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Murder at Ruby

Santa Cruz County Posse and prisoners Manuel Martinez and Placido Silvas (with the curly hair) handcuffed together in back row.

In the 1870s, Jack Smith discovered rich ore reserves of silver, gold, lead, zinc and copper at the Montana Mine located in Ruby, Ariz. The Ruby town site is located in southern Arizona, roughly halfway between Tubac and Sasabe. Julius Andrews operated the general store near the mine for 18 years and became the area’s first postmaster. He named the post office in honor of his wife, Lillie B. Ruby.

Frank Pearson bought the store in 1920. Frank and his wife Myrtle were in their early 30s and their daughter Margaret was almost 3 years old. Frank suffered from tuberculosis and moved the family from Texas to New Mexico, to Bisbee and finally to Ruby. Myrtle helped in the store and taught school in the one-room Ruby schoolhouse.

On Aug. 27, 1921, seven Mexican bandits burst into the store and shot and killed Frank and Myrtle and wounded Frank’s sister Irene, who had come from Texas for a visit. Also visiting was Elizabeth Purcell, Myrtle’s sister from Texas. Elizabeth, Irene and young Margaret escaped to the hills. Hours later they returned to store and got help.

Sheriff George White and Deputy Sheriff Oliver Parmer arrived on the scene. Canned goods and furniture were strewn all over the place. The robbers had opened the safe with a hatchet and taken all the money along with groceries and tobacco. Frank was lying in a pool of blood.

Myrtle’s skull was fractured and Margaret later testified that the bandits had knocked out her teeth for the gold with a rifle butt.

White and Parmer could do nothing but clean up the bodies and take care of Margaret, who was 4 at the time.

Three neighbor women identified two of the murderers as Placido Silvas and Manuel Martinez, who were last seen riding toward Mexico. Sheriff White organized a massive manhunt and Mexican authorities were notified. In September, Silvas was captured in Nogales for disturbing the peace. Frank’s sister Irene returned from Texas to testify that he was the first to shoot at her brother. On Dec. 24, Martinez was captured in Saric, Sonora, Mexico, and extradited to the United States where he was tried and received the death penalty. He identified Silvas as a murderer. Judge O’Connor then declared a mistrial in the case of Silvas. During the second Silvas trial one juror refused to bring in a verdict of guilty and another mistrial was declared. During the second trial, Elizabeth Purcell testified that Silvas had remained outside the store during the murders. Silvas was found guilty but received a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of Frank Pearson.

On July 13, 1922, Sheriff White and Deputy Leonard Smith put Martinez and Silvas, handcuffed to each other, in the back seat of White’s car and set out for the state prison at Florence. Near Sahuarita, White’s car went out of control and overturned in a ditch. He was killed in the accident and Smith was so badly injured that he died about a month later. Before his death, Smith testified that Martinez and Silvas had done nothing to cause the accident and that White, who was driving a high speed, had lost control of the car.

The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors appointed Harry Saxon to serve out White’s term. Another manhunt combed the southern Arizona desert.

Within a week, Saxon caught a glimpse of Silvas and Martinez in the mountains near the accident. Saxon’s posse captured Martinez and Silvas who offered no resistance. About 1,000 curious onlookers stared as Saxon and Quince Leatherman put the prisoners in jail. On July 20, Sheriff Saxon with two deputies delivered the prisoners to the Florence State Prison. After several appeals were denied, Martinez was hanged on Aug. 10, 1923.

By 1928, Silvas had earned special privileges as an outside trusty. On Dec. 3 he escaped. His family, who had moved to Florence to be near him, also disappeared that day. Silvas was never recaptured.

— Jane Eppinga. Sources: Interview Margaret Pearson Anderson, Nogales Herald, Ruby Arizona: Mining, Mayhem, and Murder by Bob and Al Ring and Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoun. Photo Courtesy Pimería Alta Historical Society.

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