Column No. 62

Angela Coronado DeNault’s memories of Ruby

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Angela Coronado DeNault was seven years old when she arrived in Ruby in 1934. It was during the Great Depression and there were no jobs in Patagonia where her family had been. Angie’s father had made a living growing vegetables but when the Eagle-Picher Lead Company reopened the Montana mine after the Depression-era shutdown, he moved the family to Ruby where he got a job working in the mine.

Angie’s large family (Angie was the 9th of 11 children) lived in two of the more than 100 large tents that Eagle-Picher provided for the burgeoning work force. Angie remembered, “We had no electricity. We used oil lamps. … we had wood stoves and no running water, no inside plumbing, so we had the outside faucets and … the outhouse … we always had a pot that my mother used to bring for us kids during the night and we had to empty it every day.” She also remembered, “We all ate together. My mother had two tables for us. And she made so much … as soon as my dad came home from work, supper was ready and we ate.” DeNault recalled her mother using wood for a fire for washing clothes, “She used to wash outside. She used to get tubs on the fire and she used to boil all her white clothes and then rinse ‘em and wash ‘em with a washboard and hang ‘em up. But her clothes were white – not like these washers now that they come out dingy.”

Angie told how, “The fun days were the school days. That to me was the best times because we met all the children from all over the camps.” Angela started in the first grade, a year ahead of co-columnist Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon.

Angie offered a unique perspective of a Mexican student forced to speak English at the Ruby school, “It was definitely basic learning, reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and I mean they really drilled it into you. You knew the multiplication tables without any question. And of course, I had to learn English, either that or get beat every day. When you walk into a schoolroom cold turkey and know absolutely hardly anything in English because Spanish was the language spoken at home. … Like for instance, they would not only put you in the corner, but they would take a ruler and hit you so many times in the palm of your hand, or, they would take a yardstick and hit your back. Those teachers were mean, let me tell you. They were strict but they were mean and they were good teachers but they were mean. They meant business! So I was punished a few times.”

DeNault’s father “was very much for education; he really wanted us to go to school to learn. … he was very proud of me … I was the only one [in the family] who graduated from high school.”

Angie’s older sister Trini was one of two girls who worked at Case’s, Ruby’s confectionary or ice cream parlor. DeNault recalled, “They were the ones that made the root beer floats and the ice cream shakes and they weighed the candy and the candy bars and the bubble gum. Everything went on at Case’s. They had little tables … where you would go and sit and have an ice cream cone or a root beer float. … everybody congregated at Case’s or right outside.”

“Case’s had little cards that you used to punch out and win a prize and then you had to pay the amount that was behind that little tab, like a quarter or a nickel or nineteen cents or whatever but you got a prize with every nickel that you spent. The cards might have been for $5, $10 at the most, but you got toys, you got candy, you got jewelry. The girls used to get the whole thing sometimes from their boyfriends.”

There were many forms of entertainment and recreation in Ruby in the 1930s. Angie loved the movies, “All of us, a lot of friends and family, used to walk together down the road to the hall [Ruby’s all purpose meeting building called the Country Club]. And I remember distinctly watching Hop-a-long Cassidy, Gene Autry, The Prince and the Pauper … Zorro and Fred McMurray … just a lot of good movies back then.”

“They didn’t have anything to eat there at the movie house. If you had anything, you brought it yourself like fruit, candy, or whatever. And if you wanted popcorn, you had to make it yourself to bring it.”

Commenting on how the seats were arranged, DeNault went on, “They were just regular folding chairs one row after another … It was all even. If you sat in the front, you saw everything good. If you sat in the back, you might have missed something.”

“The Country Club was a favored place for dating in the mining camp. Angie remembered how her family handled things, “Dating was very much regulated. OK? Most of the time one of the sisters or brothers had to go with them. … They were allowed to go the movies by themselves because all of us went but we didn’t sit with them. But there were restrictions as to what time they were to come home.”

Angela’s dad was sometimes hired as a cowboy to put on a big barbeque at one of the ranches in nearby Arivaca, “We used to pile up in the little truck my dad had. All of us used to go.” And of course there were picnics. Picnics were a favorite special activity for DeNault’s large family, “Between Arivaca and Ruby there was a real beautiful area with lots of trees. … we used to go to picnic right in that area. Sometimes we used to picnic by the lake (springs) in Arivaca and they had a lot of greenery there too. And then of course, the older girls used to picnic right there in Ruby in different areas.”

Children’s games played at school during recess continued away from the playground. Angie remembered that they played quite a few different games, “We played Hopscotch, we played Jacks, we played with balls, we played a lot of ball games like dodge ball, corner ball, we played marbles, we learned to spin tops, hide-and-seek and then we use to have a game the we called ‘run sheep run’ and it was two separate teams from different families that would just roam those hills and guide the team where to go if they were getting warm to find us. It was similar to hide-and seek but it was in teams. So we had a good time there.”

Angela recalled one of the bad times in Ruby. On April 11, 1937 three boys, Danario O. Reyes, Manuel V. Gonzales, and Ramňn Otero, two of them 13 years old, the other only 12, drowned in Eagle Lake, just east of Ruby, when the boat they were in struck a stump and overturned. Bystanders rescued a fourth youngster, Elizardo “Eddie” Miranda. Angie remembered, “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.

There weren’t any churches in Ruby but Angela remembered a priest [from Nogales] coming to the school the night before giving a Mass to hear confessions. [He] visited different Mexican families, baptized babies while he was there, even married people … 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. … The only thing maybe I talked back to my mom or hit one of the kids at school or had a little spat with one of them or fought with my brothers or sisters. … There wasn’t much trouble we could get into there. We were very closely watched.”

Angie’s family left Ruby in 1940 when the Montana mine closed down. Except for a few months in Twin Buttes in 1940, Angie has spent the last 65 years in Tucson. In 1948 she married Alfred DeNault, who had a long career with the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. Now Angie has five grown children and sixteen great grandchildren. For years Angie was active in VFW Ladies Auxiliary and Saint John’s Catholic Church activities. Today nearing age 79, Angie lives comfortably with her husband in Tucson.

Looking back on her life in Ruby, Angie recalled, “Everybody was like a close-knit family; everybody looked out for the other guy. … That is why we continued friendship with a lot of these people … I still see some of the people from Ruby and they mean a lot to us.”

Angela Coronado DeNault remembers Ruby fondly. (Photo courtesy of Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon, 2006)

(Sources: Interviews of Angela Coronado DeNault by Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon conducted in fall 2002 and January 2006)

Next Time: Joe Ortiz’ 21 years in Ruby

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