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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

An Old Padre's Grave

Sprawled in the shade of ageless mesquites in the southwestern reaches of Bear Valley; where scores of rolling hills rich in ore overlook dry washes once flecked with gold, lies the second best-preserved ghost town in Arizona. As with most mining camps, Montana Peak had its share of senseless tragedies. Ironically, no ghosts were left behind but a curse remains. 

Lawlessness and skirmishes are a well-documented component to early Arizona Mining camps and while logic remains in question with regard to law enforcement, there are arguably strong reasons for skirmishes involving territorial rights. But considering that the remote location of the camp afforded very few altercations with Native Americans and the close proximity to Mexico (four miles) was of little concern, lawlessness was widely described as sporadic. 

Certainly only the Mexicans put any stock in the notion of a curse being placed on the general store for being built over an “old padre’s grave”, however the shocking motives behind three double-homicides in the course of eighteen months would put ice in the hearts of a once bustling mining town.

It began in 1912 when Julius Andrews established the first Post Office inside his general store and changed the name of the camp to Ruby, after his wife. By 1920, brothers John and Alex Frazier had taken over the general store, but just a few short weeks into the New Year they were both found dead in the store. Alex had been shot in the back; presumably as soon as the click of safe lock was heard, John was shot through the eye. There were no witnesses and at first no clues until one determined investigator discovered apple cores and cigarette butts on a hill overlooking the general store. There the trail went cold.

By mid-summer of 1921 a relentless draught was taking its toll and even cattle were dropping like flies. But this combined with the unsolved murders at the general store was not enough to dissuade Frank Pearson and his wife, Myrtle from buying the place. They adored the area; taking daily horseback rides to explore all they could. It is speculated that the couple may actually have seen the arrival of the seven Mexican vaqueros; two of whom would murder them when they returned to the store to welcome the incoming visitors. 

In an all too familiar scene, Frank was found shot in the back as he opened the safe, it was determined that Myrtle was still alive when her five gold teeth were bashed out, but a bullet in her forehead actually killed her. Their four year-old daughter, Margaret was found safely hiding with two teenaged aunts. (Margaret later became a school teacher in Tucson!)

This instigated one of the largest manhunts in Arizona history and included the first time an airplane was ever used in the course of a manhunt.  Yet once again, the trail went cold.

Until, acting on an anonymous tip, the determined investigator (remember him?) saddled up to a bar in Sonora just in time to overhear a Mexican vaquero negotiating the sale of five gold teeth to the bartender. 

A second suspect was quickly rounded up in Arizona (astonishingly, near Ruby), along with cigarette butts that substantiated the investigators claims and folks began to rest a little easier; justice would soon be served.

Or would it?

In the waning hours of July 13, 1922 as the two convicted murderers were being transported (shackled together) in the backseat of the sheriff’s car to meet their fate, another tragedy occurred when the car was found belly-up in a ditch by the side of the road to Tucson.  Both the Sheriff and deputy had been ejected from the car, though their fatal head injuries had occurred prior to the crash. The murderers had escaped.

Are you starting to believe in curses yet? Me, I’m just cursing—son of a bug! 


A rather less enthusiastic manhunt ensued as officials and area residents alike still reeled in shock and disbelief and six days later, after a hunter’s dog ran across a detached human foot, both killers were found near death from starvation and dehydration beneath the marginal shade of a stunted oak at the base of the Tumacacori Mountains.

Can’t say as it would matter if there were any ghosts in Ruby, since other than a great little cafĂ© called “Sweat Peas”in nearby Arivaca, it’s been all but deserted since 1941.  Tours are conducted by appointment but it’s still a great day trip. High profile vehicle recommended and (always) beware of illegal crossers and drug and human trafficking.

Until again, Happy Trails!
Ruby schoolhouse and slide


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, and not difficult to understand how a community could crumble beneath the weight of such horrendous events. Thanks for poppin' in, Barbara! :-)

  2. I second Barbara's comment.

    I've always wanted to visit a ghost town. :)

    1. Honestly, there are so many here in Arizona you couldn't help but stumble over one on an ordinary day trip! I often wonder if it has something to do with how much we value traditions in the timeless wild west.

  3. Replies
    1. Very true and the story of the Ruby Murders is what sets the town apart from other ghost towns that only have measly old ghosts and well-meaning spirits! ;-)

  4. Goodness! I read some true crime books in college (I couldn't sleep after In Cold Blood even though there were no ghosts). Eerie stuff.

  5. Ack! In Cold Blood scared the beetle juice outta me! I am much more disturbed the shifty-eyed neighbor than a mischievous ghost - ha!


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