grace Ring’s Story

In December 1905, Ambrose and Grace Ring, both only 22 years old, married in New York City and immediately moved to the south-central border country of Territorial Arizona. Ambrose Ring, a June 1905 graduate of Columbia University, was to start work for the Arizona Consolidated Mining Company at the Oro Blanco gold mine. Ambrose and Grace left a city of over three and a half million people and the most advanced comforts of the day to come to an incredibly rough frontier mining area with a total population of a few hundred.

Our grandparents lived in a ramshackle wooden building that Ambrose called the "shack." The “shack” was on the side of a hill at the Warsaw Camp, about three miles south of Ruby. Ambrose and Grace covered the walls of their stark single room with memento’s and family pictures. (See our previous column.)

Looking directly off their porch to the northeast, they looked across Warsaw Canyon to see Montana Peak dominating the horizon.

Ambrose and Grace left the Oro Blanco area in late March of 1906. According to the single entry in Ambrose’s diary, they “stayed until conditions became intolerable (personally).”

Our grandparents moved to Butte, Montana, where Ambrose began the second of many jobs he would hold in the western mining industry during the next 43 years. In 1949, Ambrose retired in Tucson as the Manager, Southwestern Division of Mining, for ASARCO.

On the Case

So in 1998, the Ring family in Tucson began an incredible research effort to find out everything possible about the little known Oro Blanco area of Territorial Arizona. In the next few years, we made several trips to Oro Blanco, following the same route Ambrose and Grace had followed on the stagecoach in late 1905.

Our first breakthrough was to confirm that the old Arivaca stage depot, shown in one of our grandparents’ photos, is still there and recognizable against the profile of the distant mountains! The stage depot is now a private residence.

But the rest of our search was not to be that easy. By the mid 1900s, most of the Oro Blanco mines had been closed and abandoned. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. Forest Service cleared the entire Oro Blanco area of the old mining buildings and equipment. The expressed rationale for this controversial action was "safety" and to discourage settlement by transients. (There was a considerable amount of “hippie” communing in the district during that period.) But the disastrous effect for us was to destroy priceless mining history and eliminate virtually all of the man-made landmarks in our old photos!

So there we were on several trips into the old mining country, armed only with photos from a time of active mining operations, when there were lots of mining buildings, saloons, stores, wooden shacks, and tents.

Some of the family photos were “long shots” taken off the front porch of our grandparents “shack.” Matching distant mountain profiles, and especially Montana Peak’s position, we determined the approximate location of our grandparents’ home at Warsaw.

We tramped up, down, and around every hill in the area, using the old photos and local topography to finally fix the former position of our grandparents’ home. And what do you know? There was a flat area, chopped out of the side of the hill. This was the spot! So one family mystery was solved! This was probably the emotional high point of our search.

Another thrilling moment occurred a few weeks later when Al discovered an ad in a 1905 Tucson newspaper for the “El Warsaw” Hotel, owned and operated by a James Pemberton. Our grandfather identified a “Mr. James Pemberton” in a couple of his 33 photos. Additional research determined that Pemberton had been Postmaster for the area when our grandparents were there. Putting these facts together allowed us to solve another mystery. Our grandparents’ “shack” was the El Warsaw Hotel!

Duplicating the loudest gold miner’s exclamation of “Eureka,” Al found an announcement in the files of the Tucson Daily Star, dated March 29, 1906, of the arrival at Tucson’s St. Augustine Hotel of A. E. Ring and wife. Our grandparents were on their way to Butte, Montana, via San Francisco. Family tradition says they left San Francisco on April 17, 1906, one day before the devastating earthquake and fire that destroyed the city.

So the final mystery of why our grandparents left the Oro Blanco area remains unsolved. But we are still “on the case.”

(Sources: Ring family records, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Daily Star)

Grace Ring sits in this buckboard stage’s passenger seat, in front of the stage depot in Arivaca. Ambrose and Grace are on the way south to Oro Blanco country. (Ring family private collection, December 1905)
This “long shot,” showing the building against the mountains in the background, helped us identify the old Arivaca stage depot (private residence today) in Arivaca. (Ring family private collection, December 1905)

Ambrose Ring

Ambrose Ring in a reflective moment in the rocks at Warsaw Camp. (Ring family private collection, 1906)

Grace Ring

In one of our favorite family photos, Grace Ring is “Looking into Mexico.” (Ring family private collection, 1906)

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