William Byers publishes first Denver newspaper

Beating a rival publisher by a mere 20 minutes, William Byers distributes the first newspaper ever published in the frontier boomtown of Denver, Colorado.

Byers had arrived in Denver the previous month. He had previously worked as surveyor in Oregon and Washington and served as a territorial representative in Nebraska. However, when Byers heard in 1858 of the discovery of silver and gold in the Pike’s Peak area of Colorado, he decided to move to the Colorado gold fields to establish a newspaper. Denver was becoming a center for the Colorado mining industry, and Byers reasoned that it was the ideal location to begin publishing a newspaper.

As was the case in many western frontier towns, would-be journalists in Denver were vying for the honor of publishing the first newspaper. In Byers’ case, his competitor was the Cherry Creek Pioneer. Rushing to beat the Pioneer into print, Byers set to work on the first edition of his newspaper shortly after he arrived in Denver in March. Working with a handpress in the attic of a local saloon, Byers printed and distributed the first edition of his newspaper on this day in 1859, beating the first release of The Pioneer by only 20 minutes.

In honor of the rugged mountain range that rose up abruptly to the west of Denver, Byers named his new venture in frontier journalism The Rocky Mountain News. Byers remained the editor and publisher of the News until 1878, using the paper as a platform to promote the development of agriculture in the area as an alternative to relying solely on mining. Never trained as a professional journalist, Byers also unapologetically used the paper to express his own views. “My feelings,” he once noted, “have been those of personal championship for a state in which I have felt a deep personal interest.” He died in 1903, having witnessed and shaped Denver’s transformation from a rugged frontier-mining town to a sophisticated business and financial center of the Rocky Mountain West.

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