The Ruby Mine (aka Guatemala) is located at the north end of the Alleghany Mining District. In the 1850s prospectors followed a path of large gold nuggets up Slug Canyon from the North Yuba River near Downieville to where the Ruby gravels "daylighted" at the City of Six. According to Geologist and Historian Bill Fuller: "the channel was poorly exposed and tunnel miners got off to a slow start. Half a mile to the south, Rock Creek had eroded down through the cover of Tertiary sediments close to the Bald Mountain segment of the Great Blue Lead, and there was considerable prospecting for Tertiary channels here [in rock creek]."
Ruby Mine late 1920s photo courtesy of Cory Peterman
By the 1860's the rivers, streams and readily accessible surface deposits were playing out. The miners began to tunnel into the mountains to mine gold bearing gravel channels buried under the ridges. The Ruby Tunnel was collard in 1880 and over 2,000 feet of tunnel was driven to access the Old Ruby Channel (Great Blue Lead). Underground placer "drift mining" was in its heyday. The 1880's and 1890's were a highly productive period for the Ruby Mine. On the east side of the current property, the Bald Mountain Extension Company at Forest City was conducting a comparably large and successful mining operation (also working the Great Blue Lead).
In 1891 newspapers reported the discovery of a Ruby Gold Nugget weighing 201 ounces (almost 17 pounds). A nugget weighing about 90 ounces was reported in 1892. The replica of a Ruby specimen from the same period weighing about 180 ounces is in the collection of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, California.
By the early 1900's work in the gold bearing gravel channels was greatly reduced. However, Walter Lawry, Henry Mott, and others were sinking shafts on the east side of the property into what would come to be known as the Black Channel system. Once again, the technology of the times severely limited the amount of mining the miners were able to accomplish; but these pioneers verified that the channels existed.
Miner operating a slusher underground in the Ruby Mine 1930s
photo courtesy of Cory Peterman
At the same time, Willie Wolf was sinking a shaft in the bedrock of the Old Ruby Channel -- over 3,000 feet underground! -- to explore and develop a quartz ledge that had been discovered during the earlier placer mining. Once again, conditions were extremely difficult and Wolf soon shut down his operation.
Only limited work was conducted at the Ruby Mine until the 1930's, when the government raised the price of gold from $20 to $35. C. L. Best, owner of Caterpillar Tractor in San Leandro, California, purchased the mine and hired Lewis L. Huelsdonk to run it. The Ruby Mine was soon reported by the California State Mineralogist to be among the most modern and well-equipped placer mining facilities in the world.
Once again, the Ruby Mine moved to the forefront of California's gold producers. Mr. Best began saving the larger, specimen nuggets, and the C. L. Best Collection of Ruby Gold Nuggets was born. Mining continued full-bore until slowed down by manpower shortages in World War II and then stopped altogether in 1942 by War Production Board Order L-208.
Ruby Mine around 1940 from the collection of undergroundgold.org
The Post-WWII Years
The years following World War II were difficult for California’s gold mines. The post-war boom brought inflation and higher costs while the price of gold was fixed at $35 an ounce. C. L. Best did not reopen the Ruby but sold it after the war. The mine changed hands a number of times and was exploited by a series of “shovel-and-wheelbarrow” operators who salvaged in the existing workings, mostly by mining pillars of gravel left behind by C. L. Best’s operation. Some of these operators reportedly did very well and the reputation of the Ruby Mine continued to grow. Nuggets the size of a man’s hand were reported. The current owners have had the Ruby Mine since 1960. Most of the information above was accessed at rubymine.com where the property is currently for sale.
Recent Photo of the Ruby Mine main portal area. Photo courtesy of rubymine.com
The C. L. Best Collection of Ruby Gold Nuggets mentioned above is owned by Sierra County and consists of 159 nuggets weighing a total of 1,000 ounces troy.. The largest nugget weighs 52.177 ounces and is approximately 2 x 5 inches in diameter! Due to security and insurance issues, the collection is on display at the LA Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles. A replica of the collection can be seen at the Downieville courthouse.