Rocky’s demise a sad close to Byers’ legacy

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise (5/17/2009).

The folding of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009 was more than just the end of a daily newspaper – it was a watershed moment in the history of Colorado.

William N. Byers published the first issue of the Rocky Mountain News over 150 years ago, on Saturday, April 23, 1859. Byers and his partners had hauled the printing press in an ox-cart across the plains from Nebraska. At that time, Denver wasn’t yet Denver and Colorado wasn’t Colorado. The paper’s masthead read, “Cherry Creek, K.T.” (Kansas Territory).

First Rocky Mountain News building. Drawing by Richard Turner

In his unabashed style, Byers introduced himself with a column entitled “Salutatory,” writing:

With our hat in our hand and our best bow we this week make our first appearance upon the stage in the capacity of Editor. We make our debut in the far west, where the snowy mountains look down upon us in the hottest summer day … here where a few months ago the wild beasts and wilder Indians held undisturbed possession – where now surges the advancing wave of Anglo Saxon enterprise and civilization…

At the time, the place he called Cherry Creek actually had two names, each representing a miserable cluster of shacks and campsites on opposite banks of the creek: Auraria and Denver City. Byers, ever the pragmatist, avoided siding with one camp over the other by locating his newspaper office in a flimsy building straddling the creek. The local Arapaho warned him about floods, but he chose not to listen. Five years later, the creek made a fool of him, washing away the Rocky Mountain News offices and a big chunk of the town with it. Byers and what had become Denver wasted no time in rebuilding.

Early articles in the fledgling newspaper were somewhat limited in subject. Most stories covered the ups and downs of the region’s gold and silver diggings. Others covered the ups and downs of Byers’ surging waves of Anglo Saxons. There was also the occasional note about the ups and downs of various horse thieves being hung by irate citizens. Not surprisingly, when the paper mentioned the doings of local tribes, it invariably painted a picture of reasonable white men coping with savages – an attitude typical of the day.

William Byers

Byers was a lot more to early Denver than a source of information (however reliable it may or may not have been). Many immigrants had wild expectations and met nothing but harsh conditions and disappointment when they arrived. These folks returned home, blaming the territory and the scoundrels who promised it would make them rich. Byers devoted many inches of editorial column space extolling the virtues of life at the foot of the Rockies and pooh-poohing these naysayers. He was a booster, a cheerleader, what today might be called a “product evangelist.”

View of early Denver

It is a sad thing to see the Rocky Mountain News vanish, and we must credit the paper and William Byers with being instrumental in making Colorado what it is today.

The copyright of the article “Rocky’s demise a sad close to Byers’ legacy” is owned by Carol Turner. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing. Article may be quoted if properly cited.

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