The Ruby Mountains are truly the most beautiful range in the state of Nevada. Located in the northeastern quarter of the state, the Ruby Mountains are a chain of glacially-carved peaks averaging 10,000 feet or more in elevation. The Ruby Mountains extend 60 miles from Secret Peak southward to Overland Pass. Like most of the mountain chains in Nevada, the Ruby Mountains are relatively narrow compared to their length. In no place is the range more than 12 miles wide. The Ruby Mountains are bounded by Huntington Valley to the west and by Ruby Valley to the east. Ruby Lake lies along the eastern flank of the southern portion of the range.
The mountain range and surrounding valleys have a venerable history stretching back many centuries. Ruby Valley was an ancient haven for Paiutes, Shoshones, and Goshutes long before the white men came. Despite the stories of lost Spanish mines in northeastern Nevada, the first white men to penetrate the area were probably American fur-trappers and mountain men. In 1827, Jedediah Smith passed through the southern end of Ruby Valley on his way to Utah. Nearly 20 years later, the famous explorer John C. Fremont crossed the Ruby Mountains using Harrison Pass. In 1846, the ill-fated Donner party skirted the range to the south while searching for Landsford Hasting's cut-off. In doing so they lost their race to the Sierra Nevada passes.
During the 1850's, the Ruby Mountains and surrounding valleys saw a dramatic increase in traffic. In addition to the stream of Argonauts pouring across the state, at least three Army
surveying parties passed through the area. In 1862, in response to the increase in Indian depredations, Fort Ruby was established near the southern end of Ruby Valley. Four years later, the area near present-day Jiggs was homesteaded by a settler named W.M. Kennedy. Located just west of the Ruby Mountains, the town of Jiggs was a haven for outlaws and a mecca for the cattlemen and ranchers of Huntington Valley. During the 1870's and 1880's, the town served both but as the 1900's approached, only the cattlemen and ranchers remained.
During the early 1900's, a Swedish wrangler known only as the "Swede" or "Swede" Pete was one of the many cowboys working in the Huntington Valley region of northeastern Nevada. No one could have foretold that this simple cowboy would be the one to discover a fabulous lode of gold somewhere on the western flank of the Ruby Mountains.
"Swede" Pete was employed as a cowhand at the famous Cold Creek Ranch during the early 1900's. While driving a herd of cattle north to Elko, the "Swede" made the discovery of a lifetime. Somewhere in the western foothills of the Ruby Mountains, between Jiggs and Overland Pass, "Swede" Pete stumbled upon on outcrop of gray quartz laced with pure gold. He gathered some samples and then carefully concealed the vein. With considerable excitement, the "Swede" continued on to Jiggs but he was destined never to return to the hidden vein. "Swede" Pete soon fell victim to pneumonia and died, taking his secret with him.
The history of mining in Nevada is marked by three great events: the Comstock discovery in 1859, the Tonopah-Goldfield discoveries at the turn of the century, and the Carlin discoveries during the early 1960's. The Comstock strike fueled the economy of Nevada and indeed the nation for over 20 years. A plethora of rich strikes occurred during those years as prospectors combed the mountains of Nevada in search of silver. These included Unionville and Aurora in 1861, Reese River in 1862, Candelaria and Ione in 1863, Pioche and Eureka in 1864, Belmont in 1865, and White Pine in 1868.
The Tonopah-Goldfield strikes rejuvenated the sagging economy of Nevada during the early 1900's. Like the earlier Comstock strike, the Tonopah-Goldfield discovery sent a wave of prospectors into the mountains and deserts of southern Nevada in search of mineral wealth. But this time they were searching for gold. Again, a number of rich strikes occurred including Bullfrog in 1904, and Manhattan and Round Mountain in 1906.
The third great event in Nevada mining history has again rejuvenated the state. First discovered in the early 1960's, the massive reserves of gold in the Carlin District of northern Nevada have vaulted the state into world prominence. The boom continues today.
The Ruby Mountains themselves are home to several small mining districts, most of which occur in the southern half of the range. The Bald Mountain District is located just south of the Ruby Mountains, on the other side of Overland Pass. Also known as the Joy District (or Ruby Mountain District), the area was first prospected in 1869. During that year, small silver and gold-bearing veins were discovered in Water Canyon, between Big Bald Mountain and Little Bald Mountain. In the gravels near the base of the canyon, deposits of placer gold were also discovered. Interestingly, the placer gold was much coarser than that found in the veins. Could there be a hidden vein of gold yet to be discovered on the slopes above Water Canyon?
Another minor silver-producing district in the Ruby Mountains is the Ruby Valley (or Smith Creek) District. Discoveries of small silver-bearing ore bodies near Smith Creek attracted prospectors from all the nearby districts, but the deposits were meager at best. The Ruby Valley District never really amounted to much.