Biography of Daniel Riley of Rulo

Daniel Riley, a prominent and well-known farmer in Richardson County, Nebraska, was born on January 6, 1855, in New Jersey. His parents, Michael and Mary (O’Brien) Riley, emigrated from County Tipperary, Ireland, and settled in Nebraska Territory in 1859. Daniel spent his entire life in Richardson County, contributing significantly to its development from its pioneer days. He married Mary Elizabeth (Wheeler) Whitney in 1912 and owned a substantial 800-acre farm. Known for his community involvement, Daniel Riley was an influential figure in local politics and agriculture until his death in 1884.

Mr and Mrs Daniel Riley
Mr and Mrs Daniel Riley

Daniel Riley, one of the real “old timers” of Richardson county as well as one of the best-known and most substantial farmers of this part of the state, is a native of New Jersey, but has been a resident of this county since he was four years of age, having come here with his parents in the spring of 1859, the Rileys becoming pioneers out here eight years before Nebraska was admitted to statehood, this region at that time being under a territorial government. He was born in New Jersey, thirty miles south of the city of Philadelphia, January 6, 1855, son of Michael and Mary (O’Brien) Riley, both of whom were born in County Tipperary, Ireland, the former in 1826, and the latter in 1830, but who were not married until after they came to this country, Michael Riley having come to this side of the Atlantic in 1847 and Mary O’Brien having come in 1851.

Michael Riley and Mary O’Brien were married in 1853 and made their home in the state of New Jersey until the spring of 1859, when they came to Nebraska Territory, landing at Rulo on April 3 of that year, having come by rail to St. Joseph and thence up the river to Rulo. At the latter place they secured an ox-team and a cart and drove west over the plains to a point three miles west of Verdon in the precinct of Liberty, this county, Michael Riley having procured from an old Mexican soldier at Brownville the latter’s warrant to a quarter of a section of land indicated in that precinct, on the old townsite of Geneva he bought a small house which he moved onto his claim and there established his home, he and his wife and three sons and his brother-in-law, Thomas Farrell and wife and son, making their domicile there together. Two weeks later that humble abode was scattered over the plains by a tornado, but the pioneers gathered up the scattered boards, got together a bit of new lumber and reconstructed their house, a one-room affair, and in that modest abode the two families dwelt together for three years. At that time there was an abundance of wild game, while the prairie ponds were filled with fish, so the pioneers had no lack of food while they were getting their start as farmers. People had a happy way of taking things “easy” in those days and they suffered very little, even though the markets at Brownville and Nebraska City were far distant and supplies sometimes ran short. Michael Riley had two yoke of oxen and broke up his land without delay, soon getting the same under cultivation. He kept his first farm until 1864, when he sold it and bought a tract of one hundred and twenty acres southwest of Dawson, where he lived until the spring of 1884, when he bought a piece of land two miles and a half northeast of the village and there he spent the remainder of his life, dying on October 16, 1884. He and his wife were the parents of seven children, of whom the subject of this sketch was the first-born, the others being as follow: James, who died in Omaha in 1907, at the age of fifty years; William, who lives on the old home place northeast of Dawson; Bernard, who was born in April, 1861, the first of the family born in this county and a biographical sketch of whom is presented elsewhere in this volume; Michael, who is farming the place on which his father died, northeast of Dawson; Mary, wife of M. J. Clancy, of Dawson, and Annie, born in 1870, who died in the spring of 1871. The mother of these children died August 21, 1858.

Having been but four years of age when he came with his parents to this county, practically all of Daniel Riley’s active life has been spent here and there is probably not another man in the county who has a wider acquaintance hereabout than he, for he has been a witness to and a participant in the development of this region since pioneer days and has kept up his acquaintance with that development from the earliest dawn of his childish recollection. He was reared on a typical pioneer farm and as a lad did his share in the development and improvement of that farm, but he also found much time for fishing and hunting and his recollection is that there was mighty good fun for a boy on the free range in those days. The first school he attended was a subscription school started by Harry Cornell two miles northwest of Verdon, the rate of tuition being five cents a day for each pupil. He attended that school one month, in 1863, at the end of which time Cornell became ill and the school was abandoned. In 1865 he had another chance to go to school in a little log school house not far away and there he received two more months of tuition. In that same year a log school house was put up in section 24 of Grant precinct, the first school opened in that precinct, and he entered that school, which was presided over by Mollie Pool. He attended school intermittently there until 1868, in which year the site of the school was changed to the top of the hill near the present village of Dawson and there he received some further tuition. In those days, of course, there were no free text-books, each pupil bringing his own books, and Mr. Riley recalls distinctly the transaction by which he acquired his first arithmetic, trading for the same one mink skin, while for his first spelling-book he gave a skunk hide.

Continuing to assist his father and his brothers in the labors of improving and developing the home farm, Mr. Riley remained at home until 1878, when he rented a tract of land and began farming on his own account. He saved a little money and in 1879 bought a “forty” north of Dawson, in the north half of the northwest quarter of section 11, paying eight dollars an acre for the same, but he did not improve the same, finding his efforts more profitably engaged elsewhere. In 1885 he bought a tract of two hundred and fifty-eight acres in section 21, paying fifteen dollars an acre for the same, and this he proceeded to improve and develop until he has made it one of the most productive farms in the county. As his affairs prospered Mr. Riley gradually added to his holdings until now he is the owner of eight hundred acres of as good land as there is in Richardson county, four hundred and forty acres of which surrounds his beautiful home in the bottom lands of the Nemaha. On that place he has expended twenty thousand dollars in tiling and ditching and his neighbors agree that he raises the finest corn in that community, his land producing from sixty to seventy bushels an acre. His residence is of modern construction, with hardwood floors and up-to-date conveniences, and his ample barns and other farm buildings are in keeping with the same, his farm plant being one of the best equipped in this region of fine farm plants. Mr. Riley is a Democrat and has from the days of his boyhood given his close attention to local political affairs, but has not been a seeker after public office, though himself a real influence in local politics.

On November 26, 1912, Daniel Riley was united in marriage to Mrs. Mary Elizabeth (Wheeler) Whitney, who was born in the precinct of Barada, this county, November 24, 1862, a daughter of Henry Duke and Malinda (Buchanan) Wheeler, natives of Kentucky and Missouri, respectively, who came to Nebraska in 1859 and who returned to Kentucky during war times, but came back here in 1866 and resumed their place on their home farm in Barada precinct, where they spent the remainder of their lives, the former dying in 1870, and the latter on April 19, 1915. Henry D. Wheeler fought in the Mexican War and Mrs. Wheeler was the only Mexican War pensioner in this county at the time of her death. They were the parents of five children, of whom three are living, Mrs. Riley having two brothers, William

H. Wheeler, who is living on the old home place in Barada, and Lawrence Wheeler, of Falls City, who is also the owner of a farm in that precinct. Mary Elizabeth Wheeler grew to womanhood on the farm on which she was born and on March 11, 1880, was united in marriage to John Whitney, who was born in Missouri, a son of Wade Whitney and wife, who later came to this county and became pioneers of Grant precinct, John Whitney and Daniel Riley thus being schoolmates and playfellows in their boyhood days. John Whitney, who was born on August 2, 1854, died on May 6, 1901, he then being fifty-one years of age. He left two children, Claude, who is farming his mother’s place, the Whitney farm in sections 24 and 26, and Guy, who is farming in section 20 of Grant precinct. Mr. and Mrs. Riley have a very pleasant home and take a proper part in the general social activities of their home community. They are members of the Catholic church and take an earnest interest in parish affairs, as well as in the general good works of the neighborhood in which they live, Mr. Riley is a liberal subscriber to the Red Cross movement and has purchased Liberty Bonds, as evidence of his patriotism.


Edwards, Lewis C., History of Richardson County, Nebraska : Its People, Industries and Institutions, Indianapolis : B.F. Bowen, 1917.

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