Mining built Nevada. In the early days a lot of men died as they worked at getting the ore out of the ground, and since then a lot of those miners have been lost to history. Those are some of the reasons that Mary Sorenson decided that a Fallen Miners Memorial should be built in the park in Ruth, Nevada. The memorial was dedicated on Aug. 11 of last year.
“I decided, you know, these guys died in the mines and had been forgotten, and I want to start honoring them for doing that,” Sorensen said recently.
The Fallen Miners Memorial lists about 600 people who died while mining, most of them in White Pine County. Sorenson continues to add more names to the list as she hears from people and as she does more research.
Sorenson’s vision for the memorial has expanded since she started working on it.
“I started with just Robinson, and then I thought, no, let’s do all the mines,” Sorenson said. “If anybody has people they want to add to the memorial, get ahold of me, I’m more than happy to. I don’t care if they’re from White Pine County. It’s a miners’ memorial.”
A mining town’s history
Ruth, which was named after the daughter of the owner of the area’s original mining claim, is a mining town of about 400 people a few miles northwest of Ely, in east-central Nevada. It is a town that has mining thoroughly ingrained into its history, and it is always reminded of the presence and the importance of the mining industry today. The Robinson Mine by the town of Ruth, which mines primarily copper, has a history which dates back to around 1867. The mine’s historic Keystone Waste Rock Dump is right at the edge of downtown Ruth, towering over the town.
Sorenson, along with fighting to preserve local history, is also always ready to talk about the importance of mining. She sometimes even argues with local people. She said she had just told someone, “If you don’t want copper, go sit in the middle of a field, you can’t have your phone, you can’t have TV, you can’t have anything. We have to have copper.”
Sorenson points out that the work miners are doing today will be tomorrow’s history.
“They’re going to have to cover the Keystone dump because it’s toxic,” Sorenson said. “I told Amanda (Robinson Mine General Manager Amanda Hilton), each time they dump on there, you need to take a picture, it’s a historic picture. She forgets, they’re making history. It’s not our history, but it’s her kids’ and her grandkids’ history.
“I understand why they have to cover it,” Sorenson said. “If you look at it, there’s nothing growing on it, and it’s a 100-year-old dump. … One of these days it will be a nice, pretty green, but not in my lifetime, probably. But the dumps across from my house are starting to grow green stuff on it already.”
Mining has always been a central part of Sorenson’s life. Her father and her brother both worked for the local mine. Her father operated heavy equipment.
“All the roads up there were his,” Sorenson said.
Her brother was a machinist.
Her brother started putting some information about Ruth online, and he asked Mary to help do research of Ruth history for the site. When he died, she inherited all his pictures, and she carried on the work of researching and preserving Ruth history and mining history.
“He started this, bless his heart,” Sorenson said.
As Sorenson worked on putting together a book about “Memories of the Ruth Mining Area,” she learned about a lot of men who were killed while working in the mine, and she included them in the book.
Sorenson herself has witnessed fatalities at the local mine. She was an EMT for many years. In 2004 she went on a call to a mine accident at the Robinson Mine which turned out to be a double fatality. Two contract workers at the mine died.
“I knew the one kid very well,” Sorenson said.
She retired from working as an EMT after that call.
If you look at the list of names at the Fallen Miners’ Memorial, you will see many names listed for each year from the 1910s through the 1940s. The number of deaths declined after that as mining became safer. There have not been any more fatalities at the Robinson Mine since the double fatality in 2004.
Researching local history and local deaths in the Ruth area is not easy. There were a lot of mining towns in the area years ago, and most of them faded away over time into ghost towns, or they were overtaken by the expanding mines. The entire town of Ruth moved more than once, and it was moved to its current location between 1952 and 1955, with all of the buildings going either to the current town of Ruth or to Ely.
Ruth was the relatively clean-cut company town, and nearby there was Riepetown, a wild town with a fair number of bars and brothels. Riepetown was where the Robinson Mine’s mill stands today.
“I couldn’t figure out why there were very few people that died in Riepetown, as wild as it was,” Sorenson said. “Well, it dawned on me, the hospital was in Kimberly, and that’s where you went and died.”
Kimberly was just over the hill from Riepetown. Part of the old Kimberly hospital is now the Ruth Post Office, which is across the street from the Fallen Miners Memorial.
Lane City, where Pat Nixon was born in 1912, is another one of the ghost towns in the area.
The miners who lived in those mining towns all those years ago worked hard, but a lot of them were poor and some lived transient lifestyles. So it is often hard to find records of the people who died.
“It’s important to get as many as I can,” Sorenson said. “But I know I’m missing a lot. A lot of them weren’t buried in the cemetery. Especially out in the outskirts of town. … In those days they just dug a hole and put a body in it. … That’s just the way it was here. It was a hard life in those days. I’m really glad I live now … I would have hated to live then; it would have been tough.”
“I’m sure there were guys who were murdered and thrown down mine shafts,” Sorenson said.
The miners years ago died in all kinds of ways, and as long as the death was mining related, Sorenson includes the deceased miners in her list for the Fallen Miners Memorial.
Of course, a lot of the miners died in accidents at the mines. For some miners, Sorenson can only find vague information about when the death occurred, but when miners died in a big accident, then Sorenson may know the specific date.
“In Liberty there was an explosion that killed eight or nine,” Sorenson said. “The report said one was found as best they could. Basically he was blown apart.”
Some miners’ health deteriorated from the work they did at the mines, and their death was labeled “miners’ consumption.” Some died from infections they got while working.
“And there were several shootings,” Sorenson said.
Several miners were shot during a workers’ rebellion on Jan. 7, 1903.
“At Keystone Corner, New York Consolidated Copper wanted to increase the hours and decrease the wages, and the mine workers went stampeding,” Sorenson said. “And the mine manager killed three of them, and two more died later.”
She said the mine manager was found not guilty.
“They probably scared the snot out of him,” Sorenson said.
The three men who died during this shooting were John T. Smith, James Staggs and Sam Johnson. Max Lambert and John Perry died a little later from their wounds.
Some people who died while they were mining may still be in the mines. Sorenson told the story about the time when 10 Chinese men were trapped in a mine.
“The owners went to the commission and asked to get help getting them out,” Sorenson said. “And the commission basically said, they’re expendable, leave them.”
Sorenson did some research on this incident when she led a ghost tour of haunted places in the area. The story told during the ghost tour was that people had seen the ghosts of the Chinese miners going to their shanty houses.
Are there really any haunted places around Ruth? Apparently Stephen King found the area rather spooky when he visited Ruth during a cross-country road trip in 1991. He was inspired to write the novel “Desperation,” about a small mining town named Desperation where an evil being lives in a nearby mine shaft.
But in reality, the Ruth area is simply immersed in the fading history written in the lives of so many hard-working miners, many of them now buried in the region’s small cemeteries.
“There are so many cemeteries around, it’s unbelievable,” Sorenson said.
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For many years Sorenson worked in her church’s genealogy library, and her knowledge about doing this kind of research helped as she researched the men who died in the mines.
She also has learned a lot from people who knew about local history firsthand.
“I’m trying to get as much as I can from our old timers before losing them,” Sorenson said. “You’ve got to get that stuff from the old timers, because they knew, they were here.”
Inspired to make a memorial
As she did this work she realized how many miners had been almost completely forgotten. That’s when she decided the miners who died should be honored with a memorial.
“It’s not gambling that made Nevada, it’s the mining that made Nevada,” Sorenson said. “And it’s dangerous.
“Our mining history is really important for Nevada. These guys put their lives on the line for us. … And I feel they’re lost to our history, and we need to bring them forward, because they made the state, basically.”
It was about two years ago that Sorenson started making plans for a memorial. She thought it would take a long time to make the memorial a reality, and she and others would have to put a lot of work into raising money for the memorial. That all changed when Rio Tinto Kennecott, the Utah mining company that operated the Robinson Mine from 1958 to 1978, heard about the miners memorial project and gave Sorenson a check.
“I was going to do fundraisers and yard sales, and I hate yard sales with a passion,” Sorenson said. “But I was going to do that. And then when I got the check from Rio Tinto I about had a heart attack. So I didn’t have to do all that stuff.”
“Then it all came together really fast,” Sorenson said.
Making the memorial a reality
The funding from Rio Tinto Kennecott paid for the materials for the memorial, including the fencing, the pictures, plaques, and display cases.
“Beth Lumber gave me a great deal on the fencing and on the two benches,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson had three original paintings painted for the memorial – one of a praying miner, one of the Keystone Waste Rock Dump, and one of the Liberty Pit. The Liberty Pit is a large open pit at the Robinson Mine.
“The Liberty Pit was wonderful,” Sorenson said. “It was one of the biggest pits in the area for a long, long time.”
She gave the paintings to people who helped with the project, and had metal prints of the paintings made for the outdoor memorial.
She also had a plaque made listing veterans who died in the mines.
The last of the money from the donation from Rio Tinto Kennecott was used to buy a laminator, which Sorenson is using to laminate the lists of names for the Fallen Miners Memorial.
The Robinson Mine, which today is owned by KGHM, provided people to work on the memorial.
“They did everything for me,” Sorenson said. “I bought it, they put it up.”
“They put the displays up, and they put the signs up. … They took that train and had it refurbished for me, and they made the track for it.”
The Robinson Mine used to have trains that went right into the pit and to the waste dump. Working around the trains could be dangerous.
“That’s why I’ve got that little train there, is to honor the guys that died in train accidents,” Sorenson said.
The memorial also features a 1920 Nevada Consolidated Copper grader which will be 100 years old next year.
“That was donated to us, and we were moving it, and that’s as far as we could get it, so we put a park around it,” Sorenson said.
“I can’t imagine riding on that thing, it would have been horrible,” she added.
Sorenson credits the KGHM Robinson Mine and Rio Tinto Kennecott for making the Fallen Miners’ Memorial possible.
“I couldn’t have done it without the mine, they truly did a wonderful job helping me,” Sorenson said. “And then Rio Tinto, bless their heart, I couldn’t have done it without their big donation.”
After all the work was done on the fencing, the signs and displays, the Fallen Miners Memorial was ready to be dedicated on Aug. 11, 2018.
Before the dedication, Sorenson put about 600 flags around the memorial, one for every person on the list of fallen miners.
“Talk about a lot of flags. Boy, there were a lot of flags that day,” Sorenson said.
People gathered at the park for the dedication to pay tribute to the miners of the past.
“It was a good turnout,” Sorenson said. “I paid for fireworks, and we had a big barbecue that night and everything. So it turned out really nice.
“But I’ll never pay for fireworks again,” she added. “They’re too expensive for 20 minutes of enjoyment. But It was worth it, because it honored the guys, and that’s what it was for was to honor the men that died.
“And I just got a feeling they know it.”
Sorenson continues to put flags at the Fallen Miners Memorial park on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Saving the history
Sorenson has now published two books on Memories of the Ruth Mining Area. And the “Memories of the Ruth and all Mining Area” Facebook page which she administers has thousands of old photos. But she said there is still a lot more history to explore.
“I’m not even touching the surface on the Robinson Mining area,” Sorenson said.
Years ago a wide variety of items and records that had been stored in the mine’s warehouse were moved into the community church in Ruth. The items from the warehouse filled more than 150 boxes. The Methodists gave the church to the town of Ruth. Later, people decided it was time to fix up the old building.
“I said, ‘Not until that history stuff is out of there.’ So I grabbed a couple of people and we moved those boxes up to the garage above me.”
Sorenson is slowly going through the boxes.
“There are a lot of treasures in there that I’m finding,” Sorenson said.
“There are supposed to be old coins in some of the boxes, but I haven’t found any yet,” Sorenson said. “I thought, if there’s an old coin, maybe we could do our old mining equipment display without spending any of our budget. Because our budget’s limited. We’re pretty frugal up here in Ruth.”
She said people in the community would like to put an old mining equipment display kitty-corner from the Fallen Miner’s Memorial, on property which used to be a gas station.
Sorenson has heard that they will be receiving a grant from the Southern Nevada Water Authority which they will use toward making the rest of the park by the Fallen Miners Memorial into a miners’ park. The park will have displays about local mining history.
“We’re trying hard to save our history,” Sorenson said. “History is a real important part of my life, and I’m going to save as much of it as I can.”
Sorenson said that one of the women she worked with in the genealogy library used to say, “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”
“And I try to live by that,” she said.