Poet, lecturer, and journalist, Riley gained popularity with his series of poems in the Hoosier dialect written under the pseudonym "Benjamin F. Johnson, of Boone." These originally appeared in the Indianapolis Journal, where he worked from 1877 to 1885; in 1883 they were published as The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems. His most popular poems are "When the Frost is on the Punkin"' and "The Old Man and Jim." Riley went on numerous lecture tours, entertaining as an actor and humorist. Although best known for his dialect poetry---"comforting, familiar platitudes, restated in verse" (Richard Crowder)---Riley also wrote humorous sketches and other poems. He produced more than 90 volumes of popular poetry, some of which are available in reprinted editions.