24 August 2012

Summit Settlers: Mary (Cluskey) Ruth

Mary Cluskey is a true Summit County settler. Born in Breckenridge on 24 Nov 1902, she lived in the area her entire life. You can find a summary of her life, written by Alphild Wilkinson, in the book Women As Tall As Our Mountains, originally published in 1976 (most of the information in this post will come from this source, please contact me for further information). At that time, Mary was still an active widow, going back and forth between Frisco, Colorado and her son's home in Texas.

What struck me most about her story was her involvement in the mining camps during the 1920's and 1930's. You hear so much of the men that lived and worked these mountains, but very little of the women. I will offer only a quick summary here.

Born to Christopher and Mary Cluesky, both natives of Ireland. Christopher spent his early year's in the county as a dairy farmer on French Street in Breckenridge. As Mary progressed through her school years, she and her siblings went back and forth between ranch land and town. In 1913, the family went back to Ireland, but due to the quickly approaching War, they returned only a year later. Her father returned first, in May, as a potential soldier he was given preference on passage. Mary, her mother, sister's and brother's finally returned via London in August, but upon reaching New York, the ship sank and they lost all of their possessions.

The family was finally able to gather together again in Colorado on ranch property acquired by Christopher at Slate Creek. Once again, they moved back and forth to accommodate the children's need to attend school. At the age of 15, Mary went with her father to work at the Tiger mine. She was employed in the commissary, waiting tables; additionally, she sorted ore. The rest of the family moved to Tiger in 1918, during the flu epidemic. One member of the family was responsible for driving victims back to Breckenridge, and at times would have to carry four bodies a day.

Two years later, Mary, her mother and sisters, and one son were back at the ranch at Slate Creek, but her father and one brother, Tom, stayed on at Tiger. Tom worked at the sawmill. Just three years older, Mary was back at a mining site, this time the Pennsylvania for the summer, cooking three meals a day for 20-80 men. 1922 Again found Mary cooking, but this time at the Summit House in Montezuma, a hotel, and stayed there through September. At that time, she and her mother went to the top of Boreas Pass cooking for the men putting in the bucket tram for the 730 mine - that was living at 11,492 feet!  The men lived in one boxcar, the cafeteria was in a second, and Mary and Mary lived together in a third.

Eventually, our subject married Wilbur "Bill" Ruth, a veteran of World War I, who worked for the Bureau of Land Reclamation building the highway from Dillon to the summit of Fremont Pass (now on the way to Leadville, where Climax Mine sits). During the '40's they moved to Uneva Lake, in Ten Mile Canyon, to be caretakers for another family, and by 1935 had purchased a home in Frisco. During WWII, she was given a special assignment as Postmistress of Frisco, which meant that she travelled to town every day from Uneva Lake and ran the Post Office from her home.

She finally retired in 1974, having worked since 1955 for the town and the sanitation district. Bill passed in 1953, and Mary in 1990, having lived a long, hard life. They are both now resting in the Dillon Cemetery. She is remembered as a lady with a great sense of humor, courage, faith and "a lot of gumption."

I believe that to be absolutely true. To have lived as she did would have required the strength of more than a few ox.



Photo Credit for both photos:
www.findagrave.com, Kelly G, Sep 2008

Wilbur: Memorial #29576085
Mary: Memorial #29576096