Column No. 52

Ruby’s Poet Laureate Charlie Foltz

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

As a young man, Charles John “Charlie” Foltz was a miner, then a war hero, and later, for most of his life, a sheet metal contractor. But, many will be remember him as Ruby’s poet laureate.

Charlie was the son of Irishman C. O. Foltz who suffered through more than his share of personal and business tragedies.

While working in Chicago in the early 1900s, C. O. Foltz bought a placer gold mine south of the Oro Blanco mine, near the border with Mexico. Foltz left his family in Chicago, came west to check out his mine, and stayed a while to work it successfully.

But, while mining in Arizona, he received word that his wife and two of his three daughters were trampled to death in the December 1903 Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago. Foltz returned to Chicago, settled his remaining daughter with relatives and returned to the southwest, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

In 1907 Foltz began operating the general store in the village of Oro Blanco. In 1913 he married local schoolteacher Nora Dunne, also of Irish decent. Charlie Foltz was born on November 9, 1915 in Nogales. Charlie’s father operated the Oro Blanco store until 1915, when he went bankrupt, perhaps reflecting the sorry state of mining at that time.

After the store failure in Oro Blanco, C. O. Foltz opened a store in Ruby in 1917, competing with fellow Irishman Phil Clarke’s store. Unfortunately Foltz’ Ruby store burned to the ground within a month.

So Foltz gave up in Ruby, and in 1918 moved east with his family across the Santa Cruz River to Patagonia to run a candy and ice cream parlor. This venture also failed as did Foltz’ marriage to Nora, who left him and moved to San Diego with Charlie.

Foltz next tried the laundry business, starting the Apex Laundry in Tucson. But, this business failed also. To make matters worse, Foltz suffered two strokes that left him in a weakened condition.

Foltz now wanted to get into mining and arranged for the youngster Charlie to join him in Ruby to help him out. Foltz, now divorced, moved back to the Oro Blanco area to a copper mine on Cobre Ridge. Charlie and his dad lived in a house built into the entrance of the mine tunnel. Charlie recalled that in hot weather they would sleep in the cool underground, but when it rained, water ran off the hillside into the house.

Over three decades, Foltz worked more than 50 different mining properties in the Oro Blanco Mining District.

Little Charlie literally grew up among the Ore Blanco mining camps. A special friend to Charlie, was Ines Fraser, wife of John Fraser, who along with his brother Alexander had been mining in Oro Blanco since 1905.

When Ines was with her husband John at their Los Alamos mining camp, she made the most of life there for her family. She had a piano shipped out from San Diego so she could teach her children to love music. She made friends with all the children in the mining camps, including Charlie, who remembered, “She gave piano lessons … And she also taught me my manners.” In addition to teaching him to be a gentleman, Ines may have exposed Charlie to the beauty of poetry.

Charlie experienced an early lesson in life’s hard knocks, when his friend Ines’ husband John and brother-in-law Alexander, who had just purchased the Ruby store from Phil Clarke, were shot and killed there by Mexican bandits on February 27, 1920.

With Ines soon moving permanently to San Diego, the school in Ruby was the source of the rest of Charlie’s early education.

Charlie recalled that after the Fraser brother killings and the eerily similar killings of new storeowners Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pearson just 18 months later, “They ran the store by keeping the place locked up. You really had to know some one.”

In 1927, at age 12, Charlie left Ruby for the second time to spend time with his mother in San Diego. Ironically, Charlie’s mother, Nora and Ines Fraser had previously become good friends and the families remained close in San Diego.

The Montana mine’s closure during the Great Depression and the overall slow pace of mining in the Oro Blanco Mining District kept Charlie in San Diego for years. But in 1934, with Eagle-Picher’s renewed production at the Montana mine, 19-year old Charlie was back in Ruby with his dad.

Charlie remembered that they “had the only two-room frame house in ‘Hollywood’ one of Ruby’s housing sections.” Charlie worked in the Montana mine’s mill for four years, “on the second level under the big roof, above the big, noisy diesel engines on the first floor.” Charlie also remembered ingesting a lot of lead and silica in those years.

As mining production slowed, in 1938 Charlie left Ruby, along with many others, including co-columnist Tallia Pfrimmer’s parents. Charlie joined the Marines and fought in WWII, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Charlie described the condition in which Eagle-Picher left the Montana mine when they stopped production completely in 1940, “I met an old friend who was hoist operator for the last thing the Company did and that was to lower and bring back the crew who set charges against the remaining support columns. As soon as the last man was out, the charges began going off and columns fell, one a minute for approximately three hours. The ground shook and there was a cloud of dust.”

After the war, Charlie stayed in San Diego, became a sheet metal contractor, owning and operating the Ace Sheet Metal Works.

Charlie also became an accomplished poet. He was a Distinguished Member of the International Society of Poets and mailed his poems regularly in the late 1990s to be published locally in Arivaca’s The Connection. (The Green Valley News & Sun published poems by Charlie Foltz in this column earlier this year on January 28th and May 27th.)

Towards the end of his life, Charlie was short of breath due to the lead and silicosis. Charlie Foltz died in San Diego on September 30, 2000 at age 84. Charlie’s wife Nellie, son Brian, and daughter Anne survived him.

Charlie’s niece, Patricia Traxler wrote a heartfelt tribute to her uncle; this excerpt will give you a sense of the man:

“He was not like anyone else I’ve ever known … not a simple, predictable man. Like most very intelligent people, he was a man of contrasts, complexities, and contradictions … Charlie was a gentleman, even an elegant man, and yet he was also salt of the earth. He was dignified and well-spoken, yet he could be gloriously silly – in fact, as serious a person as he was, I never saw him pass up an opportunity for a good joke, witticism, or pun … If you ever thought you had Charlie Foltz figured out, chances are you had just lost the game.”

Photo of Charlie Foltz (standing) with Ramon Perez at the first reunion of Ruby residents in April 1993. (Photo courtesy of Levinia Cuesta)

This poem exhibits Charlie Foltz’ sense of humor.

(Sources: Arizona Daily Star; The San Diego Union-Tribune; Mary Noon Kasulaitis, “C. O. Foltz & Son,” The Connection (Arivaca, May 1998); personal phone calls and correspondence between Charlie Foltz and co-columnists Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon and Al Ring, 1996-2000; Patricia Traxler, “Remembering Charlie”)

Next Time: Arizona Territorial Geologist William Blake
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