George W. Cheyney and Montana Camp

by Mary Kasulaitis

Most of us are familiar with the heyday of Ruby in the 30s, when there were tents all over the hills, four roomfuls of children at the School and the regular shift changes at the mine. Back in the 19th century, Ruby was originally known as Montana Camp. The mine may have been named for the Spanish word for mountain, but probably it was named for the state of Montana. In the Lower Country there were mines named for California, Idaho, Wyoming, Vermont, Utah, Virginia, New York, Indiana and Alaska.

The area around the Montana Mine had shown promise for mining as early as the 1870s, during which time it produced gold and silver ore from near the surface. Eventually it became clear that lead and zinc would be its primary production, with copper on the side. In the early 1890s, George W. Cheyney, along with some other investors, bought the Montana Mine and set out to develop it.

George W. Cheyney, b. 1854, was a native of Philadelphia and the son of a businessman of that city. In the 1870s his father had become interested in mining in Arizona. George himself came to Tombstone in 1881, after some years of puttering around the country, and became superintendent of the Tombstone Mill and Mining Company. He married Annie Neal of Atchison, Kansas, and they had six children: one of whom, Mary Neal, later married Noah C. “Nonie” Bernard of Arivaca. Early in life, George expressed an interest in politics, and was Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona by 1890. Moving his family to Tucson in the early 1890s, George continued his mining interests, expending a considerable amount of energy on the Montana Mine in those years. He was appointed Postmaster of Tucson in 1898 and held that position for four years. In 1902 he was elected Probate Judge in Pima County, but acquired dropsy (edema or fluid retention) and passed away in August 1903 at the early age of 48. He did not live to see his daughter Mary Neal Cheyney Bernard pass away during the 1918 flu epidemic.

George W. Cheyney began his mining interests in the Oro Blanco country while the family still lived in Tombstone and began development of the Montana Mine in 1892. John Bogan (of the Arivaca Ranch) had made a strike there in 1891. Cheyney and his company were responsible for the little boom that ran through those hills in the 1890s. This included some Philadelphia backers. J. Knox Corbett and Louis Zeckendorf (uncle of Albert Steinfeld, long time merchant) of Tucson were also involved in the development of the Montana Mine and Camp. They had mining interests all over the state.

Bogan may have built a small mill for processing gold and silver ore in the early 90s, but Cheyney was responsible for the development of a larger operation. Cheyney determined that they needed more water for the mill. By March of 1894 they had built a dam and were waiting for rain. Before that they would have to siphon water from the creek to the well. In August 1895 they also put in a 20,000 gallon tank for water, since rains were late in coming and they were beginning to be worried.

The road to Nogales had to be improved and by December 1894 there were fifty men at work on the Nogales-Oro Blanco road. It was finished by August of 1895. Roberts and Broderick owned the Oro Blanco Stage Line which ran from Oro Blanco to Nogales, stopping at Montana Camp and Old Glory, three days a week with returns on alternate days.

A store at Montana Camp was being run, not very successfully, by J.B. “Pie” Allen. A.C. Bernard (brother of Noah Bernard) was the next manager, and he fell to the same fate. Cheyney suggested to J.S. Andrews that he purchase it, which he did in 1895. Andrews ran the store for seventeen years and as Postmaster was responsible for renaming the town Ruby.

Cheyney had the mill going by March of 1895. It had five stamps, with immediate plans for five more. On August 24, when they started up the mill, the engine blew up and caused considerable damage. This was repaired in short order, and large shipments of concentrates were soon being sent to the El Paso smelter for processing. Cheyney decided that he would experiment on the tailings, which carried considerable value, and erected a small cyanide plant in early 1896. He planned to double the work force, but apparently he began to have trouble. One of the principal owners from Philadelphia passed away, and with him some of the monetary support. The price of silver was dropping and the Montana Mine had not yet begun to produce in great amounts the lead and zinc for which it would become famous. It appears that Cheyney had to let it go, but not before he had paved the way for future development by improving the road and water sources and in general, putting the Montana Mine on the map. Louis Zeckendorf kept an interest and patented the Montana Mine in 1907.

George W. didn’t live to see the beautiful home his wife Annie had built in Tucson in 1905. For years it had been an eyesore in that pretty part of town known as Snob Hollow, but Gerald and Emma Talen purchased the mission revival style home at 252 N. Main and sunk a lot of money into its restoration. It is now beautiful. Annie Neal Cheyney, who passed away in 1947, would be happy to see its renovation.

References: Chapman’s Biography, numerous articles from the Arizona Daily Star and Nogales Oasis, Fred Noon’s files, Univ. of AZ mining bulletins, biography of J.S. Andrews

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