Richard Riley Fitzgerald was born in 1871 in Draper, the tenth child of Perry Fitzgerald and his third wife, Agnes Rylands Wadsworth.
He attended Brigham Young Academy in 1888 or 1889 and then moved to Woodland, where he herded sheep in Moon Canyon for himself and his brothers. He traded mutton with James Butters, an English settler in Woodland, for a place to store his gear while he was off herding.
In 1896 Riley married James’s daughter Minnie Laura, in Bench Creek, and they moved to a two-room house on a ranch that Riley bought from George Potts.
George had offered to buy Minnie a $50 dress if she could sell the ranch for him. In 1902 Riley bought land from Abram Hatch across the road on the Woodland Bench and built a two-story home. By 1917 the couple had ten living children.
Minnie’s parents had moved to Kamas in around 1912 and in 1919 Riley sold his property in Woodland to Hyrum Winterton and moved the family a 456-acre ranch in Marion, previously owned by Louis Sidell Smith (now part of High Star), where Riley raised dairy cattle and horses.
There was rumored to be gold worth $60,000 buried on the ranch and many people, including Riley, searched for it – without success.
Riley was noted from an early age for his “superior knowledge” of raising sheep, and breeding and training horses. He had several riding ponies, some racehorses and a well-matched pulling team – at one time the best in the county.
Riley bred one of his horses to an Arabian palomino stallion who gave birth to a beautiful white colt. The horse attracted a tremendous amount of attention and in 1938 she was sold to two Japanese men, who gave her to Hirohito, then Emperor of Japan, who famously only rode white horses in public.
Horses had an important symbolic role in Japanese religion and even today sacred a white horse is stabled at certain shrines. Favory, one of the Lippizan horses famously rescued by Operation Cowboy, had been destined by Hitler as a gift to Hirohito.
Hirohito had several: Hatsushimo (First Frost), Shirayuki (White Snow) Mineyuki (Snow Peak) and Hatsuyuki (First Snow). Hatsuyuki, the Emperor’s preferred mount, was immortalized as a sacred horse at Japan’s leading Shinto shrine when he died in 1957.
It’s not clear which was Riley’s horse, but he may have been Shirayuki, described as a “stock horse that was purchased in the United States”. The International News Service reported that Emperor Hirohito made 344 appearances on Shirayuki. He was retired in 1942 and died in 1947.
The symbol of the white horse caught the American imagination. Early in the war, United States Admiral William (Bull) Halsey vowed that one day he would ride Hirohito’s white horse through the streets of Tokyo.
This soon became a rallying cry in the United States. It was even used in a campaign to sell war bonds.
On Armistice Day, November 11, 1945, American troops held a rodeo in Tokyo. While looking for horses, American army rodeo expert Lt. Joseph R. “Dick” Ryan found a white Arabian stallion in a secluded stable. He reported that the horse was “pretty playful, indicating that he had not been ridden for some time.” Newspapers jubilantly reported that Ryan was the first American to ride Hatsushimo.
About a month after the rodeo, Ryan bought the horse and brought it back to America. Soon after, he formed the International Rodeo and Thrill Circus and took “the Emperor’s stallion” on the road. He appeared at American Legion membership drives, veteran’s hospitals and state fairs all over the country. The original stallion died in 1948, although Ryan toured with a horse named Hatsushimo until 1963.
When Hirohito died in 1989, two newspapers ran pictures of him mounted on a white stallion, stating: “Richard Riley Fitzgerald raised the unique white stallion on the Fitzgerald Ranch one mile north of Kamas” and “This magnificent stallion was bred and born in Kamas Valley”.