Column No. 15

The Fraser Brothers Mining Story

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

John A. Fraser and his older brother Alexander J. Fraser were born in Nova Scotia, Canada - John in 1863 and Alexander in 1860. Immigrating to the United States (Boston area) as children, they came west in the 1880s and began over 20 years of mining together in Colorado.

For John Fraser, the only interruption was a several-month (financially unsuccessful) exploration of the Alaskan Klondike in 1898. Fraser was one of over 100,000 optimistic “stampeders” participating in the Klondike Gold Rush that started in 1897.

Looking for “greener pastures,” or in this case, more gold, the Fraser brothers came to the Oro Blanco Mining District (OBMD) in 1903. John Fraser was to be the superintendent for a Connecticut company that had just bought the Ragnarok gold mines from pioneering area miner James Kirkpatrick, the first American to locate the Montana mine in 1877.

The Fraser brothers’ attempts to earn a decent living by mining in the OBMD are a study in perseverance. In 1904, Alexander Fraser located eight contiguous mines, listed in the records as Alamo Nos. 1-8, but referred to collectively by the Frasers as Los Alamos. Los Alamos was about four miles southwest of the Montana mine, on the western edge of the OBMD.

John and Alexander also retained a mine in Liberty, Colorado, on the south slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It was at the Liberty mining camp grocery store, actually the post office in one corner, that John Fraser met Ines Chinn, a young schoolteacher in the camp. Years later, in a letter to her grandchildren, Ines recalled the meeting and the courtship that followed:

Well, one evening, a stranger to me, but well known to everyone else, was there waiting for the mail. . . the postmaster and store keeper of course introduced us, and we were “acquainted immediately.” I was told that, very soon afterward, that the people present said right away, “There’s a match if ever there was one,” so I guess it was love at first sight. Anyway, from then on . . John came every day for mail from his camp 2 ½ miles over the ridge . . and you may picture him “walking me home” to the place where I was boarding and staying pretty late.

By December 4th we were engaged and my Solitaire had arrived (mail order) and everybody knew and talked about it. Next morning, when I reached the schoolhouse, the children were chanting: “Teacher got a marriage ring,” over and over so I let them admire it, to see the prismatic glisten of the small diamond. They had watched or heard of the arrival of the package at the post office.

John Fraser married Ines Chinn, 17 years his junior, in 1904. It is from John’s loving letters to Ines, written during many periods when they were apart, that we can follow the mining history of the Fraser brothers in the OBMD.

In 1904/05, the brothers were officers in the newly formed Gold Mining Assurance Company, attempting to operate the Old Glory gold mine, about two miles south of Ruby. In this venture, the Frasers met and befriended Ambrose and Grace Ring, Bob and Al Ring’s paternal grandparents. Unfortunately, the mining of the Old Glory was not productive during this period.

Frustrated with lack of success at both Los Alamos and the Old Glory, the Fraser brothers made short exploration trips outside Arizona’s OBMD in 1909-1911 to the Nevada gold fields of Pioneer, Rhyolyte, Ventura, and Nevada Camp. Unsuccessful in Nevada too, the brothers began looking at mining properties across the border in northern Mexico.

In 1914-1919, while still hopeful of the eventual success of Los Alamos, the Fraser brothers at various times did mining work in the OBMD for the (old) Oro Blanco, the Tres Amigos, the El Oro, and the Austerlitz mines.

In 1916 and 1917, mining engineer Alexander Fraser helped develop and check out the new milling operation of the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company, which was about to begin serious mining of lead and zinc at the Montana mine.

The shooting incident at Casa Piedra, and subsequent restrictions of cross-border traffic by the U. S. military, curtailed the brothers’ efforts to develop a productive mine in Mexico.

John Fraser’s wife Ines alternated periods of difficult life in the mining camps with her husband with frequent stays in San Diego, California (where the Frasers had visited and established friends) with their growing family.

In later years, Ines wrote about the Alamos camp in a letter to her grandchildren:

I was the only resident white female, in all the years I spent there, and had no over-night visitors for years! . . picture the isolation, the quiet, the often waterless camp . . We walked five miles for the mail, often waiting till nearly sundown to avoid the heat, and coming home by moonlight.

When Ines was with John at the Los Alamos, she made the most of life there for her family. She had a piano shipped out from San Diego so she could teach her children to love music.

While Ines was in San Diego, John’s letters to her were full of optimistic projections of mining success and hopes for the future.

In another letter to her grandchildren, Ines described John’s letters from that period:

They were daily most of that time, though mail in that part of Arizona was only twice or three times a week. His letters were absolutely wonderful, not only as love letters, which were unexcelled even in literature, but were filled with anecdotes, descriptions, quotations in poetry and prose, parodies on many familiar verses and songs, allusions and quotable phrases from English authors I had learned a good deal about, so I could think, respond with some pleasure and satisfaction to both of us.

Unfortunately the Frasers’ never realized their hopes and dreams of success in mining. John Fraser’s letters show how lonely he was, without his wife for months at a time. Fraser was frustrated with the numerous attempts to make a success, and with how difficult conditions were in his crude mining camp accommodations.

By mid 1919, the Fraser brothers, now both in their late fifties, were ready to give up mining, declare themselves cured of gold fever, and move out of the area. But a new opportunity was about to present itself, one that would change their lives. Phil Clarke was looking to sell the Ruby general store so he could devote full time to raising cattle.

(Sources: Fraser family records, Nogales Border Vidette)

Frasers on horseback

John and Ines Fraser (seated behind on the horse on the right) riding with Mrs. Ambrose Ring near Warsaw Camp – 1905. (Photo from Ring family private collection)

Frasers washing gold

Ines Fraser (with shovel) is “gold washing” at the Los Alamos gold mine. John Fraser stands at the top of the bank of dirt. Circa 1911 (Photo from Fraser family private collection)

Alexander Fraser

Alexander Fraser, in white shirt and tie, poses with miners at one of the Fraser brothers’ Oro Blanco mines. Circa 1917 (Photo from Fraser family private collection)

Next time: The Fraser Brothers Acquire the Ruby Mercantile

Back to List of Columns