Column No. 16

The Fraser Brothers Acquire the Ruby Mercantile

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

For the last six months of 1919, Alexander and John Fraser thought about buying Ruby’s general store from Phil Clarke. The brothers had spent 16 years in the district trying to earn a living by mining, but never achieved any real success. They were looking for something more profitable and much more dependable. They thought that running the successful Ruby general store might be the answer.

John Fraser’s letters to his wife Ines, in San Diego awaiting the birth of their fourth child, reveal the difficulties in coming to terms with Clarke. In September 1919, frustrated with negotiating with Clarke about the business, Fraser wrote that “I have given up the store idea . .” But a few days later, he wrote of Clarke, “A good deal could be made with him if one had the money to back an offer . . Clarke gave every indication of being both eager and willing to accept any reasonable offer.”

In a September 15th letter, Fraser noted that the U. S. Army had shifted the Casa Piedra trooper patrol, stationed just south of Ruby on the border with Mexico, to another location. He viewed this positively, since it eased his border crossings to visit his mining interests in Mexico. At the time he did not fully appreciate the protection value that the troopers provided for Ruby.

After unsuccessfully trying to get Ines’ brother-in-law to come in on the deal to buy the store, John and Alexander agreed to go ahead on their own. From San Diego, where John Fraser had gone to attend the birth of his child, he wrote his sister Annie in Boston, “We are about to take over the Montana store at Ruby, which has a pretty good business.”

Returning to the Oro Blanco Mining District in January 1920, after the birth of his daughter Constance in San Diego on November 19, 1919, John Fraser moved quickly to close the deal with Clarke. Though the final papers had not yet been signed, by mid January, the Clarke’s had moved out of the store and John and Alexander had moved in, and begun to operate the place.

In a January 23rd letter to Ines, still in San Diego, John Fraser wrote: “The Mexicans say the border is open to them now. . . The patrol is being taken away from Bear Valley today.”

The Army removed the two closest patrols of protective troops from the Ruby area just as the Fraser brothers completed their deal to take over the Ruby mercantile.

The brothers closed the deal with Clarke on February 16th. A first payment of $765 was due on April 1st, a payment John Fraser hoped to make from the store’s profits. Recognizing that money would be tight for a while, he wrote Ines concerning her financial needs in San Diego, “I guess dear heart, you will have to draw on your savings deposits for a while.”

Ines Fraser yearned to return to her beloved husband in Ruby. She expressed her sentiments in this beautiful poem:

Wide sky and far horizon,
Mild air and shimmering light,
Brown hills and yellow valleys,
And close pricked-stars at night.

The canyons cool and drafty;
The friendly, silent moon;
The peace, the room, the freedom;
The clear-cut desert moon –

Far out from towns and traffic, -
I’m going back some day-
Remote, alone and quiet
To live, to love, to stay.
Ines A. Fraser

Back in Ruby, the Fraser brothers launched their new career. By February 23rd, the Frasers’ own letterhead appeared on the Ruby mercantile stationary. They purchased Clarke’s goods and ordered their own first shipment of new goods. They kept cash received from sales, and money to make change, in a safe in the post office section of the store.

According to his letters to Ines, John Fraser kept busy planting vegetables and flowers around the store and residence. He happily planned for the day in the near future when his family would join him in Ruby.

(Source: Fraser family records)

John and Ines Fraser
John and Ines Fraser, with daughter Daphne, visited Julius and Lille Andrews, the Ruby storeowners in 1911. (Photo from Fraser family private collection)
Kids with Troopers
Richard and Daphne Fraser, John and Ines’ older children, pose with troopers of the protective 10th Cavalry in 1919. (Photo from Fraser family private collection)

NEXT TIME: ALONG THE RUBY ROAD The Ruby Mercantile – The First Robbery

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