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
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
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
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
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
“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
Now they want a piece of land, and the land they want is a part of the Coronado
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
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.
LONGHAIRS BACK IN
FOREST AND OFFICIALS UP A TREE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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!
Do you have any related documents, photos, or personal histories that you
could share with us? If so, please contact:
Al Ring email@example.com