Pioneer dwelling, cattle ranch, guest ranch
Neil and Emma Erickson
Neil Erickson was a Swedish immigrant who joined the U.S. Army in 1881 and was stationed at Fort Bowie with the 4th Cavalry during the Geronimo campaigns. After attaining the rank of First Sergeant, Neil Erickson was discharged from the Army in 1886. He continued working at odd jobs at Fort Bowie, and married Emma Peterson in 1887.
Emma Peterson was also a Swedish immigrant. She had come to Fort Bowie as help to officers' wives. Once at Bowie, Emma opened the Fort Bowie Hotel and met Neil Erickson. On outings from the fort, Emma had enjoyed picnics at Camp Bonita and loved the beautiful canyon. Shortly before her marriage she purchased a log cabin on the site of the present ranch house from Jay Hugh Stafford (sometimes spelled Ja Hu). This cabin was the young couple's first dwelling after they were married in 1887. In that same year Neil filed a homestead claim on the cabin site and 160 adjacent acres.(The Homestead Act of 1862 provided settlers a way to become landowners. By living on a claim and cultivating it for five years, an individual could receive a patent (title) for up to 160 acres in the public domain.)
The Ericksons cultivated a vegetable garden and planted an orchard with the help of their neighbor, Ja Hu Stafford, who allowed them to share his irrigation ditches. They also started a small herd of cattle and raised a few horses. The U.S. government granted Neil Erickson his patent on the land on November 22, 1894. The homestead tract ran from a point east of the later ranch house west along Bonita Canyon.The first improvement Neil built on his site was a large stone cellar (about 15 feet by 16 feet) constructed between 1888 and 1890. Presumably their original log cabin was demolished to make room for the new ranch house.
The ranch house was built in two phases, a two-story board and batten house in the late 1890s and a two-story adobe "el" on the south and west sides of the original house about 1915. The wood for the original house was readily available at the Brannick Riggs' sawmill in nearby Pinery Canyon. After Erickson became familiar with the adobe-brick building traditions of the southwest, he decided to make his later additions in adobe. Since by 1915 he was employed full-time by the Forest Service, he did not have time to build the addition himself. It is believed that he hired Mexican miners from Dos Cabezas to make the adobe bricks and do the exterior construction. A hired man from Bowie named Collins is credited with the interior carpentry work. (The photo below shows the view from near the front door, through the new living room, into the old family dining room and onto the guest dining room.)
The Younger Generation
In 1917, when he was assigned to Walnut Canyon National Monument by the Forest Service, Neil and Emma moved to Flagstaff where they remained until 1927 when he retired and they returned to the ranch. From 1917 to 1920 Lillian and Hildegarde, the two daughters of the family, managed the ranch themselves. They began taking in weekend boarders and gradually expanded into a guest ranch--an endeavor that was becoming popular in Arizona during that period. After Hildegarde married and moved to California, Lillian continued the ranch on her own. Dude ranches in southern Arizona flourished in the 1920s and were a means of saving, at least temporarily, many family ranches hit hard by drought and rising costs. The success of any dude ranch depended on the availability of public lands for trail rides, pack trips, hunting expeditions and outdoor recreation and Faraway Ranch (as they named it) had an abundance of these things.
Even though the homestead was technically owned by Emma Peterson from Neil Erickson's death in 1937 until her own death in 1950, actual control of the ranch operations was in the hands of her daughter, Lillian, and, later, her son-in-law Ed Riggs (of the aforementioned sawmill family) from the 1920s. In 1923 Lillian married her neighbor and childhood friend, Ed Murray Riggs. Ed had experience in ranching and automobile maintenance, and he had learned aerial photography in the Army Air Corps. (His photographic expertise was important in bringing the strange rock formations of the monument to the attention of a wider audience.) Ed threw himself enthusiastically into the guest ranch business, adding bathrooms and plumbing to the ranch house, creating the "guest dining room" from the north porch, and building a swimming pool.
One feature of the main house that must have been a sure "conversation starter" was the rather bizarre "Garfield" fireplace in the guest dining room. About 1924 Ed Riggs salvaged the stones of the Garfield monument in Camp Bonita, possibly at the suggestion of Neil Erickson. Back in 1885-86, during the Geronimo campaign, a detachment of black soldiers from the Tenth U.S. Cavalry were encamped in Bonita Canyon. While they were there they built a stone monument to the recently assassinated President James Garfield (d. 1881). It is possible that this tribute was due to Garfield's conduct as a general in the Civil War, when he was popular with black soldiers. At any rate, the soldiers carved Garfield's name in the central memorial stone and their own names into other rhyolite stones surrounding it. Some forty years later Ed Riggs fashioned these stones into a massive fireplace for the guest dining room, and he included photos of the "historic" fireplace in his advertising brochures for the ranch.
After his retirement from the Forest Service, Neil Erickson also contributed to improvements for the ranch. In 1930-31 he built a small office and garage west of the house and enclosed the second-story sleeping porch.
Under the administration of Ed and Lillian Riggs the Faraway Ranch operation eventually included a central lodge, cowboy house, guest cottages, dining room, swimming pool, saddle horses, pack trips into the Chiricahua mountains and hunting expeditions into the higher mountains. The ranch was operated as a guest ranch from about 1917 into the 1960s, and it owed much of its success to the establishment of Chiricahua National Monument as part of the national park system in 1924. Lillian and Ed Riggs were themselves instrumental in gaining this recognition.
Wonderland of Rocks
Exploring the upper parts of Rhyolite Canyon in the early 1920s Ed and Lillian discovered what is now called "Heart of Rocks." They soon reached the formations known as Big Balanced Rock and Thor's Hammer. Ed photographed the most astonishing formations and began publicizing what Lillian had christened "The Wonderland of Rocks." Some of the photographs moved O.J.F. Armstrong, world traveler and photographer, to come out and make some photos of his own. The efforts of Riggs and Armstrong were soon joined by backing from Arizona governor George Hunt. In April, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation establishing Chiricahua National Monument. This early photo from the National Park Historic Photography Collection was made by Photographer George A. Grant in 1935. It shows a close-up of the Balanced Rock at Chiricahua National Monument. From National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection.Catalog Number: HPC-000430 Photographer: Grant, George A.
But the work had really just begun. How to get people to the rocks? The mere fact that it took nearly forty years for residents to discover these wonders is testament to their inaccessibility. Ed and Lillian Riggs made it their mission to make the formations of the new monument accessible to visitors. They built horse trails up the canyons and gradually learned the best routes to the most spectacular views. In 1934 the National Park Service took over the management of the monument and a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established to build roads and trails. Ed Riggs was a natural selection to be trail foreman. His knowledge of the terrain and engineering ability allowed the workers to build trails to spots other engineers declared impossible--such as the Echo Canyon trail. By the end of the 1930s Ed and his CCC workers had made the Wonderland of Rocks accessible to both horseback riders and hikers. The visitors to the ranch could take trail rides into the monument as well as taking part in ranching activities, and visitors today can still marvel at the Wonderland of Rocks.
After Ed Riggs' death in 1950, Lillian Riggs continued to manage the ranch and homestead area, which she held until her death in 1977. The property then passed to her brother, Ben Erickson, and sister, Hildegarde Hutchinson. The heirs sold the homestead land and buildings to the National Park Service in 1978.
See also Stafford Cabin
Information on this page is based mainly on
Photo credits: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey, Reproduction Numbers: HABS ARIZ.2-WILCO.V.1A-3 and HABS ARIZ.2-WILCO.V.1A-10, HABS ARIZ.2-WILCO.V.1A-16, HABS ARIZ.2-WILCO.V.1A-18. Many other photos of both interior and exterior of Faraway Ranch are available online as well as some historical photos showing "dudes" enjoying the hospitality of the dude ranch. Be sure to check them out by typing in a search for "Faraway Ranch" at HABS/HAER . Pass up the first entries on the list which are for pig pens, generator sheds and other outbuildings and go down to listings 12, 13 and 14 which cover the main house.
Photo of Balanced Rock from National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection. Catalog Number: HPC-000430 Photographer: Grant, George A.; Year: 1935; Description: A close-up of the Balanced Rock. Parksite: Chiricahua NM.