Visually and hearing impaired, Lillian Erickson Riggs once said, “Everybody think’s 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 Erickson was born in 1888 in Arizona. When she was 5 months old, her parents, Swedish immigrants, homesteaded land in Bonita Canyon. Eventually that property became known as Faraway Ranch. The eldest of three children, Lillian went to a local school which only went through 8th grade. To complete her education, her parents sent her to Galesburg, Illinois to finish high school. As a high school graduate, she returned to Arizona to teach school for five years. In 1911, she returned to Galesburg where she attended Knox College for two years. In 1913, she returned to in Arizona to teach school. She was already having trouble with her hearing.
Lillian’s father, Neil, served as the first forest ranger in the area and in 1917, his job in the forest service led him to leave the ranch. Lillian’s father and mother left the running of the ranch to Lillian and her siblings. Her younger sister Hildegard turned Faraway Ranch into guest ranch and Lillian joined her sister in the endeavor. The operation was such a success that they purchased additional land.
In 1920, Hildegard married, moved away leaving Lillian to run the ranch. Lillian, now in her 30s, began ‘seeing’ a school classmate and neighbor, Ed Riggs. In 1922, she moved to Los Angles to pursue a writing career. By the following year, she returned to Arizona, Faraway Ranch and married Ed. The couple were married for more than 25 years.
Their efforts and passion for the region caused the area to be designated as Chiricahau National Monument. Faraway Ranch was the only lodging in the area where visitors could stay while exploring the park. Lillian and Ed used the term guest ranch rather than dude ranch, and continued to operate a cattle ranch was well as catering to tourists. They also grew many of their own fruits and vegetables.
The tales Lillian told of growing up in the west fascinated guests, and both Lillian and Ed helped visitors explore the unique landscape of the National Monument. They created some of the trails, but Ed oversaw the work of the CCC during the Depression when barracks and more trails were constructed. By 1942 Lillian after years of vision problems was totally blind. After Ed’s death, she continued to run the 7000 acres ranch intermittently, hosting visitors to Chiricahua, and riding the range. Not only did she ride horses, she handled the cattle and supervised the day to day operations of the ranch.
At the at 82, she had to stop—age had slowed her down. Having no family member willing to take on the ranch and knowing it had to be modernized to suit the requirements of modern tourists, she approached Holiday Inn to see if they would be interested in buying or using some of her land. They declined.
Despite her wish to die at home and be buried in her wedding dress, Lillian was moved into a nursing home in 1972 where she lived until her death in 1977. Two years later, the National Park Service acquired the ranch which was totally surrounded at this point by National Park land.