Ruby East Focht
Final Resting Place Row 4 - Plot 163
When I first started researching the people buried in our cemetery, I was disappointed in the fact that women were so frequently left out of the history of our towns. I mentioned this fact to one of the TCGS members while I was at the museum doing more research and she mentioned that her husband’s grandmother had been “quite an entrepreneur” in her day and that she would share the story with me, so I could start sharing the stories of the strong women this county produced. This is the story of Ruby East Focht and her determination to provide for herself and her family.
Ruby May James was born in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas in 1899 to Samuel and Lula Belle James. Her father’s records disappeared around 1904 and her mother remarried a Clyde Elder Harrison.
Harrison Family, below in 1908
On their return they lived in Idaho and Los Angeles before moving to Tuolumne county and settling in Jamestown. When Ruby was 17 years old, she married Alfred D. Pharris in 1916, in Pocatello, Bannock County, Idaho. Her stepfather, Clyde Harrison worked for the railroad, which took the family to Pocatello. From this union, a sweet little daughter was born, Syble Ellen Pharris. Nineteen months later Ruby sent her mother a telegram: “Baby died this morning. Come at once. Your daughter.” How devastating and helpless it must feel to lose a child at such a young age. Pneumonia was a force to be reckoned with in the early 1900’s and for such a young one, it proved fatal.
Divorce was rare and frowned on in this era, so it must have been a difficult decision to make, but Ruby divorced Alfred in 1919. The next year, she is listed as the wife of Walter Archie East of Oregon. The newlyweds moved to Los Angeles, where Walter worked as a road contractor and Ruby was a housewife. During this time, Ruby shared with family members that she had several miscarriages, but finally a son, Walter Willet East, born in 1927. Unfortunately, only three months later, bronchial pneumonia ended this little life and only 5 months later, Ruby gave birth to a healthy baby boy, also named Walter. She was thrilled to finally have a hearty youngster to raise.
Ruby and Walter had a rocky marriage and at this point in her life, she apparently didn’t see divorce as something to avoid in such a situation. She once again divorced and as she wanted to be close to her mother, moved back to Jamestown. She was engaged to be married, but her fiancé wanted to go prospecting and Ruby chose to stay behind. She founded the East Market/liquor store, on Main Street, Jamestown, in 1931, where she worked for forty years. It was a daunting task for a woman to take on in the 1930’s. She struggled for two years and nearly starved, but she made up her mind that she wasn’t going to let those “hillbillies” drive her out. Over the years she saved every penny she could and consistently invested in real estate. During her career as a merchant, she acquired a number of rentals in the county and throughout the state. According to a Union Democrat article from her holdings included a 101-unit office building in Oakland. She attributed her success to a thrifty lifestyle. “People just don’t sacrifice themselves, “she once said. “When I didn’t have good days I didn’t eat good and I was never a fancy dresser.” She was never rich because she was always land-poor. At one time she owned a grocery store in Turlock, and one in Irwin.
Sometime in the 1930’s, Ruby married Chalmer Foster Focht. For reasons only known to her, she didn’t take the name of Focht, but kept the surname of East until her death. In 1935, they suffered a great loss when the Hetch Hetchy team fired a bunch of employees that she had given credit. Every last one of them took their bill with them when they left. It was an $18,000 loss. Ruby was also robbed in 1970, on the day after Thanksgiving and her response was,” Boy, if that wasn’t a thrill—to be held up with a gun!”
Chalmer and Ruby retired in 1941 and again in 1957 and couldn’t stand it. She was quite a woman. They sold the grocery store in the 1970’s, but kept a hardware and liquor store across the street where she and Chalmer worked until about 1980.
On September 15, 1983, Chalmer died in his sleep in their home on Willow Street in Jamestown. He was 86 and died of heart failure. Ruby died sometime during the night of March 28, 1985, in her home. She was also 86 years old and died of cardiopulmonary arrest and diabetes.
Many of us have been told family stories that may have included being related to some famous or infamous person. Back in the day, this was usually just accepted and passed along through the generations. With the advent of the web, we are now able to research these claims and either validate them or put them to rest. Ruby's family had a few such stories that they were unable to confirm. I am including them for future researchers to validate. They just make life so much more exciting!!
Ruby shared with family members that when her maternal grandfather, Dr. Kinningham died, her mother inherited a lot of money. Their stepfather took the family on a year-long trip around the world. Ruby was only 7 and was sick most of the time. She remembered little, with the exception of the large pillows that they jumped and climbed on in India and Egypt. Within 3 years, they were penniless.
According to the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, Oct. 3, 1980, Ruby stated that her 3rd cousin is a George James, a San Francisco attorney, who founded Jamestown in 1848.‘“He wasn't too popular around here.” admitted Ruby with a sheepish grin.’ According to historians, he was reputedly a swindler of sorts, and as a result, the town’s name was temporarily changed to American Camp before the original name became the standard.
Ruby is more proud to claim Jesse James as her great uncle.
Family members buried at IOOF cemetery in n Sonora are:
Ruby East Focht Row 04-163
Chalmer Focht Row 04-158
Effie James Ward-Ruby’s sister Row 04-158
Charles A. Ward-Effie’s husband Row 04-158
Walter and Ramona East - Only child of Ruby James East and his Wife Row 04-163
Written by Pat Dambacher