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Oro Blanco Mining District and Ruby, Arizona Research

1971 Ruby Video

In June of 2007 Drew Villegan got in contact with me, (Al Ring) about some information we have on Ruby and area on our Web-site. He said he could identify some people shown in a newspaper article we mentioned. After corresponding back and forth I found out he had some 8mm film footage while he was living in Ruby from around 1971/1972. He readily agreed to have a WMV made for me and it will be presented here. (See bottom of page) Below are two of the articles we met over. Also I ask Drew to let me know about the people in the film and more about his time there. That also is below.

The people in the film are Drew Villegan, Kim Villegan, Larry a cameraman and Sarge & Yvonne Brown. The movie is dedicated to Terry Vierra.

FROM: Tucson Daily Citizen, December 6, 1971.—-“Impossible Dream” Is Ruby In The Rough—-An iron gate bearing warnings to “Keep Out” and “Beware of Dog” greets the would be entrant to Impossible Dream, Arizona.

The half-dozen vacant buildings and few houses on a hill below Montana Peak are remnants of the past mining glory of the town of Ruby.

You have to know somebody to get past the gate. Preferably, Terry, a 33-year-old wanderer from Reno who says he is the caretaker of the property for Ruby Mining Ltd. It’s owned by a Tucson group.

Impossible Dream, Arizona is the label Terry (no surname) gave his house. It’s a haven for anyone who had decided to take to the road, especially those refugees from the cities who seek a rural existence.

It wasn’t that way when Terry came to Ruby in April, 1969.

“When I first came here, I wanted to build an ocotillo fence around the place and keep it to myself,” he said. “But you can't keep people out, and these are food people who stop in.”

One of them, Alexia a cheerful girl of 22 from Connecticut left home after working for a while in a mental hospital.

“I wasn’t interested in college. It didn’t look real to me. After several jobs, I discovered Arizona a couple of years ago,” she said.

It was too cold up on the Seneca Reservation she lived on last winter in upstate New York.

Terry dropped out of high school after a year. The only course that interested him was agriculture. He has worked on dairy and cattle ranches most of his life.

“I even worked for the forest service once,” he said. “That was long ago, when they were putting out fires and keeping the forest up for people, not hassling them like they do now.”

Terry was referring to the nomadic young people who use his pad for a night or two as well as those who live in the tepees in nearby California Gulch.

“I’d like to see them stay around. I think they're good for the country,” he says. Who?

Well, John, for one, a 31-year-old native of Southern California who says he grew up in a lot of places “including Vietnam.”

The fountain of youth for John is nature. He indulges everywhere – from Alaska to baja. he plans to go to Amsterdam next summer.

“There’s going to be a lot more people migrating,” he predicts, because youth are fed up with urban America. “It started with buses full of large groups of people years ago. Now, they’re traveling in groups of two or four in pickup truck.”

In a way, the young wanderers are like their “establishment” forebears who change jobs and cities every three years when they are transferred to the branch office in Peoria – or out of it.

“We’re a fluid community, too,” said John. “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.”

He dropped out of college when his roommate told him he couldn’t get a job in his field without a master’s degree. He was in mechanical engineering.

Sam, who lives in the tepees, originally is from Oregon. He went to a trade school and has done everything from ranching to disc jockeying in his 24 years.

“That (the disc jockeying) was in Winslow up on the Indian reservation,” he said. “In fact, I was married on the reservation. Finally, my wife left me. Didn’t like my hippie ways, show said. I thought the bottom was going to drop out. That’s why I came down here.”

Terry believes that “We’re going to make it.” He means not only Tom or the rest of the brothers “but the world, mankind. It has to, or there isn’t going to be any.”

None of the migrating, self-styled naturalist spends much time thinking – or worrying – about the distant future.

Sam is looking forward this winter, however, to a visit from his Navajo and Hopi friends.

“They’ve never seen a real Indian tepee. That’ll really be heavy.”

Terry's 'Impossible Dream'

Sharing the welcome mat of Terry, 33-year-old caretaker of Ruby, Ariz., is Alexia, 22.  Nobody uses family names on the road


FROM: Tucson Daily Star, various articles from 1971. Heavily edited.    Away From Where The Action Is, 14 Share A Life

In the western foothills of the Atascosa Mountains, where ash and oak cling desperately to the steep, grassy slopes, 14 people share a life.

It’s hard to find their valley, 70 miles southwest of Tucson. You have to be looking for the place, tucked away between towering ridges, and the final approach to one of their camps is strictly a foot trip.

Most of the people there have traveled together across America, most are young, and all are delighted to be away from the bright lights and mayhem of urban civilization.

Now they want a piece of land, and the land they want is a part of the Coronado National Forest.

In a small, lush valley west of Mule Ridge they have staked a mining claim, a claim they hope to work, and claim the U.S. Forest Service thinks they can’t and shouldn’t.

Talking in the front room of an abandoned cabin, Joey said the Forest Service had insisted the campers move immediately and come back later for their gear.

John, father of the child and husband of Debbie, the mother, bears no grudge against the rangers but says, “What irks me is you are out here in really remote country, doing no harm, and they come and try and move you out.”

Even should the claim prove invalid, they like the area well enough to try and purchase existing patent claims or try again at patenting their own claims.

“If we can get hold of a piece of this land, we’ll do it,” vows John, looking out on the valley.


Nestled on 20 acres in California Gulch only two miles from the Mexican border are five tepees inhabited by 10 adults in their 20s and 30s and their six small children. They call themselves the HIPI Corp., ostensibly engaged in wresting a living from the land by mining.

Last March Forest officials and men from other agencies arrested 20 young persons who had settled about a half-mile from the tepees. All but two were convicted of littering or unlawful camping, put on six months probation and told to clean up the site.

Coronado officials say the area, about 70 miles south of Tucson and 20 miles west of Nogales, has been attracting “hippie-type” for about two years.

It is easy to understand why. Anyone who wants to get away from civilization couldn't find a more accommodating piece of nature. The gulch is inaccessible to anything but trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles.

A few prospectors like Ken Bacon, who has a cabin a few hundred yards away, are the only other residents. Hunting season attracts deer and small game hunters. Otherwise, it is devoid of habitations, says Bacon.

The group also is toying with the idea of buying about 20 acres of private land around a nearby abandoned cabin. But the owner is asking $8,000 more than they have.

A Forest Service sign posted in the gulch says visits are limited to a week because it is an area of “concentrated public recreation use.”

Bacon, “you see anything around here that looks like a garbage can, or fresh water, or toilets?” he asks rhetorically. “If this area is used so much, why don’t they maintain that goat path they call a road? Because nobody uses this place, that’s why.”

He likes the teepee residents, who help tend Bacon's goats and dogs and truck. “I like the group they chased out last winter, too,” he said. “But the Forest Service thinks this land belongs to them, not to the citizen.”



Ruby, Arizona 1971-72: Recollections and Reflections.  By Drew Villegan

In 1971, Ruby was as deserted as her mines were empty of precious ore. The footprint of civilization left behind by miners and fortune seekers alike was steadily disintegrating, returning back to the desert and mountains from which it was born. Crumbling adobe and frame dwellings with rusted and collapsing remnants of dull tin which at one time provided a protective roof overhead for those with enough grit to survive there, in that vast mountainous desert in southern Arizona, barely 5 miles from Old Mexico, as the crow flies. Forgotten memories of riches and wealth and of hitting the motherlode. Memories of thousands of miners living in tents and makeshift camp sites, all over her vast valley, burrowing into the earth in search of her precious treasures. The shells of mountains casting their empty shadows in the evenings fading light. Left standing hollow and empty. Ruby, one of the few places on the North American continent where the night sky still offers the view of a billion billion stars.

I arrived in Ruby in the summer of 1971, but let me digress. I traveled with a couple of friends from Indiana and my girlfriend at the time. She was from Dallas originally, but had somehow found her way to Indiana. She had also been to Tucson and knew some people there. I was 21 years old at the time and was ready for a change. Thus the journey began. Little did I know what changes were in store and how they would influence the rest of my life.

The trip to Tucson was supposed to be a two-week adventure, after which we all would return to Indiana. Suffice to say that some of the people I met in Tucson were well connected to the Grateful Dead…There was Easy Brother, who was likely of Native American descent, boots hat jeans, hair down to his waist and an arm full of underground Dead LP’s fresh off the press. And there was East Coast Jeff an enterprising young entrepreneur with a handful of something else…. And generous too…

After a week or so in Tucson, a decision was made by me to stay in Arizona. I think it was July 4th. My girlfriend would be staying with me. I literally left all my possessions behind in Indiana with nothing save the clothes on my back.

During that week in Tucson, I met someone who had just come back to town from Ruby . I learned that a little ways from Tucson there was a place called the California Gulch. There was an old gold miner living there that needed someone to watch his cabin for a couple weeks while he came into Tucson to exchange his gold diggings for supplies. His name was Ken Bacon. He drove a 1940’s era Willy’s jeep and worked the old claims south of the Gulch for his living. He was constantly at war with the forest service rangers who were constantly trying to run him off his claims. Although I didn’t witness this myself, as the story goes, more than a few shots were fired back and forth in previous years between Ken and some of the rangers. They were finally able to run him off his claim around 1979 or so. He was in his 70’s at that time. The Forrest Service waited until he went into Tucson for supplies and bulldozed his cabin down. I last saw Ken in Port Isabel, TX in 1980, still driving that Willy’s and still prospecting for gold. He has since passed away, but not before returning to Tucson.

I was not prepared for what awaited me when I got to Ken’s cabin. For the sake of perspective, I was raised in the Midwest, in a middle class family, with the usual amenities that middle class living affords. I become disillusioned with society in general in the late 1960’s / early 1970’s, and was involved and committed to the anti-war /anti- racist sentiment prevalent at that time. I was still a middle class kid at heart and took a lot of things for granted like….running water, central heat, air condition, indoor plumbing, TV Stereo music, automotive transportation, the telephone, you get my point. Ken Bacon’s cabin had none of the above, although he did have a propane refrigerator (I marveled at how you could get cold air from fire for quite awhile). My senses were in such a state of shock and relief that during that stay I often imagined the “golden arches of Mac Donald’s just over the next hilltop! We stayed at Ken’s cabin for about 4 weeks, until August. Two other things stand out about the cabin. Scorpions crawling across the ceiling over the bed and the time that Ken got into the gallon of “white lightning” that he brought back from the Tucson supply run. By the third glass of 7 up and “lightning” Ken had forgotten what he was doing and did not add the requisite amount of 7UP to his glass. He tilted the glass back, taking a good slug of pure moonshine and immediately went into a massive fit of coughing /gagging / sputtering and flailing around, until he finally bounced off the wall and into a chair!

As we approached the front gate to Ruby, I was both excited and apprehensive. Here I was about to step back a hundred years in time, the dreams of a young boy, with his 6 gun strapped to his side, cowboy hat and spurs, just like Roy (Rogers) or Gene (Autry) fighting off foe and beast alike flashing through the conscious mind. And yet, it was more than that. Being in the desert for a month or so had begun to have and unwinding effect on my mind. The clouds of confusion, the sensory overload off the city, the constant FEAR of repression and retribution began to subside. And as it did a kind of “peaceful easy feeling” began to engulf me. I began to see more clearly. I shed my old way of life, the only way I had known up until that point in time, like a snake sheds its skin. Like a caterpillar emerging from the cocoon.

Terry Vierra was big in stature. With his piercing silver-blue eyes and his buccaneer like beard, he made an imposing figure, if not a little bit scary upon first meeting him! His heart was as big as he was and then some. He was in his early 30’s at the time and was the caretaker at Ruby, which was owed at that time, as far as I know by a group of lawyers in the Tucson area. Four weeks at Ken’s’ cabin was all we could take and Terry needed someone to watch Ruby while he was in town (Tucson), so it was a natural for my girlfriend and I to move on to Ruby.

For the most part during that year, (1971) there was very few people actual living in Ruby. At one point for about a month, it was just my girlfriend and I at Ruby. But at other times, well….

People began showing up at Ruby from all over the United States. There was Charlie from Nevada and Shifty Eyed Sam (a medical condition made his eyes constantly shift from side to side) also in their 30’s. There was Jenny and also Jeanie Ferris (who later married Terry Vierra had three children, Bear, Hope and Charity) and still lives in Arivaca. There was Hal and Linda from Oregon. Hal was a musician, played a 6 string acoustic guitar. A bunch of us would often sit around the campfire at night singing songs, our favorites being, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” ( ooh wee ride my high, tomorrow’s the day my brides a-gonna come, ooh wee are we gonna fly, down in the easy chair) and our favorite song, one that Hal wrote called “Ruby” (“Down in southern Arizona, there’s a town with no gray sidewalks, never any need for padlocks, no great crowds to bring you down..). The last time I saw Hal was in March 1978 on South Padre Island, TX. I was down from Houston, running the sound (PA) for a 5 day Spring Break Beach concert. Hal showed up, working for the promoter. He had been in Mexico, traveling with the migrant workers!? Prior to that meeting, I had no contact with him for about 6 years!!

There was John and Debbie from somewhere in upstate New York. John was a high school teacher back east. He had bought a piece of property in the California Gulch and moved onto it, building a stone and mining timber house. I last saw Jon in 1979 when I made a trip to the Gulch. He was basically living off the land, raising some of his own food and such. Charlie and Claire (who met at Ruby in) were living in a Teepee set up on the north end of Johns property. I have since found out that John died a few years back. Charlie and Claire were last known to be in Nevada.

During that time a busload (converted school type) of people came down from Oregon. Some of Ken Kesey’s group, the Merry Pranksters were on the bus. I had been at Ruby for a while then, making no trips into town (Tucson). I had become very aware of my surroundings. I could literally hear an automobile approaching Ruby from many miles away. Several hours before the bus arrived, how do I say this, I had a vision… of the school bus full of people arriving at Ruby. As wild as that sounds, that was not the only precognitive episode that I experienced while at Ruby.

There was a fellow from Tucson, named Tom. He would visit Ruby every so often bringing goods from the city. He wasn’t the hippie type at all. Very clean cut and “respectable” as we used to say. I heard recently that he owns a coffee shop in Tucson and is doing well. Then there was Dane and Peggy. They had been living in Tucson, but may have been from Nevada. Dane’s mom worked as a secretary for Howard Huges for a number of years and had written a book about her time there and got it published. I last saw Dane in 1980. I had moved back to Tucson in the fall of 1979 and worked with Dane for a large construction company (Kodecker) that was building apartments in Tucson that winter and spring of 1980. We were carpenters.

The most people that lived at Ruby at one given time was maybe 12. For a while it was Terry and Jeanie in the first (top) house. Hal and Linda in the middle house and Yvonne (my girlfriend) and me in the 3rd house. At some point in time I cleaned up one of the the old horizontal mines. It had an entrance tunnel that was about 2 1/2 feet wide by 4 feet high by 6 feet long. That opened into a chamber that was about 8 feet in diameter and 6 feet high. I put a wooden floor down in it and my girlfriend and I moved into it. We would usually get a nightly visit from a bat! Other than that it was the quietest place I ever slept in!!

There was, however a time, Thanksgiving 1971 to be exact that the population of Ruby rose. And rise it did… to over one hundred people!! Lots of people from Tucson, most unknown to me, while some faces were familiar by that time. But let me digress once again.

At times food was scarce at Ruby. There was a period of a couple of weeks when my girlfriend, myself and Chance (I’ll get to “Chance” in a minute) subsisted on instant mashed potatoes, sans milk, butter, cooking oil or any other ingredient meant to be mixed with instant mashed potato flakes. We did have salt, water, a frying pan and fire…so we ate.

People would show up at Ruby from time to time. Some of them would camp out for a few days sharing what they had brought with them from the city, most often, Tucson. At those times we would share in the food, the “tailor-made” cigarettes, beer, wine, Tequila and “home brew” that the happy campers had brought, I guess, for survival in the wilderness!! For a while we ate organic food and would get supplies from a co-op in Tucson, but for the most part the diet was barely above subsistence level.

Thanksgiving 1971: When all these fine folks showed up Thanksgiving, they showed up with enough food to feed a small army or maybe more accurately tribe, for that, to me is what we had become, or gotten back to. I think around that time there were about a dozen of us staying at Ruby full time and we were hungry… Sam ate 2 dozen ears of corn in about twenty minutes!! I was so impressed with the experience, that a couple years later when I took over my Grandfather’s business, a tavern w/ kitchen, that every Thanksgiving I would put out a spread for all the patrons, on the house.

There was Sarge, a young kid, maybe 18 or 19 years old from I don’t know where. I never once saw this guy get angry or not have a good word to say. I last saw Sarge in 1979. He was living on John’s property in the California Gulch. There was a Little John and a Big John. The last time I saw Big John was in 1974 when I moved back to Tucson for a while. He still owes me a horsehide blanket!!

Free Harry. How do you describe a genuinely compassionate soul? Free Harry lived (and still does) in Tucson. He had been in the military where he received a disabling back injury and was discharged with honors and given a disability pension. It was a small amount of money but Free Harry was always willing to help someone genuinely in need. Truly commendable. He’s still alive, and so am I, so there’s a chance we may meet again!

Speaking of Chance. He was born in Missouri but cut from the dust of the desert. He was like a coiled up snake, always prepared to strike. He wore snakeskin boots, a black Stetson, slightly kicked back on his head and carried a Buck knife on his belt, positioned just above his wallet. He was missing a tooth or two from bar fights and brawls over whiskey, women and deals gone bad. And he had a smile that reached from ear to ear. And He loved to eat onions just like you would eat an apple and I once watched him kill and eat a rattlesnake that holed itself up in the shed behind the top house at Ruby. (I was hungry, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat that snake…tastes like chicken, huh?) Chance ended up getting together with a gal from my hometown (South Bend, IN). How? I don’t know, but by the summer 1980, when he showed up on South Padre Island with Ken and “Pinky” (Jeanie Vierra’s [Ferris] younger brother (now deceased) they were split up. Chance and Pinky stayed about a month and then went back to Tucson. That was the last time I saw Chance or Pinky. One other thing…Chance and I climbed Montana Peak. Right up the face. And I’ll let you in on a little known fact about Montana Peak. When you get up to about 15 or 20 feet from the top there is a channel/ crevice going through the rock from the face up to the top. There are also some nice rocks to sit on while enjoying the view!

There were more that came through Ruby in that brief time. I remember Daniel Boone (pronounced Danl ). He was basically a “street person” (not to be confused with the modern day homeless) from Tucson and would stay at Ruby from time to time. He could have easily fit into the 19th Century, “Old West”. There was Buffalo Bill and his partner (from Buffalo NY) who would show up Ruby from time to time bearing unusual and exotic gifts.

One of the last people I met before leaving Ruby was a fellow named Andy. Andy showed up one fine spring day in early 1972. He was driving a rather beat Dodge Dart. He had run out of gas and money somewhere between Tucson and Ruby and had managed to get hold of some diesel fuel. He was easily heard approaching Ruby, many miles off, what with the backfiring and all. He made to just behind the top house in front of the shed before the Dodge gave up the ghost. It may be parked there still!

An interesting thing happened with Andy. When I left Ruby (back to Indiana) I didn’t see Andy again until I did the spring break show on South Padre Island. He was working for one of the events main sponsors. As a result of that meet up, I ended up moving from Houston to S. Padre Island, TX, where I lived from 1978 to 1989 (except for the stint in Tucson 79-80). Andy died in a head on collision in Port Isabel in 1982. His dog died with him.

One time the DEA showed up, or should I say snuck up. We were all in the top house, I think it must have been Terry & Jeanie, Hal & Linda, my girlfriend and I and maybe another person or two. If you’ve seen the top house, it had (or has) a big screened in front room. Well, it was about 5 or 6 PM, still daylight, and we were all just hanging out at the top house. We may have just finished eating. That's where we cooked all the meals. We had several dogs and one of them went to the screen door and started to softly growl. I walked over to the door and looked out. In a few seconds I saw somebody move behind a bush out about 10 or 15 yards to the left from where I was. I opened the door and said, “Can I help you?”. The reply came back as the man rose from behind the bushes, “ Yeah, you can hold still”. At that I noticed the weapon, a large bore revolver. I also noticed his buddy, who was carrying some type of military rifle, like an M-16. The first guy with the pistol walked up to me, put the pistol to my head, cocked the trigger and said” Don’t move or I’ll blow your head off!” I froze. There was one other member to their group, an extremely well trained, full-blooded German Police dog. They eventually holstered their weapons and ended up hanging out with us for a couple hours at times speaking to each other in some sort of verbal code. Oh and did I mention, they brought their own weed! We were glad to see them go, unlike most visitors we encountered at Ruby.

At some point in time we tried to grow some food down in the pasture. We had one small problem and one big problem trying to grow food there. The small problem was that none of us knew a thing about farming! The big problem however was the herd of cattle that had already staked out that territory!

We got our drinking water from a spring fed well that was located somewhere in the area of the saloon/ general store, up past the jail, I think. The well was actually a good ways uphill! It was good water that didn’t need to be boiled, just hauled!

Down the Gulch from Ruby, there used to be a rock formation that formed a deep pool of water maybe 10 feet across. I believe we called it “Mescalito Pool”. It was great place to hang out on a hot day.

My girlfriend and I once walked from Arivaca to Ruby after hitchhiking a ride to Arivaca earlier in the day to get groceries. On the way we saw a pair of wolves about a half a mile off to the south in the foothills. They were aware of our presence and eventually turned off in another direction. Another time, while driving on the back rode to Nogales we encountered a full-grown mountain lion. The last time I saw Ruby was in the late spring of 1972 at which time my girlfriend and I returned to Indiana.

One more fellow deserves mention, although he never lived at Ruby. He is Jeanie Vierra’s older brother, George Ferris. George gave us shelter in Tucson at his house for a time. He was a very witty guy, generally soft spoken, though. He still lives in Tucson in a place he bought in the 70’s. I last saw him in 1980. One day George asked me to ride along with him on his way to give blood and then afterwards we would go to his church. He being a Buddhist (from Wisconsin) and me not knowing much about Buddhism, I said sure and was interested to see what a Buddhist church looked like. We got down to the blood bank and he did his thing while I waited in the car. After he was through giving blood, as we were leaving he looked at me and smiled and said, “Let’s go to church.” I said OK and we were off. About 20 minutes later we arrived at his church. A topless bar somewhere on Speedway. After several pitchers of beer and much dancing, I finally understood why Buddha is smiling!

Ruby, Arizona 1971—(Video) 

Do you have any related documents, photos, or personal histories that you could share with us? If so, please contact:
Al Ring ringal@comcast.net

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