Column No. 40

Ruby is Invaded by Hippies

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

A consortium of five Tucsonans bought the Montana mine and old Ruby mining camp in 1961. At first the new owners explored opportunities to extract gold and silver from the huge tailings dump left over from earlier mining of lead and zinc.

But, they also wondered what else they could do with (or at) Ruby. In 1965, a six-man promotional group took an option to develop Ruby into a movie set and private club. In 1968, the owners spokesman, Richard Frailey talked about making the two lakes into one 32-acre lake, opening the town as an historical attraction or trading property to the Forest Service for other property. He said the owners would even consider selling the town for $350,000. In 1974, a former Ruby resident proposed developing a TV series around Ruby and its history. None of these ideas ever materialized.

While all this inactivity was going on, the private owners attempted to preserve their ghost town and natural hide-away by discouraging visitors. They posted warning signs on the gate to Ruby and protected the ghost town with armed caretakers. Only rarely was permission given to enter the premises. (These prohibitions for visitors would extend for 30 years, easing finally in the 1990s.)

Commenting in 1982 on closing Ruby to the general public, Anthony Saeli observed in the Green Valley News and Sun:

“It has been saved from the destructive acts of vandals and overeager souvenir hunters and, although here and there are signs of deterioration the old camp, in contrast to many other ghost towns is remarkably well preserved.”

Another reason the owners had to discourage visitors was accidents. In May 1965, three young men from Tucson sneaked into Ruby, eager to have fun in the ghost town. They found two rowboats with holes in their hulls on the shore of Ruby Lake. Racing across the half mile long by 200 yards lake, one of the boats capsized in the middle of the 30-foot deep lake. Unable to swim, two of the men drowned.

The Ruby owners’ efforts to discourage visitors broke down when they began to explore opportunities to mine the tailings,. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ruby became a haven for young people looking to escape the bright lights and mayhem of urban civilization, and to get away from the world’s problems. The Tucson Citizen observed that, “They were called hippies by most. The Forest Service had another name – squatters.”

The mountains and valleys of the Oro Blanco region were a perfect place to escape and you couldn’t beat the peaceful natural setting. Tucson was 70 miles to the northeast and Nogales 30 miles away to the southeast. Even the tiny (fewer than 100 people) village of Arivaca was 12 miles north.

In early 1968, the Arivaca Briefs announced that, “The old ghost town of Ruby is now a Hippie headquarters, where all may have their love-ins.” The hippies were generally peaceful, but they were also destructive. They used wooden planks from some of Ruby’s old buildings, including some from the roof of the Ruby mercantile, for firewood.

Thirty-three year old Terry (no surname), a wanderer from Reno, Nevada, labeled his Ruby house, “Impossible Dream.” He described it as “a haven for anyone who had decided to take to the road, especially those refugees from the cities who seek a rural existence.” “We’re a fluid community too,” he said. But we avoid the cities and the street freaks. We avoid each other also, for any long period anyway. The straights think we’re all alike. That’s a laugh – you can’t get six of us to agree on anything.”

By 1971, another hippie community nestled on 20 acres in California Gulch, about four miles southwest of Ruby and only two miles from the Mexican border. Ten adults in their 20s and 30s and their six small children lived in five tepees. They called themselves the HIPI Corp., supposedly engaged in mining. The Forest Service considered them unlawful campers and successfully prosecuted them for that “crime” and littering. The hippies received six months probation and were told to clean up the site.

The hippies were also ordered out of Ruby and the evidence of their eviction can still be seen on one of doors of the old mine manager’s house: “Eviction Notice – As of this day March 22, 1971 this house will be evacuated as prescribed by law.” One of the hippies apparently penciled in the reply, “We love you.”

By 1976, most of the hippies were gone from Ruby and the local area.

(Sources: Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Daily Star, Green Valley News and Sun, Tucson Citizen, Tucson Daily Citizen, Arrivaca Briefs)
Accompanying Figure 1: No Trespassing Sign

Hippies in Ruby

In 1965, the ghost town’s owners posted this sign to keep unwanted visitors out of Ruby. (Photo courtesy of the Green Valley News and Sun)

Hippies in Ruby

Ruby was a haven for hippies in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Photos courtesy of the Tucson Daily Citizen and Tucson Daily Star)

Next time: Ruby Gets Some National Recognition

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