/ Modified sep 25, 2019 1:39 p.m.

Archive Tucson: Life in a 1930s mining camp

Today, Ruby is a ghost town, but Tallia Cahoon remembers community, pastimes and the occasional knife fight.

Tallia Cahoon grew up in the lead and zinc mining town of Ruby, Arizona, during the Great Depression. Though Ruby is a ghost town today, Tallia makes it come to life with this sketch of the people, pastimes and knife fights of one of Arizona’s last company towns.


AENGUS ANDERSON, HOST: Tallia Cahoon's father was the chief mining engineer in Ruby, Arizona--today, a ghost town, 90 minutes southwest of Tucson.

TALLIA CAHOON: The peak of the population when we lived there was 1,200. Most of the people who lived there were Mexican people who had gone to Ruby because there was work. And they lived in adobe homes, or lumber homes, or tents. Ruby was a warm, friendly, connected village. Everybody looked out for everybody else--not to the point of being nosy, but: is your family OK? I know that one of your children was sick, or whatever the situation might have been.

Many of the people were pretty poor people. When the Depression came, the mining didn't stop. It was at a very slow pace. And between '34 and '38/'39 it was a bustling mining camp.

And thinking back, I think the managerial level of some of the people who lived there may have thought of themselves as being... “better than.” That had never entered my mind. My mother was totally bilingual.

And so class discrimination didn't float around our conversations at home. These kids were all people. And they would come to my house to play. And I would go to their house to play.

People who live in an isolated community like that make their own recreation. Many of the children would have breakfast and go, and be home at night by supper time. We couldn't do that. I couldn't just wander around the hills of Ruby. On weekends, we would be out in the mountains someplace in the summertime on a picnic, gathering bellotas, wading in the streams if it had been raining. The other thing, too, was baseball games. The men who worked at the mine and the mill played games on Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon on the tailings.

Alcohol-- hard liquor-- could not be sold in the confines of Ruby. So actually, it was the general manager of Ruby who brought in an old army barracks on the outside of Ruby, which became the pool hall. There were dances. And there would be a lot of probably too-heavy drinking. And so somebody would get mad at somebody else, and they'd haul out a knife and slash them. And then they'd go to Dr. Woodard, and he would sew them up. And that would be it.

When the ore began to give out in 1938, I will never forget it. I was 9 years old. My mother-- there weren't tears running down her cheeks, but I knew how she felt. She really loved Ruby and the people. It was a sad, sad day. It really was a sad day.

ANDERSON: To hear the rest of Tallia's story and other oral histories from the University of Arizona libraries, visit archivetucson.com.

This story is part of Archive Tucson, an oral history project produced by Aengus Anderson through the University of Arizona Libraries' Special Collections.

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