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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Once Upon A Time At Faraway Ranch In "The Land Of Standing Up Rocks"

Apaches and Mexicans had been fighting over land and settlements in the southwest for nearly a hundred years before Hughes Stafford pioneered a small ranch in Bonita Canyon in 1879. The canyon was remote, "Faraway" in the Chiricahua Mountains. Chiricahua means "wild turkeys," and while Maikel and I did see a raptor of twenty in the woods while on a mountain bike ride, I like what the Apache called the area much more; "the land of standing up rocks." It only takes one hike to realize why.

In spite of the bonanza of boulders way up in Bonita Canyon, it didn't get much use by area ranchers because, as Mr Stafford once explained, "you couldn't get a horse in there to save your life." Thus it made an admirable hideout for marauding indians who only wanted their land and hunting grounds back. Geronimo was the most notorious Apache, a stubborn man who wouldn't give up what belonged to him and his tribe without a fight. Battles were vicious and bloody... retaliation upon retaliation, massacre upon massacre... women, children, livestock, dogs... anything with a beating heart, and what didn't was burned to the ground. 

Once, in a retaliatory attack near Silver City, N. M., a bunch of miners raided a defenseless Apache village while the warriors were gone. They swooped in and murdered women, children and elders, then set fire to their teepees. An incensed Geronimo countered by attacking a small ranch, killing everyone, including a little girl which they left hanging by a meat hook they embedded at the base of her skull. Ruthless and gruesome times for all involved, yet the "White Man" kept coming. Even after making peace with the United States and even embracing Christianity, on his deathbed Geronimo confessed to a nephew these last words, "I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive."

Geronimo's wife and daughter

The land of standing up rocks, rocks!

The Chiricahua Mountains are at the intersection of plants and animals from four separate ecosystems; the Rocky Mountains to the north, Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains to the south, plus the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. The mountains are lush, with diverse and blended vegetation forms... from tall pines to desert cactus. But I didn't come all the way to the remote southeast corner of Arizona to inspect the herbage. Nope, I came to walk amongst the "standing up rocks." But first, a little more on the Faraway Ranch. 

In 1886, an all Black 10th Cavalry Unit was established in Bonita Canyon as part of the last campaign to capture Geronimo and put down his tribe. Enter Neil Erickson and Emma Peterson, Swedish immigrants looking to homestead in Bonita Canyon. They were soon married, had children and became successful ranchers. They began to buy up smaller homesteads... planted fruit trees and large gardens, brought in dairy cows and chickens in order to become entirely self sufficient.  

Lillian, the oldest child of Neil and Emma, went off to college and then returned to teach the local children. But her career as a school marm was cut short when she ended up taking over the operations at Faraway Ranch... all by herself, until she married Ed Riggs. Lillian and Ed began promoting Chiricahua's boulders as a tourist attraction. Before long they were housing, feeding and guiding regular customers from back east and all over the world. The old ranch house still stands today and looks as it did when Lillian passed away in 1977. Truly, she was a pioneer woman, capable, tough and strong.


From National Park Service.gov:
Faraway Ranch was the home of Swedish Immigrants, Neil and Emma Erickson. Emma Peterson bought a two-room cabin in December of 1886. After she and Neil Erickson marries in January 887 they settled on the 160-acre homestead. The couple struggled with farming so Neil worked in Bisbee as a carpenter, leaving Emma alone two to three months at a time. In 1898 the couple expanded the cabin to a two-story, board-and-batten style frame house. In 1903 Neil became the first ranger for the Chiricahua Forest Reserve. With Neil staying home for the first time in their marriage, the house grew again. Neil and Emma had three children, Lillian, Ben and Hildegarde.

By 1915 Neil had constructed a two and half-story building with adobe and board-and-batten walls. Two years after Neil finished the house the Forest Service transferred him to Flaggstaff.

The house experienced another phase of a building when Neil and Emma's daughter Lillian married Ed Riggs in 1923. Ed was able to add the comforts needed for a modern and successful guest ranch operation, including bathrooms, oil heat, and electricity. He enclosed the north porch to make a large dining room.

Faraway Ranch guests could explore the grounds, swim in the pool, or relax with a book. There was birdwatching, hiking, and they could take their picnic lunch up to the Wonderland of Rocks by horseback. After dinner guests might retire to the living room for music and Lillian's tales of the wild, wild west.

On another note, here is a link to my last published Ouray County Plaindealer newspaper column. Most of my "material" springs from ideas and writings on the Box Canyon Blog.com, so it may sound familiar.   http://www.ouraynews.com/index.php/johnson-make-no-covenant-with-a-dubious-universe 
Also, check out the mountain lion track above my article... 


  1. I tried to find an Accounting job in Denver back in 1975 after Pontiac Motors laid me off  due to a sales down turn during the oil embargo.
    While in Denver, I was enjoying skiing, the mountains and job searching. Then, I was called back by Pontiac and offered a job in accounting as a Plant analyst. Since I was out of money and the only job offer was in Pueblo, Co., I headed back to Pontiac.  I often wonder what my life would be like if I had stayed in Colorado. I guess that is why I so enjoy your blog.
    I like the picture of the balanced rock, I'm surprised you didn't get Bobbie to stand next to it.
    John Q

  2. The loss of a parent shapes us in ways we can never anticipate. It left me feeling alone in the universe though I'm most certainly not. Our children will not understand this feeling of loss until they feel the orphaned loss. For me it is not the travel but the oneness with nature provides such a renewal and connection that I feel whole. I added your hiking spot to my must hike list. It is an awesome combination of rich history and nature. Surely it will fill the soul.

  3. Great pics and history from a place we haven't yet seen in AZ. I'm always amazed by those hardy early settlers and their struggles in the area. And the story of Geronimo is equally gripping.

  4. Oh, I would love to visit Faraway Ranch someday! Maybe this summer?
    ~~Cheryl Ann~~

  5. We did the guided tour through Faraway Ranch a few years back & of course like you, found all the history very interesting. Did you see the family plot alongside the road near the entrance to the Chiricahuas. In that same area Fort Bowie is a great hike in if you take the back way through the Apache Pass. Lots of history along that trail. For Rucker & Mary Kidder Rak's place in the Chiricahuas are a must see as well. And if you haven't been to Portal & Cave Creek on the east side of the Chiricahua's you gotta get yourself over there too. That mountain road begins right near the Chiricahua entrance you went through. Type any of the above names in our search bar for more info. And if you read Mary Kidder Rak's book 'The Cowman's Wife' you will find even more history on Geronimo. If my memory serves me correctly he & his band passed through their ranch at Fort Rucker & the Cavalry camped at her place before heading off the next day to Skeleton Canyon where Geronimo surrendered. If you find the ruins of that little house you will be walking where history once walked. I do have directions in one of my posts to Fort Rucker. It's not an easy find despite being close to Tex Canyon road. Think it took us 3 times to find the ruins of the Fort........

  6. Great pictures of the area , another place we will just have to visit.

  7. Great pictures of the area , another place we will just have to visit.

  8. Faraway ranch seems so....faraway! Looks like you are enjoying the area:) Did you hear any ghost stories? -scamp

  9. I give up. Comments disappear into the googlesphere.... -scamp

  10. Kudos on the Ouray article Mark. And we'll forgive you for messing up the vernacular "three speed on the column" GMC when we (of a certain age) all know it was called "three on the tree" (had one of those in a Chevy Nova). Or was that nonmenclature just because I was a California kid? :-)

  11. Enjoyed the article and post.

    Your early life in AZ sounds nice.


  12. John Q,
    Not only "wonder what your life would be like," but wonder how different you might be as a person. "Place" (environment) shapes us as much as our genes. It's something to think about... thanks

    Alone in a "crowd" is the worst kind of loneliness...
    turning to the Natural world gives us what we need, for sure. thanks for reading my column piece, "Explorer."

    Wheeling Nina,
    It is amazing how soft we've grown with our creature comforts... don't know if I could handle the old days :) thanks

    Travel 4 Adven,
    Cheryl... it will be mighty hot if you go in summer... at least wait for the monsoons to kick in :(
    thanks for your comment.

    Bayfield Al,
    We did see the family plot while on a bike ride...
    Fort Bowie we saw and hiked about 25 years ago, Nature is reducing it to rubble.
    As for Cave Creek/Portal... we made it there over the backroad...such a charmer, Portal, it tugs at may heartstrings :)) I need to use your "Search" more often as you guys seem to have been everywhere in Arizona :)) Thanks for commenting and adding to Chiricahua's wonder.

    Geo and Suz,
    Put Chiricahua at the top of your list!

    Two Scamps
    Your comment made it... sometimes google is slow.
    There are "spirits" hanging out in Chiricahua... a lot of anger issues, sorry to say.

    Pen Pal Claudia,
    Thanks for reading the column...:))
    I now remember the "three on the tree," but readers might not have gotten it... unless they are old as dirt :)) Like us :((
    thanks C,

    Thanks, you should be hitting the road soon... I bet you are soooo ready to get moving.


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