Frank Perry Lilley was born Dec. 20, 1926, in Ft. Collins, CO. He was the son of Charles W. and Julia F. (Williams) Lilley. He was reared on the Table Mountain Ranch at Virginia Dale, CO and attended rural grade school there. He graduated from Lakewood High School and joined the U.S Navy in 1945. He listed his main civilian occupation as “cowpuncher” on his application for enlistment one day before his 18th birthday. Following his discharge, he entered Colorado State University where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in animal production in 1950. While at CSU, Frank was also a member of the rodeo team and attended one of the first National Collegiate Rodeo finals.
Shortly after graduation, he went to work for Chet Williams on the XX Ranch southeast of Laramie, WY. Frank Lilley married Shirley Wright on March 15, 1952 in Laramie. During 35 years of marriage, the couple raised three children on the Chimney Rock Ranch southwest of Laramie. Their married life began in a two-room cabin on the ranch, but they moved to the main house when Lilley was named foreman three months later at age 25.
At that time, the ranch straddled the Colorado-Wyoming Border, encompassing nearly 91 sections of land or 57,000 acres. Ownership changed five times during Lilley’s management. Chimney Rock Ranch ran up to 4,000 head of cattle for summer grazing, plus Frank had 150 head of Angus Cross that were his own personal pairs. With this large ranch to manage, Frank hired many ranch hands to work it. Frank’s family also worked alongside him on the ranch. Frank’s children, Clay, Carol and Julie, learned many lifelong skills with cattle, and they learned how to treat others with the respect they deserve. As a young manager, it was challenging for Frank to keep at least three hands, and his three children, working efficiently to accomplish the never-ending jobs ranching requires.
One of the challenges was fixing fence in the rough, mountainous Boulder Ridge area of the ranch. Each winter, elk would destroy the fences in this remote place. Without the help of new, modern four wheelers, horses were the mode of transportation back then to fix fence in this rugged terrain. Frank would pack all of the tools needed horseback and ride miles of fence. Many times he would use a simple hammer to fix and stretch the wire without the use of a fence stretcher. This was the method he taught his daughter to use when other tools were not available.
Frank also regularly rode horseback to check cattle that had consumed poison weed, moving cattle to different pastures for efficient grazing, helped many neighbors move their cattle, sorted and worked cattle for vaccinations, as well as ride the many miles of fence.
Frank was called many times by neighbors to castrate calves at brandings and stud colts. He was also trusted by the ranch’s owners to perform surgery on cancer eye and prolapse. Of course, being a cowboy also required skills in irrigating and haying. Frank was a master at keeping old, worn-out equipment running with tender loving care. He used anything and everything available to him to keep things running smoothly. Frank needed all his patience and kindness when one of his children would break down one of the tractors he had just managed to put back together.
Frank also had amazing skills with irrigation. He seemed to know just how to cover a large meadow with the smallest amount of water. The mountain meadow on Bull Mountain was his baby. He had planted alfalfa on this meadow and maintained it to produce high quality, nutritious feed for his cattle. To have water distributed in basically dry pastures, Frank planned and developed a spring system that fed water down to four large tanks. These tanks provided water not only to cattle, but to wildlife as well. He developed these water springs in the Bull Mountain and Red Mountain pastures.
Frank was always available to help neighbors with anything they may need. As one neighbor, Oscar Marsh, become older, Frank took over many of the things he could not do himself. He also, with the help of his family, took over all of Dick Johnson’s ranching jobs when Dick became sick. Ranching, community and being a great neighbor were very important to Frank. Brandings were one of the times all the neighbors got together and helped each other. Frank’s branding was done the old fashioned way with ropers and wrestlers. There might have been a wreck or two, but the job was always accomplished with the least amount of stress on the calves.
From his birth to his death in 1987, except for two years in the Navy, he lived on a ranch all of his life. Aside from ranching, public service was also important to Frank. His service began in 1956 when he worked on the Albany County Fairgrounds Committee, the forerunner of the present-day Laramie Jubilee Days Committee. In 1957 he won the Jubilee Days “Top Hand” competition sponsored jointly by the Albany County Farm Bureau and Laramie Kiwanis Club. He was active in Jubilee Days for many years, and Gregg Jackson, a fellow committee member, said, “Frank was a quiet man. He had an excellent sense of humor, and loved to laugh. He also had good thoughts about others and how they should be treated.”
Such kindness and fairness allowed him to become an Albany County Commissioner in 1978 and serve for two subsequent terms. While Frank was a County Commissioner, he always supported the rancher and the agricultural part of the county with a strong voice for what they needed and what was right. One example of this support happened when the snow became impassible in Albany County. Frank asked the county to plow ranches out so they could feed their cattle. During the shipping season, the county again helped plow roads, so trucks could ship cattle out.
He also served as director, board member, and president of the Albany County Stock Growers. A four-year term on the Wyoming State Board of Agriculture was punctuated by his chairmanship two of those years. In 1970, Frank received an Excellence in Grazing Management Award from the Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management. Former Albany County Agriculture extension agent Arlow Hulett remembers Frank as “a very courageous person and a real scrapper.” Frank dearly loved his children. He raised his them to work hard, have pride in who they were, and believe they could do what was needed. Through ranch work and 4-H he encouraged all the youth he met to always do their best.