#lookback: John Riley’s Saloon

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

On the southwest corner of Third Street and Main Street, currently occupied by Bank of the West, one of Lander’s earliest pioneers, John Riley, established his Hole-In-the Wall Saloon. According to an article written by his daughter, Jennie, she describes her father as a young youth from New York City, who finds his way to the Wild West. He settled in Lander in 1876 and ran his saloon for the next 15 years.

Riley named his saloon after the notorious Hole-In-the Wall outlaw gang, but the saloon was commonly known as Riley’s. It was patronized by local men and rough and tough cowboys living on the edge of the law. As settlements took root so did the saloons.  Men gathered at these saloons to exchange local news, have a drink and, of course, socialize.   Saloons, along with merchants, liveries, and hotels, were an integral part of the economics of early Lander.

Saloons served up beer, but the majority of western saloon regulars drank straight liquor ….rye or bourbon. In almost every saloon, one could depend on seeing the long paneled bar, usually made of oak or mahogany, and polished to a splendid shine. Encircling the base of the bar would be a gleaming brass foot rail with a row of spittoons spaced along the floor next to the bar. Decorations at these many saloons varied from place to place but most often reflected the ideals of the customers. In the cow towns of the prairies, one might see steer horns, spurs, and saddles adorning the walls, while in the mountains; a customer would be met by the gazing eyes of taxidermied deer or elk.

One thing that motivated this young 17 year old was he wanted to find his brother who was known to be in South Pass City. When he arrived in the Wind River country, he met Captain Nickerson and enlisted with the Army.

Riley came to the Popo Agie Valley as a solider and was stationed at Camp Brown, formerly known as Camp Auger, before the Lander Township was established. During his career as a solider he fought in many battles against the hostile Sioux, Arapahoe and Crow Indians to protect the Shoshone Indians, miners and settlers. Camp Brown was the foundation the town of Lander was built upon.

Riley met his wife in about 1876 and settled down and became a saloon owner. His saloon was built by him and his father-in-law, John Bowman. This was not an easy task! They hauled logs from the mountains while dodging bullets and arrows shot at them by Indians, and faced harsh winter conditions. However, they prevailed and constructed the building from stout log rafters, put in strong joists and covered the building with adobe. As was common in the day, Riley’s home was located behind the saloon. Mrs. Riley was a popular seamstress who created beautiful gowns for the wives of Army officers and the women of Lander. Mrs. Riley’s flowers in the bay window facing Third Street became a showplace in Lander’s early days. The home was demolished in the 1930s.

Due to heart problems, Riley sold out the business in 1891 to Conant Parks and moved to Chicago. Parks was the father of Harold Parks who along with Eugene Amoretti Sr. ran the First National Bank of Lander. Amoretti’s original safe is still in the foyer of the Bank of the West.

After the saloon closed, the building was occupied by a variety of businesses one being Keister’s pharmacy. Keister moved his business up the block a couple of doors and it was became City Drug. The City Drug store stayed in business until 1975.

The adobe building remained on the corner of Third and Main until 1960 when it was demolished to make room for the new First National Bank building. During the demolition the original log rafters and sturdy joists were still in place, a testament to the well-built Riley Saloon.

Photo caption: The white building on the corner was John Riley’s saloon built in 1876. In this shot from the 1920s the building is a real estate office. Many businesses were in the building until it was torn down in 1960.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

November 3, 3pm at the Riverton Museum, “Walking on Ice”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

November 19, at the Pioneer Museum, “Tribal Warrior Art: The Art & History of Ledger Art by North

American Plains Indians” Exhibit opens to the public

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum work extremely hard to provide programs, care for the facilities, create exhibits and care for the thousands of artifacts and archival documents in the collections of the museums. In order to consistently accomplish these objectives the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.

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