Column No. 35

Memories of Ruby
The worst thing I remember was that a lady caught fire and burned to death

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

When asked what events they most clearly remembered during their years in Ruby, former residents mentioned everything from religion, to tragedies, to special good times.

There were no churches in Ruby. Sundays were like any other day of the week until about 1934, when regular church services started at the Ruby school.

Columnist Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon remembered:

“Mass was offered in the first and second grade room. Sunday school, I think, was held once a month, as were Catholic services. Initially, Father Donahue, a Nogales priest would come to Ruby via the winding mountain road through the Atascosa Mountains. Two nuns accompanied him on the trip. After Mass at 9:00 am, these three would have breakfast with a Ruby family, and then be on their way for the return trip to Nogales. Later, Father Don Hughes replaced Father Donahue and continued to offer monthly Mass at the school.”

Miner’s daughter Angela Coronado De Nault added her memories of confessions as a youngster:

“I remember the priest coming to the school the night before giving a Mass to hear confessions … I remember going to confession … and there was no confessional. You knelt right in front of him, face-to-face … There wasn’t much I could confess. I didn’t do much. The only thing maybe I talked back to my mom or hit one of the kids at school or a had a little spat with one of them or fought with my brothers or sisters or … there wasn’t really much we could do. There wasn’t much trouble we could get into there. We were very closely watched.”

On April 11, 1937, three boys (Danario O. Reyes, Manuel V. Gonzales, and Ramòn Otero), two of them 13 years old, the other only 12, drowned in Eagle Lake when the boat they were in struck a stump and overturned. Bystanders rescued a fourth youngster, Elizardo “Eddie” Miranda.

Angela Coronado De Nault was a classmate of the boys:

“They were all in my classroom … I remember the day that it happened … My brothers went up there and right away we knew who it was that had drowned … the whole town went into a state of shock.”

Mourners lay the bodies of three boys side by side in a small tent for services on the playground of the Ruby community school.

Eagle-Picher accountant’s son Tony Cordova remembered one of the “extra jobs” his father and his mother performed:

“If there was a death in the camp and if it was a child … daddy would build a little coffin and mother would line it with sheets and then they’d go out in the field and pick up some kind of straw or grass so that the body wouldn’t lie as deep in the coffin … they became the local undertakers on many occasions.”

Woodcutter’s son Joe Ortiz remembered another tragedy:

“The worst thing I remember was that a lady caught fire and burned to death. She threw kerosene on the stove and was carrying the can in her hand when it exploded. I saw her in the yard burning.”

Two natural events stand out in author Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon’s memory:

“The first was a fire in the early 1930s that swept around the Montana Peak, greatly reducing the natural vegetation, but not reaching Ruby itself. A black scar from the fire is still visible today near the top of Montana Peak.

“The second natural event was a heavy snow in January 1937. That was the one, big snow in my years in Ruby. I still remember making snow people!”

Cahoon also recalled how her parents kept track of her:

“We were on a short tether … I remember carrying notes from home that would read something like, ‘Tallia has permission to stay and play with whoever it would be for 45 minutes and then please send her home.’ I didn’t go far from home.”

Manuel “Manny” Gutierrez lived in Ruby as a very young boy. Hid dad was the Company blacksmith, in fact built the gate at the entrance to Ruby. Guitierrez remembered playing as a child in Ruby:

“I remember my dad had bought me a set of Tonka toys … they were made out of lead and they were very heavy. I recall that I spent many, many, many days playing between the tent and back of the mountain and I had these soldiers there and a cat, a tractor and I just remember playing there day and night.

“There was a high place we use to go up there and slide down the trash with cardboards. We’d climb on the cardboards and slide down the embankment there and we used to get filthy dirty. We used to find those small containers of Karo syrup and Log Cabin … used to take those and drain them out on paper and eat the syrup when we were kids.”

Arnold Robles was born in Ruby in 1932. His dad was a miner there. Robles remembered getting into mischief as a young child:

“One time we pushed a wagon, a horse-drawn type into the reservoir, the lake, Town Lake there and boy did we get tanned g-o-o-d! And then during Halloween you know, we’d roll those outhouses over.”

Robles also fondly remembered Christmas:

“Christmas was very special … we used to string popcorn and make paper chains and use the flour for glue. For Christmas they used to have a platform like a boxing arena … they would put the Christmas tree right on the platform and Santa Claus would come out of the store on a donkey! And of course, everybody was registered at the store and kids got a toy … every year it was the same toy. It was a little red truck and we got mixed candy, peanuts, an apple and an orange in a little bag. Everybody got the same thing; nobody was left out.”

Tom Harper, son of Gilbert and Christine Cole, who managed the general store, remembered going fishing south of Ruby at the Gold Boulder dam:

“We used to walk down there at night and fish … and we used to have picnics down there. I remember one time there was a stump with a lot of ants and Dad was trying to kick them out the way and there was a snake.”

The Coles lived in one of the big tents; Harper also remembered frequent parties:

“We used to have a lot of … we used to call them “Dutch Dinners” where everybody would get together in our little tent community and they’d bring cold cuts and then, Dad was always a popcorn fiend. I remember we use to have a number two washtub and he’d darn near fill that full of popcorn. He’d fix popcorn and everybody . . . they’d get out there and have their beer and popcorn. There was a lot of community activity.”

(Sources: Interviews with Angela Coronado DeNault, Tony Cordova, Joe Ortiz, Manuel Gutierrez, Arnold Robles, and Tom Harper; Nogales International)

Tallia on burro

Walter Pfrimmer with daughter Talila on burro, just north of their Ruby home. (Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon private collection, 1933)


Tallia enjoys a rare Ruby snowfall with her younger sister, Mary. (Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon private collection, 1937)

 Next time: Leaving Ruby

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