William Newton Byers
William Newton Byers began his career in Omaha, Nebraska as a first deputy surveyor of the Nebraska territory and a member of the first Nebraska Territorial legislature. In 1859, the stories of gold in Colorado convinced Byers to move further west. Despite lacking a formal background in journalism, he aspired to create a newspaper for the west. In March of 1859, Byers started his forty-two day journey to the Rockies with a printing press from the defunct Bellevue Gazette and a dream.
Although the newly-created Denver was not a bustling city as was advertised by the eastern newspapers, Byers remained undaunted and established an office above a saloon. The first edition of the Rocky Mountain News was printed and distributed to the public, on April 23, 1859, just twenty minutes before its first competitor, the Cherry Creek Pioneer. Publishing a newspaper within days of his arrival was possible due to Byers’ ingenuity and imagination. Most of the copy, marveling the beauty of Colorado, was already written in Nebraska.
Byers and his Rocky Mountain News portrayed the still-developing Colorado to the rest of the nation. The newspaper became a tool in which to attract more settlers to the Denver area, but at the same time, proved to be the weapon that displaced and misrepresented the Native Americans of the area.
Byers’ legacy is tied to that of Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans, David Moffat and Walter Cheesman. Their collective determination to establish Denver as a progressive town provided Denver with a railroad to link to the rest of the nation.
Politics was another interest for Byers. However, Byers’ political career halted in 1876, after the public learned of his affair with a divorced woman. The situation was brought to light when Byers refused to divorce his wife, Elizabeth, for his mistress and the mistress attempted murder in her anger.
Eventually, William sold the Rocky Mountain News in 1878 but remained prominent within the Denver society. He helped establish the Colorado Historical Society and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Denver Tramway Company. Elizabeth, who stayed with her husband even after the affair, continued working with philanthropic and other groups her husband established, especially the Society of Colorado Pioneers.