Etta and C.B. Ruggles

by Mary Kasulaitis

On the west side of town going towards Sasabe, a dirt road takes off to the north.  “The Old Ruggles Road,” the sign says.  It’s named for C.B. and Etta Ruggles, who spent their retirement years enlivening Arivaca with activity and stories.

Some people still remember C.B. and his bout with something like Alzheimers.  He was in decline for several years and was kept going through the sheer force of Etta’s will and caretaking ability.  However, up to that time he had had a very interesting life, albeit not now politically correct. May I point out that in those days trapping and hunting were perfectly acceptable occupations. 

C.B. and Etta moved to Arivaca in the late 30s and took up residence on some mining claims a few miles north of town.  Bob Marshall described their place as he first saw it in 1956:  “The camp was small, located in a draw.  There were two good wells on the property, which consisted of about twenty mining claims.  Besides the mail house, there were three small guest cabins.  The yard was a hodge-podge of Indian artifacts, mineral specimens, deer racks, javelina skull, and other souvenirs of the surrounding country.  Several varieties of prickly-pear cactus grew about the yard.  A huge bear trap, one of a kind in use a century ago to trap the big grizzly of the Rockies, hung from an iron pole in one corner of the yard.  A number of Gambel’s quail were feeding about the place.

The Ruggleses asked me in and showed me about the little house.  It was a veritable museum inside, as the yard was outside.  More mineral specimens, hunting trophies, guns and tanned hides were everywhere.  I took a seat while the Ruggleses showed me their scrapbooks.

They had spent three years together trapping in Alaska.  (They met in Anchorage)  They had written two articles on their adventures in the north for The Saturday Evening Post.  There were also pictures Ruggles had taken of Indians in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico.  He was, I found, mentioned several times in the Report of the Game and Fish Warden for New Mexico, 1912, and was pictured with bear and mountain lions he had killed. He had once been an intimate friend of J. Frank Dobie (read Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver  for a story about C.B.).  The two of them had once traveled together in the Sierra Madre.  He had not done any lion hunting for a number of years.  They had been living in this place about sixteen years on their Social Security.

Little by little, as we looked through the old scrapbooks and talked, C.B. Ruggles’ colorful life took shape.  Now eighty years old (in 1956), he had certainly lived adventurously. His very start in life was unusual.  He was named C.B. having been born on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy train while the train was some hours out of Quincy…

The son of a physician turned Indian agent and rancher, Ruggles had been reared on an Oregon ranch among Modoc Indians.  In his earlier days, he had punched cows, mustanged, trapped for fur, and spent considerable time guiding hunting parties in the Rockies and Old Mexico.  In the early 1900s Ruggles was chief guide for the Cliff Cities Pack Outfitters, a concern specializing in pack trips into the Four Corners country.  For many years his headquarters was in Taos, New Mexico. Yes, he did have another family before Etta.

From professional hunting Ruggles turned to prospecting and mining, searching for the Lost Tayopa Mine in Mexico.  Possessed of considerable medical knowledge picked up from his father,  Ruggles was often in a position to administer medical aid to natives in the back country of Mexico.  His status as El doctor saved his life many times.”* When C.B. started to slow down they came to Arivaca to retire and do a little prospecting. And a little story telling.

C.B. was a great storyteller.  Robert Marshall reprinted his tale of the shooting of an onza in his book on those elusive big cats.  He was also a great one for lost mine stories.  He’d sit outside the store and entertain anyone who came by.

Etta was just as adventurous as C.B. in her own way.  Born in Sweden in 1897, she came to the U.S. when she was 17 years old with a group of Mormons and settled with them in Salt Lake City.  Somehow she ended up in Alaska, where she was known to trap, hunt and drive a dog sled with the best of them.  When she came to Arivaca with C.B. she helped build their cabins.  Some would say that she probably built them all by herself.  It was her “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” For years she was the den mother of Arivaca.  She had no children of her own, but all the kids in town had wooden toys or doll furniture that she had made.  She started a 4-H club and taught crafts in Emma Mae Townsend’s class at Arivaca school.  Every year she made sure all the children had something to take to the Pima County Fair.   These kids also remember her little wire haired fox terriers, and especially her herd of goats and the experience of having to drink goat milk whenever you made a trip to her house.  Etta organized activities and took care of everyone in town.  One of the most exciting things she did was to get Santa Claus to make a trip to Arivaca!  Besides that, she frequently worked at Hack’s store or for Stockwell’s Honey Company. Etta was nothing if not hard working, and always with enthusiasm and a big smile. 

When C.B.’s health declined, they moved to Tucson.  He died in 1962 and on his headstone in Evergreen Cemetery is a miner and burro that he drew himself.  Etta moved to Prescott.  She passed away in 1969 and is buried next to C.B. in Tucson.    I would hate for people to forget the folks behind the name on the road sign.  Its easy for me to remember Etta:  she’s in one of our old home movies, taken on my first birthday.  And of course, she brought the cake.

*The Onza, by Robert E. Marshall, New York : Exposition Press, c1961. (Bob was Barbara Stockwell’s father) Thanks to Haclene Townsend Culling and Alice Allen for their remembrances of Etta.

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