Column No. 38

Hugo Miller Operations at the Montana Mine

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Local assayer and miner Hugo Miller became the official owner of the Montana mine and Ruby on December 15, 1946. Though a far cry from Eagle-Picher’s 300-miner Montana operation in the mid 1930s, Miller soon had five men working five days a week in development and production operations.

Eagle-Picher had dismantled and removed their mining equipment, including the huge head frame over the main shaft, so Miller had to build his own. From scrap material, Miller built a portable head frame, using 4-inch pipe. The whole assembly could be taken down by the removal of 20 nuts on the tie rods and top members.

Miller and his crew, including his son Hugo S. Miller, started crosscutting at the 50-foot and 100-foot levels. They found a four-foot ore body that carried good values in lead as well as lesser quantities of zinc and silver.

Miller trucked his ore through Arivaca to the railroad in Amado, where his crew hand-loaded ore cars. From Amado, Miller shipped the ore to the smelter in Douglas, Arizona for processing.

On the afternoon of January 24, 1951, at age 61, Hugo Miller suffered a horrible automobile accident on the Ruby road. While enroute to Nogales from Ruby, Miller lost control of the car on a steep grade. The car went off the road and turned over on its side, with Miller pinned underneath. Miller suffered four pelvic fractures and internal injuries, but survived and after hours of surgery, gradually recovered and was finally released from the hospital in August.

Miller worked the Montana mine through 1952, when depressed lead-zinc prices made shipping unprofitable.

Miller’s total production at the Montana was 400,000 pounds of lead, 20,000 pounds of zinc, with small amounts of silver and gold.

While Hugo Miller was busy mining at the Montana, he also expanded the group of Montana mines. The group of patented Montana mining claims (initially 10 claims in 1907, then 19 claims since 1933) had been referred to collectively as the Montana Group. However, Hugo Miller added two additional groups of unpatented mining claims. Starting in 1950, the Santa Cruz County Recorders Office has identified the entire group of mining claims as the Consolidated Montana Mine Group.

The first group Miller added was the old Miller-Hanson group of claims that Miller had first bought into as a partner in 1939 and took over completely in 1943. These mining claims were just west of the 19-patented Montana claims.

The second group of claims that Miller added was the Rubiana group. By 1954, this group consisted of two subgroups, one just west of the patented mines, and interspersed with the Miller-Hanson group, and the other, between the northern and southern groups of patented Montana claims. Miller had started working the “western” part of this group in the early 1940s, but did not locate the claims in the southern group until the early 1950s.

By the mid 1950s, Hugo Miller’s actual mining operations with the Consolidated Montana Mine Group had virtually ceased. He stopped shipping lead and zinc from the original Montana mine in 1952. The prospects for substantial lead, zinc, gold, or silver ore over his entire group of mines looked unpromising.

However, a new mineral, uranium, associated with the (nuclear) Cold War, enjoyed a brief period of interest.

On May 26, 1955, Miller leased three of his (former Miller-Hanson) unpatented mining claims to the Falcon Oil and Uranium Company of Grand Junction, Colorado. The mining claims were the Brick, Bell, and Santa Clara. The fee was $1,000.

The Falcon Oil and Uranium Company drilled a few holes, located what they thought might be a good ore body, and even accomplished a little production. But after losing a trailer and a pickup truck in flooded washes and not achieving the production value they expected, the Company stopped operations and gave up their lease.

In March 1957, the Matador Oil Company of Los Angeles and the Maravilla Minerals Corporation, a privately owned mining company, leased-to-buy the 19-patented mines of the Consolidated Montana Mine Group and the Ruby mining camp. The companies planned extensive diamond drilling and mine development in pursuit of new lead and zinc ore at the Montana. They shipped a 125-ton concentrating mill from Los Angles and began operations. Sporadic work continued until 1958 when the two companies determined that they could not make sufficient profit there and gave up their lease.

In October 1961, at age 72, Hugo Miller suffered a small stroke. Exhausted from his years of mining work, Miller was ready to give up his Montana property and his mining responsibilities. In November 1961, Miller concluded the sale of the Montana mine (19-patented mining claims) and the Ruby mining camp to private interests from Tucson.

From then on, as if his mining life’s blood was extinguished, Miller’s health was poor. On March 15, 1963, at the age of 74, Hugo Miller died of pneumonia at St. Joseph’s hospital in Nogales.

(Sources: Arizona Geological Survey Files; Private papers of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo S. Miller; Nogales International; Arizona Daily Star; Tubac Historical Society; University of Arizona Library Special Collections, AZ175)

Pipe Headframe

Hugo Miller built a sturdy, portable head frame over the Montana’s main shaft. (Photo courtesy of Wynell Kisner, 1946)

Loading Ore Cars

Hugo Miller trucked his Montana ore to Amado, Arizona to be loaded into railroad cars. (Photo courtesy of Wynell Kisner, 1945)

Next time: A Private Consortium Buys the Montana Mine and Ruby 

Back to List of Columns