WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees
LILLIAN ERICKSON RIGGS (45)
1995 COWBOY HALL OF FAME POSTHUMOUS AWARD
Lillian Riggs was born Lillian Erickson in February of 1888 at Fort Bowie, Arizona. At the ripe old age of 5 months she homesteaded with her family in Bonita Canyon and moved into a two room log cabin. She went to school at the small school near the ranch, but it only went to the 8th grade. So as a 16 year old, she was sent to Illinois to attend high school. She graduated from Galesburg High School in 1906 and taught school in southeast Arizona for five years before returning to Galesburg to attend Knox College for two years.
Upon her return to Arizona, she taught school in Bowie for four years, and began to help at the Faraway Ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains with the ranch's first guest in the summer of 1917. Her sister Hildegarde had started a guest ranch, and within a year Lillian quit teaching school so she could work full time at the ranch. Lillian and Hildegarde managed the ranch until Hildegarde married and moved away.
In 1922, Lillian left for Los Angeles to pursue a writing career. One year later she was back, and on February 26, 1923, she married Ed Riggs, who had been one of her school classmates.
As a married couple, Ed and Lillian Riggs began the process of promoting the area as a National park. Thanks to their efforts, the Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1924. By building trails, taking pictures, and telling people of what they had seen, Ed and Lillian helped show the world a great National monument. The fantastic rock formations in the upper reaches of Bonita Canyon were named the "Wonderland of Rocks" by Lillian. One peak in the area bears Ed's name.
Ranch guests returned to Faraway year after year to hike, to ride, to watch birds and to listen to Lillian tell stories about growing up as a pioneer girl. For years Lillian enjoyed the sun-splashed mountains, plenty of elbow room and the awesome rock structures of the Chiricahua National Monument. But then the bottom fell out of her world. By 1942, after years of eye trouble, she went totally blind. Six years later her husband Ed died and in the same year her mother also passed away.
At this dismal juncture, life hardly seemed worth living. Lillian could have turned the ranch over to others and settled down in a rocking chair to live in darkness. But that was not her way. She was a strong willed woman who despised inactivity, and she chose to go on living.
Lillian was soon as active as ever, involved with every facet of the 7000-acre dude and cattle ranch. She rode over her pastures riding her "seeing-eye" horse, a big gray named "Britches." She rode with the reins in one hand and a guide rope held by another rider in the other.
She frequently said, "Everybody thinks I'm crazy to carry on. But I don't want to give up my riding. When I'm in a saddle, I feel like I'm living again. I'm in no hurry to part company with my cattle. Cows are so easy to keep happy." Lillian Riggs was made of courage and spunk. She continued to ride horses, handle cattle and supervise day to day operations of the ranch. There was a constant turnover of help, however, because Lillian was very strict. In 1958, a story in the Saturday Evening Post dubbed her "The Lady Boss of the Faraway Ranch."
"I guess I am a Sybarite," Lillian once said. "I do love to drink iced liquids from a thin goblet and sip lemonized tea or strong coffee from a fragile cup. The feel of sterling silver and thin china is like manna to my hungry soul."
Lillian eventually had to go into a nursing home in Willcox in 1973. She died there on April 26, 1977 at the age of 89 and is buried beside her husband in the Riggs' cemetery in the valley.
This information was provided by step-daughter Lee Riggs Stratton and the staff at the Chiricahua National Monument.