Column No. 75

My Horseback Adventure to Nogales

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

This column continues the life story of Ines Fraser, widow of Jack Fraser, who along with his brother Al, was brutally murdered by Mexican bandits in the February 1920 robbery of the general store at the Ruby mining camp. We are telling the story in Ines’ own words, in a long letter written in 1968 to her grandson Bruce and her granddaughter-in-law Claudia. At this point Jack and Ines are living at their Los Alamos mining camp, near the border with Mexico:

My new friend, the young teacher, Miss Rieke loved Arizona’s “out-of-the-way” schools, and she had the loan of a horse from a young American rancher, Arthur Noon. She soon found her way to Los Alamos and came quite often on a Saturday or Sunday. Miss Rieke roomed and boarded at Yank’s “Casa Grande.” Yes, she had an adventurous disposition, and had already lived in rough, isolated, border camps, one of which had only an immigration officer and a “line-rider” - Texas Ranger type - and their families, who were the only people in the school, as I recall. She was about 22 at the time I knew her.

One special “episode” stands out clearly in my memory - a trip on horseback to Nogales. Miss Rieke, Phoebe Bartlett and I went that 39 miles alone! We were 13 hours in the saddle with only one “rest period!” Miss Rieke and I had divided skirts, but Phoebe, of course, rode in full skirts, side saddle!

It was adventuresome for three “girls” to go that distance with no male escort, but the border was then not in any turmoil, and there were very few people likely to cross our path. Also, all the mining was at a stand-still except right in the Oro Blanco district, and not lively anywhere except at Los Alamos. Our men-folks simply could not go with us. And Miss Rieke just had to take some examinations as her teaching certificate was to expire in a few days.

Well, the trail from our starting point had been a good road for ten miles or more when times were booming. It was still pretty good, even further, as it led to Bear Valley and the Bartlett ranch, which Old Yank had given up almost 20 years before, after Apaches had raided it on one of the last raids of the Indian wars. Phoebe told us about this as we rode along. A friend and neighbor of Bartlett’s, John Shanahan, with his ten-year old son Phil, had just stopped to visit. The Apaches attacked the ranch and grievously wounded Shanahan right away. Yank sent Shanahan’s young son Phil home on foot to warn his mother and sister and sent his own nine-year old son Johnny on a run for help to the village of Oro Blanco. Yank, in spite of a shoulder wound, tended John Shanahan and continued to fight off the Indians. Phil Shanahan reached home in time to warn his Mother and sister, who fled to the mountains, leaving all of their clothes and possessions in the house. The Apache raiders then attacked the house and destroyed everything. Meanwhile, Johnny Bartlett successfully reached Dr. Adolphus Noon’s house in Oro Blanco village. An armed party returned to Bear Valley where they found the Indians gone and John Shanahan dead. Luckily, then fifty-seven year old Bartlett survived his shoulder wound and continued to live and work in the district. Phoebe was born a few years after the Apache raid on Yank’s ranch.

Beyond the Bartlett ranch, we loosened saddles, ate our sandwiches, and rested. Then we climbed to a semi-roadway across the Pajaritos Mountains, leaving the Oro Blanco valley and entering the Santa Cruz, descending to fairly level country, where we finally saw a few wood-cutters, loading burros with mesquite firewood lengths. None were near the road, and none paid any attention to us.

We traded horses for a little while, but Phoebe and I were timid about Miss Rieke’s horse, as we were not expert riders, so we very soon took back our own mounts. I think I told you that Arthur Noon, who was still ranching in and near Oro Blanco, had lent the horse to the school teacher for the length of time she was in the district. The horse had been wild and tricky, but was finally recovering from having been declared an outlaw, and Miss Rieke had no fears and no troubles with him.

We entered the town of Nogales at dusk and left Phoebe to visit her old friends, Dr. and Mrs. Noon and their daughter Sara, and other Noon families. Miss Rieke and I rode to the hotel and turned our horses over to be fed and cared for. We had our belongings taken to a room, changed clothes to town habiliments, had a good dinner, met pleasant people, and, tired or not, stayed up rather late - even played a game of cards with two mining engineers, one of whom knew the Fraser brothers.

Another teacher from “out back,” as I believe Australians call the sparsely populated lands, came next day, and spent the time when tests were over each day, with us. I spent my mornings in Mexican Nogales, shopping and sight seeing, and went to the Noon’s at other times.

The school business took two days, and we thought we’d start right out for home, but Dr. Noon put his foot down on that. He said it was bad enough for three girls to enter a border town alone, but leave alone? No! We were to stay till he found some reliable person or persons going to or toward Oro Blanco to take care of us. In the meantime the women folks of the Noon family gave dinners and tea parties for us.

I was very impressed with Dr. Adolphus Noon, but I didn’t appreciate at the time that he was such a prominent pioneer of the Arizona Territory and had been called the Father of Oro Blanco by the Nogales newspaper. Born in London England in 1838, Noon came to America in 1864 to work as a railroad doctor in Nebraska and Wyoming. Attracted by mining and ranching possibilities, he came to Oro Blanco in 1879. He continued as a doctor, and for many years was the only doctor between Tucson and Hermosillo, Sonora Mexico. With his sons Alonzo and Arthur, Dr. Noon had interests in several mines in the Oro Blanco district. In the early 1880s Noon also started ranching near his mining interests, but in 1896, after a period of prolonged drought and many mine closings, he moved southeast to Nogales. A few years before I met him, in 1900 Dr. Noon became the first representative from Santa Cruz County (partitioned from Pima County in 1899) to the Arizona Territorial Legislature.

It took only two days for Dr. Noon to learn that Judge McClanahan and his wife were leaving Nogales soon for their home near the Montana mine – six or seven miles from Oro Blanco, and would cut their Nogales stay short, so as to start the next day! A Mexican who worked for the Judge would go too - and he knew dozens of cutoffs, so the journey would not take nearly as long.

This proved true and we reached the Bartlett “Casa Grande” in Oro Blanco long before dark. Phoebe had the most to tell, of course, as the Noon’s and the Bartlett's were friends from the boom days of the district and had made lots of money together.

That’s the end of this episode except my getting back to Los Alamos. When I went out to get Alazan, he just jumped over the pasture fence and “took off” for the hills between him and home. In a few hours, here came Jack, leading him! He had ridden him partway - bareback, but really preferred walking and leading!

Sadly, Bruce and Claudia, a few months after this trip in May 1905, Yank Bartlett, who had escaped death from Apaches in 1886, died in a tragic accident at age 77. Throughout his years in Oro Blanco, Yank continued working as a teamster, even as an older man, carrying supplies between mining sites. On his last planned trip and against his family’s wishes, he drove a heavily laden wagon over the Warsaw grade on the way to the Old Glory mine. The wagon hit a big boulder, causing Yank to fall under the wagon, crushing him. Jack, Al, and I joined scores of other friends in trying to console Yank’s family, but it was a difficult time.

Los Alamos country was saddled mesas with scant vegetation. Narrow gorges, filled with mesquite and cottonwood trees, and sometime creeks swollen from recent rains, wound through the area. (Courtesy Connie Fraser Kiely, circa 1910)

(Sources: Fraser family records, courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely)
Next Time: Mining and Friendships

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