Flint Hills Rancher Takes His Horse Back East, And In Time, To Ride ‘Civil War’

This is a real cowboy in the movies now.

Well, the film hasn’t been released yet, and it’ll be awhile before acquaintances of one of the most versatile cowboys in the Flint Hills see him on the silver screen.

However, unlike many of the top-name Western-movie heroes of an earlier era, Josh Lilley is “the real deal.”

Lilley, a Manhattan rancher, won’t be in a starring role when the reels roll at theatres around the country this time, but based on the follow-up calls he’s had for future roles, that’s a distinct possibility down the trail.

Actually, Lilley won’t even quite look like the cowboy he really is in this movie, because he’s clothed in an authentic Civil War Union Army uniform complete with sword, knife, pistol, and long-gun.

However, one thing that will be recognizable to his many friends is Lilley’s mount. The bay mare he calls Margaret is used checking pastures, assisting other cattlemen, and as a backup horse on his winning ranch-rodeo team and in roping competitions.

How did this all come about?

“I was at the Working Ranch Cowboys Association Finals in Amarillo competing with my Arndt-Bailey Ranches team when a cowboy I knew at Coffeyville Community College asked me if I’d be interested in taking my horse and being an ‘extra’ in a movie,” Lilley recalled.

Without giving it much thought, Lilley consented that he’d like to do that. Of course, he expected to portray a cowboy, and didn’t realize all of the more complex logistics that would be involved.

“Come to find out my friend was horse wrangler for the movie to be filmed at the battle location and city of Richmond, Virginia,” said Lilley. “He knew I had a flexible schedule in the winter with most of my work taking care of pasture cattle during the other seasons of the year, along with shoeing, training, and selling horses.”

Still, a main requirement of his first-movie-job was that Lilley must have the right horse. “It had to be a bay or black horse that would work under a variety of conditions,” Lilley related. “This bay mare was just right for the task. She’s solid no matter what situation arises.”

So, in mid-December, Lilley, and a couple of other horsemen-acquaintances from the Kansas City area, loaded up and headed east. “It’s more than 22-hours’ straight-through drive to get there,” he noted.

Yet, upon destination, apparently the “to-become-more-famous” Kansas cowboy and his “just-as-important” mount were treated like “already-famous” movies stars generally think they ought to be treated.

“I had nice living accommodations, and they provided good stalling and feed for my horse, too,” Lilley credited.

Taking off his trademark black cowboy hat, tight-faded-blue jeans, high-topped cowboy boots with spurs, and scarf inside his shirt collar, Lilley’s image changed with the wool Union Army uniform including cap, gloves, and artillery.

“A number of the other horsemen are involved in Civil War re-enactments and impersonations, so they had their own uniforms,” Lilley commented. “I had to borrow my outfit from several people, but by bit and piece, it came together.”

Likewise, his traditional ranch-working-roping saddle and tack were traded for McClellan-type saddle-gear used by horse soldiers of the era in which Lilley was portraying.

Gunfire and cannon blasts were not part of the filming where Lilley was involved. “The movie was being filmed in different parts, and most of my involvement was riding with the troops in the capital of Richmond,” he said.

Although, names of the “leading man and woman” of the movie were not revealed, Lilley said, “It was directed by Steven Spielberg, and he was right there during the filming.”

The name of the movie was not given either.

“It’s kind of a secret, I guess. They didn’t want us to know, or tell us anything about the title, or when the movie is scheduled to be released.

“I think it’ll be called ‘Lincoln,’ or something similar to that. The movie should open in theatres some time in 2013,” Lilley predicted.

Of course, everyone thinks movie stars get big checks for their work. Likely it wasn’t near the “Spielberg-level,” but Lilley admitted, “They paid real good,” including all travel expenses to get there and back.

After about 17 days away from the ranch, Josh Lilley is back home doing what he does best being a “real cowboy,” working cattle from horseback.

Lilley was in charge of penning the bucking bulls during the recent Championship Bull Riding at Manhattan.

The phone’s been ringing, too. “I’ve had some contacts about working in a couple more movies, in July and then a year from March,” Lilley indicated.

This bow-legged Flint Hills cowboy might be the next Matt Dillon, although he’s a bit shorter, and rides a bay mare instead of a buckskin gelding, but he is “the real deal.”