Column No. 34

Law and Order in Ruby
Nobody was going to church; there wasn’t a church.

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Immediately after the two double murders of Ruby general store proprietors in the early 1920s, the U.S. Army and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office established a presence in the Ruby area. But as the years passed, with no further bandit raids from Mexico, the military departed, leaving Ruby with only a deputy sheriff.

In the balance of the 1920s and in the 1930s, Ruby was to see such problems as bootlegging, gambling, occasional drunkenness, prostitution, and “affairs of the heart.”

Almost as soon as “Prohibition” started in 1920, bootlegging liquor from Mexico into the Arizona borderland became a big business. One of the bootleggers was Ramon Rosthenhausler, older brother of former Ruby resident and baseball player Sammy Rosthenhausler. (Ironically Ramon Rosthenhausler lived in Ruby in 1921 when Mexican bandits robbed and murdered Frank and Myrtle Pearson. Rosthenhausler assisted law enforcement officers in attempts to apprehend the killers.)

On a bootlegging operation, 13-year old Sammy Rosthenhausler rode his horse ahead of the bootleggers to act as a scout or lookout to warn the group of any law in the area. Describing his brother’s activities, Sammy said:

“He delivered a lot … to policemen, chiefs of police in Tucson, Benson, and Twin Buttes. Anywhere they were working booze an playin’ cards … you always get people involved in that, I don’t know why. Nobody was goin’ to church; there wasn’t even a church.”

Sammy Rosthenhausler also knew about several tunnels in the Ruby area used for gambling:

“Oh, one of them tunnels it was about 200 feet deep … That was a gambling joint. An’ there was sheriffs out of Nogales watching … the guys gamble … my brother would tie the gallon of Mescal and lower it. Somebody down below would nod and tell him when … An’ they sold by so much a shot … when the law wasn’t there an’ pretty soon they started getting’ drunk an’ I remember Oliver White [Sheriff of Santa Cruz County] … asking, ‘How in the hell are these people drunk when there is nothing to drink?’ But it was lowered by them … an it was at night … it was real dark nights”

The U.S. repealed the 18th Amendment “prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transport of intoxicating liquors” in 1933.

Miner Leo Leal also remembered local caves used for gambling:

“I had a gambling place in one of the caves. I made money in between jobs.”

In 1933, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors proposed to “do away with the office of deputy sheriff at Ruby as an economy measure.” A committee of Ruby mining men vigorously opposed this proposal before the board in Nogales. The miners argued that Ruby’s population was about to explode, as Eagle-Picher got ready to restart production at the Montana mine.

A spokesman for the miners further stated:

“Fred Pyeatt then the deputy sheriff at Ruby is very fearless, accommodating, and is right on the job at all times. If we don’t have a deputy there, everybody will be packing a gun.”

The committee from Ruby persuaded the supervisors. They retained Fred Pyeatt as deputy sheriff.

In February 1935, the increasing population of Ruby approached 800, and the district population approached 1100. Ruby General Manager Ed Morton and Deputy Sheriff Pyeatt went back to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to propose the building of a jail in Ruby, mostly to handle drunks. Asked what he does with drunks out there now, Deputy Pyeatt said: “We tie them to trees and let ‘em go the next morning.”

The people of Ruby built a jail for $600.

Diesel equipment mechanic “Red” Worth remembered how justice worked:

“There was sort of a kangaroo court and a fella would get fined, but if it was anything bad, they’d take him to Nogales. I don’t remember anyone standing trial in Ruby. We didn’t have trouble. When we hired on, they told us the rules of the camp and we followed them.”

Mill superintendent Ed Crabtree offered some insight into another vice available in Ruby:

“On paydays, two or three girls would come out from Nogales and set up their tent on the road just out of town. They apparently did a brisk business in selling their wares.”

While crime was essentially non-existent in Ruby, there was an occasional “affair of the heart” that sometimes resulted in tragedy. Crabtree related one such incident that occurred in July 1936 that concerned Eagle-Picher’s chief chemist and assayer Fred Gregory:

“Gregory, who lived in the house next to us, was the assayer. One night he had to work late and came home to find a fellow named Tom Evans, who was one of my mill foremen, in bed with his wife. Gregory then went back up to the assay office, dumped a bottle of sulfuric acid out into a porcelain crock, went down into the mill and got a one-pound cake of cyanide, went back to the assay office, pulled a stool up beside the crock, leaned his head over it and dropped the cyanide in the acid. The next morning we found him lying on the floor with one hand down in the acid.

“Of course I fired Tom Evans, the cause of it all, although in retrospect maybe Gregory’s wife was partly to blame. She got a lawyer in Tucson to sue the company, claiming it was a job-related accident, but she never collected anything.”

Miner Charlie Foltz recalled the reaction in Ruby to this bizarre situation:

“There was an immediate surge of anger in the town, so as soon as they Tom Evans and Gregory’s wife were questioned, they skedadled.”

(Sources: Interviews with Sammy Rosthenhausler, Leo Leal, and Charles Foltz; Edwin H. Crabtree Family History; Dan B. McCarthy, “The Return to Ruby,” Phoenix Republic, October 1, 1972; Nogales International)

Ruby Jail
The people of Ruby built this concrete jail in 1935 to handle drunks. The jail still looks ready for business today. (Photo by Bob Ring, 2001)

Next time: Memories of Ruby

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