Biography of William T. Riley

William T. Riley was one of the founders of the town of Hailey, and throughout the period of its existence he has been identified with its development, and his name is therefore inseparably interwoven with its history. The wonderful upbuilding of the northwest is due to such men. men of enterprise, sagacity, sound judgment and rare discrimination, whose methods are practical and whose plans are comprehensive and far-reaching.

Mr. Riley was born in Allegany County, New York. March 31, 1843. His father. John Riley, was born on the Emerald Isle, came to America when a young man and was married in Monmouth. New Jersey, to Miss Mary Bowles. They became pioneers of western New York, where the father carried on agricultural pursuits until his death. He was a member of the Catholic Church and his wife belonged to the Episcopal Church. His death occurred in the forty-fourth year of his age, and his wife passed away at the age of seventy years. Of their family of three sons and four daughters, only four are now living.

The youngest son of the family, William T. Riley, was reared and educated in Allegany County and had attained the age of eighteen years when President Lincoln issued his first call for volunteers to aid in suppressing the rebellion. When the need for soldiers became more pressing, he offered his services, and in September 1861, was assigned to Company D, Eighty-sixth New York Volunteer Infantry, serving for three years in the Army of the Potomac. When that period had elapsed the south was still unconquered, and Mr. Riley determined to stand by the Union until the supremacy of the national government should be permanently established. He re-enlisted in General Hancock’s army, and participated in all of the many battles of the Army of the Potomac, in which that vast body of brave men won honor and glory. At the battle of Locust Grove, following the battle of Gettysburg, he sustained a gunshot wound in his right arm, which has resulted in resection of the elbow joint, thereby shortening the member five inches and rendering it almost useless; but notwithstanding it is a great hardship, it is nevertheless a badge of the greatest honor, ever indicating his faithful service. He participated in the grand review in Washington, the most brilliant military pageant ever witnessed in the New World, “wave after wave of bayonet-crested blue” sweeping by the President’s stand, amid the applause of a grateful nation anxious to yield its tributes of praise and love to the heroes who through four years had followed the starry banner.

When hostilities had ceased and the country no longer needed his services. Mr. Riley returned to his home. He came to the west at the time of the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and conducted stores all along the line, finally locating at Kelton where he engaged in merchandising and also served as postmaster, stage agent and express agent. In 1881 the great Wood River excitement was at its height, and he came to Blaine County, where in connection with John Hailey. A. H. Boomer and two others he laid out and platted the town of Hailey. He has since been closely identified with its interests and has been one of its most successful and useful citizens. After platting the town he had charge of the sale of its lots, and much of its property has passed through his hands, while he still has considerable realty here. For some years he conducted a drug store, under the firm name of Riley & Tracy, and enjoyed a good trade. In 1890 he was appointed register of the land office, where he remained for four years and was also County treasurer and agent for the Wells-Fargo Express Company. He withholds his support from no movement or enterprise for the public good, and his work in behalf of the town has rendered him one of the most valued citizens. He became active in the organization of the water company, which has brought pure water from the mountains under pressure, thus securing to Hailey a good water supply for both fire and domestic purposes. He has been superintendent of the company since its organization and to him is due much of the credit for securing this most necessary adjunct to the prosperity of the town.

In 1 87 1 Mr. Riley was united in marriage to Miss Frances Heckman, of Angelica, New York, and their union has been blessed with four sons and six daughters. The eldest daughter, Jessie AL, is now principal of the Ketchum school, and was recently the prominent candidate of the fusion party for superintendent of schools. The younger children are Bertha B., Mary and Esther (twins), and Harriet, John H., Russell T. and Weston T. Six of the ten children are now living.

The family are members of the Episcopal church, and are greatly esteemed in the town in which they reside. Mr. Riley is a member of the lodge and chapter of the Masonic fraternity, has filled various offices in the former and is past master workman in the local lodge of the Ancient Order of United Workmen. He is a very prominent and influential member of the Grand Army of the Republic and is past commander of the department of the state of Idaho. He is therefore widely known among those who wore the blue and has the warm regard of his old associates in arms. His life has been one of activity and usefulness, and he is today as true to his duties of citizenship as when he followed the old flag upon southern battlefields.


Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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