Column No. 19

The Ruby Mercantile – The Second Robbery

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Within a month of the murder of the Fraser brothers, Frank Pearson, from a farming family in Liberty Hill, Texas, approached Phil Clarke about buying the Ruby store from the Frasers’ estate. Clarke recalled later, “I was not anxious to turn the store over to anyone after what had happened. I tried to dissuade him, but he was determined to buy. His arguments made sense too. As he pointed out, my wife and I, and the Andrews before us, had lived through the worst period of that part of the country, it certainly wasn’t likely that lightning would strike twice.”

So 33-year old Frank Pearson and his 30-year old schoolteacher wife Myrtle bought the Ruby mercantile. With their three-year old daughter, Margaret, they moved into the living quarters in the back of store building and began a happy period in the Ruby mining camp.

In August 1921 Frank Pearson’s 17-year old sister, Irene Pearson, and Myrtle’s 22-year sister, Elizabeth Purcell, visited from Texas.

On August 26, 1921, barely 18 months since the murders of Alexander and John Fraser, lightning did strike again. This time seven bandits robbed the Ruby store.

Irene Peterson testified later that at about 11:00 am, she and her brother Frank Pearson were in the Post Office (at the front of the building to the right of door) when three Mexicans entered the store. One of the men asked for tobacco, so Irene left the Post Office area and went over to the store side. One of the Mexicans shot her brother without warning. Irene then ran back to the living quarters, chased by two of the bandits. The two bandits caught Myrtle Pearson (frantically rushing to the store from the living area) and dragged her back to the store. Irene Pearson then heard more shots.

Years later, surviving daughter Margaret, who had also heard the first shot and raced to the store from the living area, gave this eyewitness account:

“. . . my mind has never let me accept what I saw. . . they knocked out my mother’s gold teeth with a rifle butt. . . I turned and ran and one of the men came up out of the store to the living area and started chasing me. We had a screen porch along the side of the house and I was running down that porch which was an outside entrance, and I fell spread-eagled. I can remember his spurs, his chaps, his boots, as he was chasing me. For some reason when I fell, he turned around and went back, I don’t know where. The younger aunt, Irene . . . saw me and she came and got me very quickly, and we went out to a bunkhouse. . . We hid in the bunkhouse.

“While we were doing that, . . one of the men went into the bedroom where she [Elizabeth] was, and he pulled out his gun and shot at her, and she . . I remember hearing her tell this . . . hand on her forehead . . in fear – and this is a real miracle, he aimed at her head, and the bullet slanted up and wounded her hand. Blood gushed – she fainted, I guess, from fear – and he thought he had killed her, so he left her. [Elizabeth Purcell had grabbed a revolver immediately upon hearing the first shot in the store and tried to shoot the two bandits as they came into the living area from the store. But her gun didn’t fire.] She [Elizabeth] came to very shortly, I think, and then she ran out to the bunkhouse. We left the bunkhouse and went up in the hills . . . I still remember [Elizabeth] had a blue and white check dress, and it was stained with blood.”

Oliver Parmer, now a Deputy Sheriff, arrived at the scene of the crime that evening with Santa Cruz County Sheriff George White. He described what he saw:

“Chairs were overturned in the store, drawers were pulled out, papers scattered, the safe rifled, blood spattered on the floor, and boxes, bottles and canned goods strewn about. [Mr.] Pearson lay behind the counter in a pool of blood with two bullet [wounds] – stiff in death. His wife’s lifeless body lay sprawled on the floor. Her skull was fractured, a bullet had entered her left temple and come out at the back of the head. [She also had two additional bullet wounds.] Her jaw was broken her lips horribly mashed and lacerated. Many of her teeth had been knocked out . .”

According to Irene Pearson, the bandits cut “the safe open with an old double edge hatchet, taking all the money [unknown amount] it contained, and carrying away Frank Pearson’s two rifles, and his revolver. . ” The robbers also reportedly took 24 pairs of shoes, calico undershirts, tobacco, other clothing, groceries, and unknown mail from the post office.

Three Mexican women, neighbors of the Pearsons in Ruby, positively identified Placido Silvas and Manuel Martinez as two of the seven bandit murderers.

Area residents knew Placido Silvas well; indeed he had been born in Oro Blanco in 1900 and lived in Arivaca at the time of the crime.

Manuel Martinez was not an American citizen. He was born in Saric, Sonora, Mexico in 1894. Ruby area people knew Martinez as a bootlegger. (Prohibition against the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages in the U. S. started in 1920.)

On September 3rd, the bodies of Frank and Myrtle Pearson started on their final journey by train to Liberty Hill, Texas for burial. Irene, Elizabeth, and Margaret accompanied the bodies as the train left the Nogales station at 7:15 am.

The Nogales Herald reported on the emotional scene:

“Although an early hour when the bodies were taken away this morning a fair sized crowd of people were at the train. Many expressions of sympathy were heard in the crowd, and statements frequently made that the murderers of the young couple should be quickly run down by the Mexican and United States governments.

“Marjorie was clinging onto her aunt, Miss Purcell this morning as they boarded the train. The little girl, too young in years . . . to fully realize the calamity that has befallen her . . she has forever been deprived of the loving care of parents . .

“But it was different with Miss Purcell, Miss Pearson . . They were bowed down in grief, and tears rolled down their faces as they told friends in Nogales goodbye and boarded the train. Strong men in the crowd wept as the caskets were loaded onto the train.”

(Sources: Phil Clarke, “Recollections of Life in Arivaca and Ruby, 1906-1926,” Arizona Historical Society; Oral interview of Margaret (Pearson) Anderson, 1994; Oliver Parmer and Kathleen O’Donnell, “How We Trapped the Deadly Border Bandits,” Startling Detective Adventures, 1936; Nogales Herald; Twelfth Census of the United States; Arizona Supreme Court Criminal Case 550)

Myrtle Pearson with her daughter Margaret in Liberty Hill, Texas, 1918. (Photo courtesy of Scot Anderson)

Frank Pearson with his daughter Margaret in Ruby, 1920. (Photo courtesy of Scot Anderson)

The safe the killers robbed.
The Pearson murderers cut open the store’s safe with an old double-edged hatchet. (Photo courtesy Arizona State Archives, No. 03-0084)

Next time: The Capture and Trials of the Pearson Murderers

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