Early LifeEdward Murray Riggs was born into one of the most established ranching families in Sulphur Springs Valley. His grandfather Brannick Riggs began ranching around 1879. Ed’s father was one of eleven children, and his mother died when Ed was four years old, so he was raised by his grandparents. Like many other ranching children, Ed went to El Dorado School where he had class with Lillian and the other Erickson and Stafford children. Ed attended the University of Arizona and Valparaiso University in Illinois before returning to Arizona.
Growing up in the small community, Ed knew the Erickson siblings well, and attended school with them. Around 1900, when Ed was about 15, he and Ben Erickson, who was nine, climbed Sugarloaf Mountain. Below them, the canyon was full of impressive rock pinnacles, and Ed reported “It was some of the most wonderful country” and he wanted to continue to explore the area. It wasn’t until after he returned from World War I that Ed was able to actually explore the rocks.
Ed was friends (some say sweethearts) with Lillian when they were young. While she was away at school, Ed fell in love with Gaye Moore, who he married in 1908. When Lillian returned from Illinois, she visited Ed and Gaye in Douglas, and their two children, Eula Lee and Edward Murray Jr. During the 1917 smallpox outbreak in Douglas, Gaye and nine other people died. Shortly after, Ed decided to enlist in the Army. Ed’s sister took care of the children while he was an aerial photographer during World War I.
Settling Down with LillianWhen Ed returned to Arizona after his military service, he and Lillian began spending time together. Ed helped out at Faraway Ranch while Lillian took a sabbatical from the guest ranch business. She went to Los Angles to develop a writing career, which did not turn out the way she hoped. Ed and Lillian wrote letters to each other during the summer of 1921 while she was gone. In a letter from that summer, Ed wrote, “I did feel that you were with me and planning with me for our home up here in the canyon. The upper garden is a dandy place for our large house to take care of the tourist trade. I hadn’t looked at it with that in view before, but I can see it now. It is ideal, such a wonderful view and such a pretty setting there among the trees.”
Lillian returned from her Los Angeles summer and married Ed on February 26, 1923. Ed’s engineering background was instrumental in developing Faraway Ranch and bringing it into the 20th century.
The ranch house received indoor plumbing, an in-ground swimming pool, and a new guest dining room with the Garfield Fireplace, among other improvements. Ed had seen some of the impressive rock formations decades earlier, but had not had a chance to really explore them until he began spending more time at Faraway Ranch with Lillian.
Advocate for Chiricahua National MonumentImpressed by the beauty and unique rock formations, Ed and Lillian worked hard to develop trails and took photographs to promote the region. They sent photos to the county fair in Douglas, and captivated Dr. J.J.P. Armstrong who decided to see the “Wonderland of Rocks” himself. He and Ed explored many canyons, and were probably some of the first non-indigenous people to see Natural Bridge and Echo Canyon. Ed began making trails in these areas, and in August, 1923, Arizona’s Governor, George W.P. Hunt went on a horseback ride from Faraway Ranch and into the Chiricahua National Forest. Despite a rainy visit, Ed said the governor and his entourage were “a wet bunch I can tell you but well pleased with what they had seen. Lillian’s good dinner and a good roaring fire soon put everyone back to better than normal.” The governor supported establishing a monument out of the Forest Service land, so on April 18, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge established Chiricahua National Monument.
Not only did the establishment of Chiricahua National Monument protect this area for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of future generations, it was also a good business development for the Riggs. With the new designation, Ed and Lillian could advertise Faraway Ranch as the closest place to stay when visiting the monument. Ed was known for his delicious homemade ice cream, served on Sundays (the only day they had ice). The Riggs kept dairy cattle in addition to beef cattle, and made their own butter and ice cream.
The Riggs and the Civilian Conservation CorpsEven though Ed came from a ranching family, Lillian was very particular in managing the cattle and guest ranch. During the 1930s and the Great Depression, Ed supplemented their income by working for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a locally employed man (LEM-basically a local expert) while Lillian continued to run the ranch and guest ranch. As a local expert, Ed designed many of the trails that still exist in the park today.
The first trail Ed worked on as a trail foreman (with a salary of $1,800 a year) was the Sugarloaf Trail. He had his crew blasted a tunnel through rock and spent months after the trail was officially completed doing landscaping and stone work. After Sugarloaf and a few other trails, Ed asked Frank Pinkley, Superintendent of Southwestern National Monuments, if he could route a trail from the top to Echo Park. Other trail foremen had scouted out that location as well, but none felt it was possible, except for Ed. Pinkley agreed that Ed could “have the job, but if you fail to put a trail through that area, just hand in your resignation. Don’t wait for me to fire you!”
Echo Canyon Trail required extensive planning and engineering, and one quarter-mile section needed eleven switchbacks. This trail remains one of the most popular in Chiricahua National Monument and is a great example of CCC rockwork and ingenuity. Needless to say, Ed succeeded in his challenge, and even had that accomplishment included on his gravestone: “He engineered the construction of Echo Trail. He wished this to be his monument.”
As the CCC continued to develop to the fledgling monument, some of the improvements had a direct impact on Faraway Ranch, as well. The road into the monument bisected the Erickson/Riggs property, but as visitors drove to the NPS visitor center, they passed all the Faraway Ranch buildings. When the road to Massai Point was finished in 1934, about 7,000 people attended the dedication ceremony (and drove through Faraway Ranch on their way there).
Another facet of the Riggs’ involvement with the CCC was leasing land for the Chiricahua CCC camp. Ed and Lillian leased about ten acres of land (originally part of the Stafford homestead) to the US government for $1.00 per year from May 1934 to June 1940, although they asked to receive $100 per year for the camp. The CCC built 24 buildings, and when the camp was decommissioned, Lillian and Ed asked that the infrastructure remain, instead of being torn down/removed, as was the normal policy. The Riggs used these developments as “Camp Faraway,” before eventually selling the land and buildings to the Silver Spur Guest Ranch.
Promoting TourismOnce the CCC left Chiricahua (in better shape than they started!), Ed returned to working at Faraway Ranch with Lillian. The Ericksons and Riggs had differing views on how the guest ranch should be run, and whether it was successful or not. At various times, Neil and Emma proposed letting Hildegarde and her husband Jess run the ranch, as well as considering Ben, who owned another ranch in the area. Lillian and Ed defended their management practices, and continued to run Faraway for the other siblings, since all three siblings inherited the ranch together, after Neil and Emma passed away.
In 1938, Ed decided to venture into offering horseback riding tours of Chiricahua, and received a stock use permit from the Park Service. Pinkley, the superintendent, supported Ed’s foray, saying “We will naturally do all we can to make it a success because so many visitors come unprepared for walking or unable to walk and thus miss some of the finest formations. Chiricahua is an ideal horseback monument and the visitor can enjoy from an hour or two to a full day in the saddle.”
The Riggs kept about ten horses for monument tours, and operated horseback rides through most of the 1940s. Due to gas rationing and other restrictions during World War II, visitation to Faraway Ranch decreased, but did not completely stop. Larger groups who had agreed to visit Camp Faraway or Faraway Ranch ended up cancelling, so reservations the Riggs were relying on for income disappeared. During this time, Lillian had problems with her hearing and eyesight and eventually became blind. She said, “Ed was so good and always kind. After the loss of my sight, he was so considerate and so good to both Mother and me. Mother could not read for herself … Ed read by the hour to us and was always ready to take Mother for those automobile drives which she so loved.”
With fewer guests at Faraway Ranch and Lillian’s poor eyesight, as well as her mother Emma’s declining health, Ed and Lillian considered leaving the guest ranch business completely. Hildegarde tried to dissuade Lillian from selling some of the ranchland and agreeing to stop the guest ranch business for ten years. “I really do think you are making a mistake if you sign any papers saying you will not operate a guest ranch. I think you have done that for so long now that if you quit you will be completely lost and very unhappy, and you will be at a loss as what to do.” Unfortunately, Hildegard’s predictions came true in the 1950s.
By fall 1945, Lillian and Ed sold part of Faraway Ranch, which included the CCC camp (aka Camp Faraway/Faraway Lodge) to William Sprague who operated Faraway Lodge for them. He and his business partners incorporated the land and buildings into Silver Spur Guest Ranch which had a slightly tumultuous first few years operating before it was sold to Ray Kent and his family, who operated it successfully for almost twenty years.
Ed and Lillian continued running cattle as well as serving meals when Silver Spur wasn’t. The Riggs decided to ask Ed’s son Murray, and his wife Anne, to join them at Faraway Ranch. They agreed, but within one month of moving there, Ed had a cerebral hemorrhage and died June 29, 1950. Within six months, Lillian’s mother Emma also passed away, causing Lillian to go into a deep depression.
Tributes:Lillian remembered Ed fondly, writing, “The spirit of the adventurer was strong with in Ed, [and] the love of nature, far about that of those who lived close to her [Nature’s] heart since childhood. … Whenever time could be spared from ranch work, Ed pushed into the unexplored areas above the ranch to see what was hidden there. What he found amazed and delighted him. The pictures he took caused those who saw them to declare “It cannot be true.” So Ed built trails into the wilderness so that the unbelieving might believe and the worshippers of nature glory in the new discovery.”
Ed’s daughter, Eula Lee Riggs Stratton, remembered him, saying “everyone loved him; he had a wonderful personality … and people just enjoyed being with him; he was just charming and he was very bighearted …”
Last updated: February 7, 2019