The people behind the names: Ruby Sisson

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
“Pagosa girls” dressed in the finery of the 1890s. From the left are Annie Byrne, Hattie McGirr, Maude Garvin Hart, Laura C. Manson White and Myrtle Schonefelt.

Folks living in Pagosa Country are blessed more than they realize by the quality of their hometown library. Much of the credit for the existence of such a wonderful library has been attributed to the support of a local lady affectionately known as “Miss Ruby.”
Miss Ruby was a larger-than-life link of past and present, a rancher and school teacher who taught school in Archuleta County for 48 years while running a cattle ranch in the Upper Blanco Basin. Weekdays she could be found in front of a blackboard, teaching math in a local classroom. Weekends you might find her in rubber boots with a shovel in her hands irrigating the hay pasture. Just as likely, she might have a hammer in hand, a mouth full of staples, fencing pliers in a hind pocket and a hired hand to supervise while repairing barbed wire fences.
A visitor to the library is greeted in the entryway by a framed photograph of a dignified lady, positioned as if extending a warm and heartfelt welcome to each visitor. The photograph captures the essence of Miss Ruby, more formally known as Ruby Murel Cales Sisson. Her significant contributions to the local community in general and to the library are the reason the library is named the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library, a well-earned honor.
Everything she did, she did well. She also served as president of the San Juan Soil Conservation District, was one of the last county school superintendents, was 1978 Colorado Teacher of the Year, was grand marshal of the Pagosa Springs Fourth of July Parade and was honored by her community with the proclamation of “Ruby Sisson Day.”
We learn much about Miss Ruby’s life from Mamie Lynch, who knew her while working for the school board and later, with husband Doug Lynch, served as friend and confidant. Mamie Lynch’s memories of Miss Ruby are contained in the Hershey Collection in the Sisson Memorial Library in a booklet assembled by the San Juan Historical Society titled “Remembrances.”
Mamie wrote: “When I first went to work for the school district, Ruby was teaching there and she was matriarch of the school. We did what Ruby told us to do. She pretty much ruled the roost there. It was a working relationship but, over the course of years, we grew to be personal friends.”
“Much of Miss Ruby’s early history was lost when her house burned in about 1959,” according to Mamie. “She was born in Kansas, spent many years in Nebraska and then moved to Pagosa Springs. Her first teaching assignment was in town. She married one of her students, Red Sisson, in 1936 and moved to the Sisson Ranch on the Upper Blanco. She taught all eight grades in the Blanco School from 1936 to 1948.”
The Blanco School was located across the road from the Sisson Ranch. It has been moved to the Fred Harman Art Museum in Pagosa Springs, where it can be seen to this day. It is said that Fred Harman II, the artist, attended the Blanco School.