A Ruth by any other name
December 22, 2004
It’s probably fortunate that the daughter of eastern Nevada mine owner D.C. McDonald wasn’t named Eunice or Myrtle or Gertrude. No, she was named Ruth, and the people in the town he named for her can forever thank him for that.
In 1903, the company town of Ruth began to form on the edge of large, successful copper mining operations in White Pine County, including the one owned by McDonald.
A year later, the Nevada Consolidated Copper Co., which began acquiring local claims, erected a mill in the community. Soon, Ruth had a post office, a hospital and several boardinghouses – but no saloons, because the mining company banned liquor.
While Ruth’s mines were originally conventional underground tunnels, they were expanded to more cost-effective open-pit operations after 1907, when steam shovels were introduced to strip away more of the ground.
By 1912, when the town’s most famous native daughter was born, Thelma Catherine Patricia Ryan (former First Lady “Pat” Nixon), Ruth boasted one of the state’s largest open-pit mines.
Around the same time, the Nevada Northern Railway was constructed, which connected Ruth’s mines to Ely, a massive copper smelter at McGill and other points north.
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In the late 1920s, the town had grown to more than 2,200 residents and included a fairly large commercial area. Interestingly, as the open mining pits grew larger, residents who lived on the surrounding hills and flats were forced to move periodically.
Ghost town historian Shawn Hall notes that by the late 1920s, Ruth’s copper mines were under the control of two large corporations, Consolidated Coppermines and the Kennecott Copper Corp. (formerly Nevada Consolidated Copper). In the late 1950s, Kennecott gained control of virtually all the area’s mines.
The company immediately began an aggressive expansion of the largest mine in the region, the Liberty Pit, which necessitated moving Ruth to its present location.
As a result, old Ruth was swallowed up and is now part of an open-pit mine. At the time, a handful of the old structures were moved to the new townsite but most of Ruth was bulldozed (including, it is believed, the actual site of the cabin or house where Pat Nixon was born).
The Liberty Pit continued to be productive until the mid-1960s, when it was abandoned, and work began on a new hole a year later. Ruth remained a good copper producer for Kennecott into the early 1980s, when the company shut down operations, including the Nevada Northern Railway, due to falling copper prices.
Since then, Ruth has declined as most of its population moved away and the mines stayed silent. In recent years, other mining companies have been doing exploratory work in the area and have occasionally reworked some of the mines.
Driving into Ruth today, you won’t find anything of the original town, and the newer version is gradually fading away.
The old Nevada Northern Railway, which has been resurrected as a tourist railroad, still makes a few trips to the town’s mines, but these days its cars are filled with onlookers and not ore.
About a mile out of town, a paved road leads to an overlook above the Silver King open-pit mine. You can peer deep into the giant hole and marvel as how much dirt was removed in order to create this manmade Grand Canyon.
Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada” which are available at local bookstores.
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