Ruby Staples, 84

Born tough.

Ruby Staples has ridden, "since she could straddle the saddle." At 84, she's still riding.

"I guess I was born tough," she says with a smile.

In her late 70s, Ruby had a full-time job checking and moving cattle for her neighbors, Alan and Virginia Baltzor. One day while moving cattle, a horned Hereford gored her horse deep into his chest, almost killing him.     

Ruby was born on Dec. 25, 1919. Her parents, Ethel and Ambrose Mahre, were musicians at the program that Christmas Eve. They went home at midnight because Ethel wasn't feeling well. Ambrose sent the hired hand to town to get Doc Jones. He changed horses in town, and rode back with the doctor. Ruby had already been born at 3 a.m.

Eighteen months later, Ethel was pregnant with Agnes and too sick to take care of Ruby. Ruby was her daddy's little girl. She went with him while he worked in the shop. After she fell asleep, Ambrose would pack her to the house where her mom would bathe her and put her to bed. When Ruby woke up, the first thing she wanted was her daddy.

Due to severe winters, the Mahre kids started grade school in April and were out before Christmas. During the school year, they got out to help gather cattle, brand, move them to the mountain for the summer, and to help hay. Ruby ran the buckrake.


"When we got back to school, we had to work hard to catch up."

In those days students recited the "Pledge of Allegiance" and the "Lord's Prayer" every morning. They rode their horses to school, each family taking turns bringing soup in a jar.

When Ruby was 12, she rode a big half-thoroughbred three-year-old buckskin horse in a race. It was hard to see through the dust on the track. Her horse ran into a little gray horse. Ruby won the race but felt like a loser. The men had to take the gray horse off the track and shoot it because it had a broken shoulder. She can't explain how bad she felt that day and she still has nightmares about the race.

Ambrose butchered every week. He would give the neighbors a quarter of beef because there was no way to keep it cold. The beef would be wrapped, put in a shed and covered up with the hay during the day. At night, they hung it out. Ruby loved eating steak, biscuits, and gravy for breakfast. "I am still a beef eater," Ruby says, "but now I like a good roast."

After high school Ruby thought about being a nurse, but needed more schooling. Boise, Idaho, was the end of the world as far as Ruby was concerned, so she stayed home. A young man, Jack Staples, lived at the State Line Ranch. He was breaking colts for Ruby's dad.

Ruby didn't like Jack. "He never stopped teasing me," Ruby says. They were 15 and 16 years old. "We finally grew up, fell in love, and got married." She was 16 and he was 17 when they married on Oct. 2, 1937. Both mothers were against the marriage, but the fathers said it was OK.

In the summer of 1941, Ruby, Jack and their two kids moved five times between two ranches. They had a team of horses and a freight wagon.

"When we moved for the last time, there was not a single thing in the wagon that was not broken or bent." That summer they also bought a Maytag gas-motor washing machine that Ruby "just loved." Before the machine she had used a washboard.


The family was staying at the C Ranch 60 miles from Jordan Valley when the St. Patrickās Day dance rolled around. It was a three-day ride to Jordan Valley. Ruby packed baby Dan on her saddle. Four-year-old Shirley rode her own horse. Jack came later since he had cattle to feed. "It was the highlight of the whole year."


Ruby and her family owned ranches in the Jordan Valley area until her husband died in 1989.               

"Jack was a good man, a loving husband and father," Ruby says. "He was honest and had no use for dishonesty." They were married for 52 years and had never been apart.


Ruby Staples' life has been incredible, from her surprising Christmas Day birth, to moving cattle at age 84 on her little ranch. She has continued ranching on a smaller scale for 15 years. She goes to church and is a loving person who just happens to have been "born tough."

-Written by cousins Brandan P. Mackenzie and Sonny D. Mackenzie, students in Rena Uhalde's seventh-grade class at Rockville School, Jordan Valley, Ore.

Clockwise from top:  "Born tough" but with a winsome smile. Ruby astride Buttons, while Mac poses in the grass, on her ranch, October 2004. Ruby and Jack with daughter Shirley and son Dan. Sixteen-year-old Ruby in August 1937. She married Jack in October.  (Photos courtesy Ruby Staples)

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