(And a whole lotta other stuff)
OK, this is going to be a very roundabout trip, and a lot of damned text. Unfortunately I have no pictures, just an overabundance of words. But if you manage to stay with me you just might get a lost mine story out of the deal.
Ruby O. Lee was born May 6, 1887 in Henry, Illinois. The daughter of an ironworker, she was raised in Henry, there meeting her future husband, John Fredrick Rule, a local farmer. They married in June of 1907 and in December of that year Ruby gave birth to her only child, Gwendolyn.
In the early 1920s, the Rule family moved from Illinois to Oklahoma and things began to get interesting. Ruby and John divorced on July 9, 1927 and apparently Ruby made a beeline for California as she was living in Los Angeles by 1930. Interestingly, she didn’t take her daughter with her. Gwendolyn stayed in Oklahoma, eventually obtaining a degree from the University of Oklahoma.
It’s pure speculation on my part, but Ruby struck me as something of a free spirit. Divorce was a big deal back then, and an even bigger deal was leaving behind a daughter. And where does Ruby go when she bolts? She ends up not only in Los Angeles, but in an apartment on Northwestern Avenue which is filled with actors, writers and other members of the entertainment community. Fun times!
So anyway, it’s 1930 and 42 year old Ruby is living in unit 615. The census records list her occupation as “Masseuse”. Just a few doors down in unit 611 happens to be a 51 year old “carpenter” by the name of Charles W. Landford. I used the quotes around the word carpenter as that’s what he was doing at that moment to make ends meet. But through most of his earlier life he had been involved in various aspects of mining, slowly moving from the gold fields of Montana, through Nevada and finally California. Landford had been married at one time (wife’s name Ethyl), but by 1930 had been divorced.
See where this might be going now?
In the early 1930’s, Landford had been doing a lot of prospecting in the easterly parts of what is today Joshua Tree National Park. At that time there were fairly rich gold deposits being pulled out of some areas, such as the Dale Mining District. With a partner by the name of Chester Pinkham, in 1935 Landford filed a number of claims in an area southerly of the already claimed Captain Jenks mine (Then known as the North and South Slope claims). These claims included the Combination #1 and #2, Cross Country, Ridge, Offset, Gateway, Silver Peak, and……the Broken Hill claim.
Then on February 23, 1936, from out of nowhere one Ruby Lee Rule, a farm girl from Illinois, living in Los Angeles, files the Ruby Lee Lode claim adjacent to Pinkham and Landford’s Broken Hill Claim. This was followed just three weeks later on March 14 with the filing of a Mill Site claim called the Ruby Lee Mill Site almost 5 miles to the east, on the other side of the mountains. Thus arises the Ruby Lee Mine and Mill Sites
Now, again, comes more speculation. Did Landford talk Ruby into grubstaking him for his work out there and was the mine a (worthless) way for him to pay her partially back? Was Ruby looking for something different and exciting? Or was it a scheme to hide ownership?
It may well have been some variant of the latter, especially considering the filing of the Mill Site claim. Here’s the BLM’s current definition of a Mill Site claim, which probably isn’t too different from what it was in the 1930s:
A mill site must be located on non-mineral land. Its purpose is to either support a lode or placer mining claim operation or support itself independent of any particular claim. A mill site must include the erection of a mill or reduction works and/or may include other uses reasonably incident to the support of a mining operation. Descriptions of mill sites are by metes and bounds surveys or legal subdivision. The maximum size of a mill site is 5 acres
And 5 acres was precisely what Ruby claimed. What I find intriguing is the claim being located at what is today called the Ruby Lee Well. At that time there was water there. And in a desert, sometimes water is as valuable as gold. Today, however, the water is long gone, a victim of lowering ground water.
Did Landford and Lee have hopes the mines in the vicinity of the Captain Jenks mine would be successful and the mill site would serve the whole area? The provision of water and milling services to area mining operations could prove lucrative as it was the only water for miles around.
If that were the case, Landford and Lee crashed and burned. Aside from some extractions out of the Captain Jenks mine, none of the area claims proved commercially viable (a quirky bit more on that shortly). By the late 1930s almost all mining activity had ceased in that general area, and the start of World War II put an end to everything remaining.
But what of Landford and Lee? They may have not been a match made in Heaven, but they were a match made in the desert. By 1940 they were living together in a duplex on Serrano Street in Los Angeles. The 1940 census sheet diplomatically lists Landford as her “lodger”. Public directories show them continuing to live at that same location at least up through the late 1950s, each with their separate names, presumably unmarried.
However at some time between then and when Ruby died on March 27, 1975 at age 87, she eventually married Landford and became Ruby Lee Landford. Ruby currently resides at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale. Landford outlasted Ruby by three years, dying on January 17, 1978 at the exceptional age of 99.
Wow, that’s a lot of text and you’re tired or reading, aren’t you? But wait, there’s more, and it’s…..quirky (my favorite flavor). Maybe even a lost mine. Enter a new player onto the field, one Aloys Antone Dietemann.
Dietemann, a plumber by trade, but with an interest in mining. Dietemann claims to have acquired both the Ruby Lee Mine and mill site claims in 1948. In the early 1970s the government filed suit against Dietemann, declaring the two claims invalid. The resulting administrative court decision in 1976, ultimately invalidating the claims, turned out to be a rich source of background data on the claims. What follows is a summary, but keep in mind some of it is only testimony and not necessarily the true story.
Dietemann testified that he worked the mining claim in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s and that about 250 ounces of gold were removed from the Ruby Lee mining claim during that period. This seems odd because the claims weren’t filed until the mid 1930s and Dietemann’s name doesn’t show up on any of the claims filed in the area.
Dietemann further testified operations were halted around 1936. He stated that following his World War II service in the Navy, 10 tons of lead were removed from the claim which he personally used in his plumbing business between 1948 and 1950. Dietemann testified that from 1948 to 1961 or 1962, 125 ounces of gold were removed from the claim. He sold the gold to a dentist. That’s a lot of gold for a Joshua Tree area mine!
OK, here’s the absolute, best part. As part of his testimony, Dietemann stated that there are “perhaps one million tons of ore on that [Ruby Lee mining] claim”. He stated that in 1973 he dynamited one of the tunnels on the claim to cover up the main vein “to keep it from the public”.
Oooooh, baby! The Lost Mine of the Ruby Lee. Wait……I need to copyright that quick.
So, what did the other side have to say about this? Well, the Park Service hired a mining engineer by the name of Paul Knowles to examine the claim in February and March of 1973, the second time in the company of our man Dietemann. Knowles testified the samples he took showed no commercially viable minerals for extraction with only small traces of gold, silver and lead.
Dietemann hired a mining engineer of his own, Robert Dunfield. My mining engineer can beat up your mining engineer. Dunfield visited the site in December of 1975 and took five samples. Four of the samples produced squat, but the fifth assayed at 0.225 ounces of gold per ton, at that time worth $40.95. However this was still less than the government engineer’s estimate of $60 per ton to extract, transport from that location and smelt the ore. And a valid claim requires commercial viability. Ooops….
At the mill site Engineer Knowles found there was only a cabin (now removed) and a pile of ore, apparently from multiple sites in the area. Since there was no milling equipment, and had not been for some time, this did not bode well for the validity of the mill site claim either.
On September 8, 1976 the final decision was released. The claims were declared invalid. The court found that while there may have been viable ore deposits on the claim, they were not apparent to a trained mining engineer. Further, Dietemann apparently made no effort to direct the engineer to the location he felt had valuable deposits. The court said the government had no obligation to explore beyond the current workings of a claim to determine validity. The Lost Ruby Lee Mine will stay lost.
So the case was closed and the Ruby Lee Mine faded into memory. Dietemann died in 1982. Eventually the Park Service removed the cabin at the mill site (as they seem to like to do) and all that remains today is a small ore pile and the site’s name carved on a rock. The hike to the mill site today is somewhat popular, although it’s often referred to as the “Ruby Lee Mine hike”. But it’s not….Not by a long shot.