Column No. 61

Ruby’s best baseball player, Sammy Rosthenhausler

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Sammy Rosthenhausler, of both German and Mexican descent, was born in Ruby on October 14, 1920, only eight months after the Fraser brothers were brutally murdered by Mexican bandits in the mining camp’s general store. Life was especially tough during this period of Ruby’s history. The Montana mine was shut down; it would be 1929 before significant excavation of lead and zinc began under the Eagle-Picher Lead Company.

Sammy’s early life was certainly one of hardship. At the time of his birth, his mother had cancer and couldn’t care for him, so he was “given” to his aunt and then a succession of family members and even extended family members to raise. Sammy’s blacksmith father died of a “throat condition” in 1925.

Describing his life in those early years through the Great Depression, Sammy lamented, “It was miserable, very miserable. Whenever you had no folks … nobody to look after you or anything, you’re looking for yourself an’ there were families there that had kids an’ … Well, I couldn’t associate to them because I guess they were afraid I‘d go eat with them an’ they didn’t have enough but just for them, you know an’ … people were very poor at that time”

Sammy started school in Ruby in 1928 at the age of eight when Eagle-Picher reopened the Montana mine. Describing one of his teachers, Sammy said, “Miss Olson was tough! That Tommy Jaggers was mean. Him and “Beto” Bonillas, they were always fightin’. And boy, she’d get in there and fight like they did in an attempt ot stop the fight. They’d hit her too, like any man and boy, she was rough.” Sammy graduated from the eighth grade in May 1937 and still has his diploma to prove it.

Asked what he did in Ruby as a youngster, Sammy responded, “Well there wasn’t much work for me because I was so young. They wouldn’t hire me in the mine. But I took care of the horses for Deputy Sheriff Fred Pyeatt and some other people who had horses. … there was lots of telegrams that would come into Ruby at the Post Office and I had to go on horseback and delivered them along the border where all them people lived and all them mines in there.” During his early teens, Sammy patrolled on horseback, looking for leaks, along the route of the 17-mile water pipeline from the Santa Cruz River.

Sammy’s horsemanship also got him into some higher risk adventures. Almost as soon as Prohibition started in 1920, bootlegging liquor from Mexico into the Arizona borderland became a big business, with many customers for the illegal trade. One of the bootleggers was Ramon Rosthenhausler, Sammy’s ten-years-older brother. On a nighttime operation, 13-year old Sammy 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 here, 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 witnessed other illegal activities. He was familiar with several tunnels in the Ruby area that were 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 [into the tunnel through a hole in the ceiling]. 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.”

Sammy also had contact, although indirectly, with Ruby’s doctor from 1930 to 1940, Julius H. Woodard. Dr. Woodard contracted tuberculosis while working for Eagle-Picher in Missouri and transferred to the company’s operation in Ruby, where the climate was warmer and dryer. Sammy tells the story that his Mexican grandmother, a local healer and midwife, provided Dr. Woodard with a local herb to speed his recovery from tuberculosis. At any rate, Dr. Woodard’s health improved quickly; he never had serious trouble with that disease again. Sammy also remembered, “One time, there were about eight or nine, ten girls who were having babies in Ruby and Dr. Woodard couldn’t deliver all of them so he summoned my grandmother to help and then he would sign for their births.”

Sammy Rosthenhausler’s best Ruby memories are of his lifetime passion, baseball. He played shortstop for the Ruby Miners from 1935 to 1938. Their ball field was the huge tailings dump of ore refuse. In 1938 the Mammoth team, northeast of Tucson, was looking for a baseball player and offered 18-year-old Sammy a job as a mucker (loading ore cars with chunks of rock) in the St. Anthony’s mine. As Sammy puts it, “An’ the only reason they gave me a job, I wasn’t worth a damn, I didn’t know nothin’ about workin’ but I played ball. I was too young.” He continued playing baseball for a semi-professional Mammoth team in 1939 and 1940.

Attracted by bigger paychecks, Rosthenhausler spent the next six years as a paratrooper in World War II. Asked what he did in the airborne, Sammy responded, “Jumped out of airplanes; jumped behind enemy lines, an’ stuff. Lucky we never did any of that overseas. An’ I was the leading scout for my outfit.”

Sammy learned a lot about discrimination in the army, “There was kids that was white from the Ozarks an’ they didn’t know how to read or write and I taught ‘em a lot about general orders an’ stuff like that an’ I tol people about that an’ they said, ‘Aw you … the only people that don’t know how to read or write are these Mexicans.’ All right I said. These Mexicans don’t know either but there was a lot of whites that didn’t. Ignorantes when they say something like that. … We are a product of our environment. If we are raised with parents who discriminate or hate or whatever than that’s the way we grow up ... But it’s no good to grow up like that. … I studied a lot of people an’ watch ‘em, you know, some of them were very nice but once they started drinking, they were no damn good.”

After Sammy got out of the service, he worked in mines in Superior and Bagdad, near Prescott. Then he came back to work for Eagle-Picher at San Xavier for six years. Sammy’s final work assignment was with the Tucson’s Water Department for 20 years, all the while playing baseball or softball.

In 1992 (at age 72) his team went to the Seniors Softball World Series in West Palm Beach, Florida. It was a single elimination tournament, where Sam and his team played sixteen games in seven days and won the Series. Sam, who played shortstop, was named “Most Valuable Player” and was presented with a commemorative ring.

A few years later his team won an international softball tournament, beating a Japanese team in Nevada. Sammy made the All World team but subsequently suffered a massive heart attack from which he recovered, but which prohibited him from traveling with the team. But he says now, “That’s all right. I’m happy that made All Worlds.”

Today at age 85 Sammy lives in Tucson with his wife Cleo. And believe it or not, he’s still playing softball, although his heart condition limits his running the bases.

Sammy Rosthenhausler at 1993 Reunion of former Ruby residents. (Photo courtesy of Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon)

(Sources: Interviews of Sammy Rosthenhausler by Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon conducted in March 2002 and January 2006)

Next time: Angela Coronado DeNault’s memories of Ruby

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