Skip Navigation

Sign In or Register


SharePrint Riley Wilson

Born at Upper Falls in Kanawha County, William Edwin ‘‘Riley’’ Wilson (November 10, 1882-October 6, 1952) became West Virginia’s best-known raconteur. He earned a law degree from Washington and Lee University and then went into practice with Fred Carr. Sam Chilton, Wilson’s close associate, claimed that Wilson hardly ever practiced law, taking few if any cases for decades at a time. Wilson was best known for his wit and his storytelling.

Riley Wilson’s best stories came out of rural West Virginia, often provided by a brother who practiced law in Lincoln County. Riley was in demand around the country as an entertainer and toastmaster. He traveled with Anna Held’s theater show on the vaudeville circuit, made national radio appearances, and was considered one of the finest storytellers of his time. Riley published at least two books, including Reach Me the Tin and From Philadelphia, Pa., to Charleston, W. Va., Via Nome, Alaska. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1920, and later served Franklin Roosevelt’s administration as a member of the National Bituminous Coal Administration.

Wilson became seriously ill while attending the 1949 inauguration of President Truman and died in 1952. The ‘‘Mattie Appleyard’’ character played by Jimmy Stewart in the 1971 movie version of the Davis Grubb novel Fools’ Parade was based in part on Riley Wilson.

This Article was written by Bil Lepp

Last Revised on December 09, 2015


Chilton, Sam. Interview by author. ca. 1970.

Wilson, Riley. From Philadelphia, Pa., to Charleston, W. Va., via Nome, Alaska. Charleston: Rose City Press, 1932.

Wilson, Riley. Reach Me the Tin. Charleston: Rose City Press, 1932.

Sullivan, Ken. Food, Feathers, and Whiskey: Two Stories by Riley Wilson. Goldenseal, (Summer 1982).

Cite This Article

Lepp, Bil "Riley Wilson." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 09 December 2015. Web. 30 May 2024.


There aren't any comments for this article yet.

West Virginia Humanities Council | 1310 Kanawha Blvd E | Charleston, WV 25301 Ph. 304-346-8500 | © 2024 All Rights Reserved

About e-WV | Our Sponsors | Help & Support | Contact Us The essential guide to the Mountain State can be yours today! Click here to order.