WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees

Ellerbe B. Riggs (122)
April 7, 1915 - Oct. 29, 2007

Ellerbe Riggs was born April 7, 1915. His parents, John Casey Riggs and Jeanette Brauns Riggs, brought him home to live and grow up on the family ranch located one mile from the original Brannick Riggs homestead, at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains, about 35 miles southeast of Willcox. Ellerbe was one of four children, two brothers, Paul and Stark; and a sister, Jeanette. He attended school through the eighth grade at the El Dorado School located in the Riggs Settlement and graduated from Willcox High School in 1933.

Growing up in the early 1900s, Ellerbe knew what hard work was all about. He lived the typical life of a ranch kid. There was lots of riding and taking care of cattle. Ellerbe Riggs is the 2018 Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame posthumous inductee.

Although Ellerbe received a diploma in auto mechanics from ICS, and he graduated from the Ryan School of Aeronautics in San Diego, ranching was his life’s passion. He spent his life maintaining and improving the ranch he inherited from his parents. He had a genuine feel for the land and a compassion for his cattle. He started with Herefords, added the Charolais, and then moved to the Black Angus. And finally, Ellerbe was one of the first ranchers to bring in Limousine cattle. But no matter the breed, he had good cattle. The cows were fat and the calves were soggy. Ellerbe never looked like a cowboy with his funny little hat, but there was no doubt he was a good cow man and that he knew how to take care of his ranch and his cattle.

On June 15, 1939, Ellerbe married Pearl Chambers, and they settled on the Bar X Bar Ranch in the mouth of Pinery Canyon. They had three children, Sandra (Cox), Debra (Saunders) and a son who lived only one day. Sandra said, “Dad was outnumbered. With a wife and two girls, he was surrounded by women; he didn’t have a chance.” Daughter Debbie said, “He was a wonderful caring person. He cared about us girls.”

We know how ranchers take a lot of pride in their cattle herds, and Ellerbe was no different. Yes, he took pride in his cattle, but he also took pride in having a well-groomed yard at the Bar X Bar headquarters. Everything was in its place and there was a place for everything. There was even a very neat pile of bicycle parts. Many of the pieces were somewhat mangled or unrecognizable, but they were in a neat pile.

As you heard before, Ellerbe had some formal training in auto mechanics, so it is not surprising that he had one of the best mechanic shops in the area. He took his autos very seriously. When the odometer said it was time to change the oil, he changed the oil. There was no going over on the miles before he got to it. Even if you were ready to go to town and the oil change was due, he changed the oil first, and then went to town. The other task he insisted on was when you got back home from town, you filled up the gas tank. Just in case there was an emergency, the car had a full tank of gas. Not only did he keep his vehicles in tip-top shape, he also had a collection of Model A and Model T cars.

The patriarch of the family, Brannick Riggs, had 11 kids, and these 11 had lots of kids, and then the next generation of Riggs had more kids, and the moral of the story: If you are going to tell stories about the Riggs family, one has to be careful as everyone is related somehow. With that word of caution, I have a story about some cousins. There were six of them: Ellerbe, Paul, Stark, Ed, Herbert and Jim. They were all off going to college, but when they came home for the weekends, they were on horseback, and they would ride anywhere and everywhere. And wherever they were going, it was in high gear. They would draw straws to see who had to ride a horse called “Yellow Hammer.” It was the short straw that got Yellow Hammer, and nobody liked him because he didn’t have any brakes. When you came to a fence gate, you had better get a deep seat in the saddle as Yellow Hammer was going to jump. What made these weekend rides even crazier was that sometimes they didn’t have enough horses, so someone rode a bicycle. They would put a rope around the handlebars, take a dally and away they would go. Now we know why there was a big pile of bicycle pieces and parts at the house.

Ellerbe spent his life ranching. He shared shipping corrals and a watering tank with his brother, Stark, and during shipping season, he and Stark were always on horseback. Ellerbe also hired a high school kid during the summer months to help at the ranch. The kid said, “Ellerbe treated everyone like family, and he was a great role model for a young cowboy working through the summer. He would give you the shirt off his back if he thought it would help you.” The young cowboy also talked about when they stopped for lunch. It was not uncommon to see Ellerbe with a meat sandwich and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The unusual thing was that he ate them both at the same time. One bite of the meat sandwich followed by a bite of PB and J and then back to the meat and back to the peanut butter and jelly. When asked, “Why do you eat them at the same time?” Ellerbe would say, “It’s better that way.”

He was a straightforward fella who enjoyed the little things in life. He enjoyed the comradery of friends and co-workers. He was genuine and compassionate. He had a sense of humor and especially enjoyed jokes targeted at the brand inspector. The truth of the matter is, Ellerbe was not the social type; he liked to stay home. When he went to town, he got his stuff and went back home. The girls said if you went to town with him, you were lucky to get a candy bar. Ellerbe Riggs just liked to stay up there in the canyon, where he could take care of his family and his cows. He didn’t like for anyone to take his picture. If he saw a camera, he was gone. So consequently, there are not many pictures of Ellerbe. It was no surprise to learn that Ellerbe died at his home on the Bar X Bar Ranch, as he was not about to go to town to the hospital. On Oct. 29, 2007, at the age of 92, he passed away. He has left a lasting legacy of a master mechanic, a cow man and, most importantly, a family man.

Ellerbe Riggs is the 2018 Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame posthumous inductee.