West Jefferson, Madison County, OH
Pages 653-654, 656
William N. Byers, a native of Ohio, was born near the village of West Jefferson, Madison county, that State, on February 22, 1831. His father, Moses W. Byers, was a farmer who had located in that Ohio county when that country was but little changed from the conditions of a wilderness; and his mother, Mary A. Brandenburg, was of a family that early settled in what is now Miami county, Ohio, in the beautiful Miami valley. The subject of this sketch spent his boyhood on his father’s farm, attended the primitive district school of the neighborhood in his earlier years, and then entered the West Jefferson Academy where, with his other studies, he learned surveying. When he was about seventeen years old he was employed in hauling ties for the old Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad; his father having taken a contract to supply ties for a long stretch of that pioneer Ohio road, which passed through the home farm. In 1850 the elder Byers with his family removed to Muscatine, Iowa; and at that time what was called the "frontier" was about half way across that State.
Young Byers did not long remain at Muscatine, though for some years afterward he regarded it as his home. In 1851 he joined a United States surveying party organized for work in western Iowa - on the Missouri river slope of that State - and with which he was engaged through that season and in the sprig of 1852. In the summer of 1852 he joined a party bound for Oregon, and with it crossed the plains by way of the Platte river and Fort Laramie, and thence to the Pacific coast by way of the old Oregon Trail. The party was 145 days on the journey and, after a few days’ travel from the Missouri river, saw no white men’s habitations except those at Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, he fur-trading posts of Forts Hall and Boise, and the Umatilla Indian Agency, until arriving at Oregon City, on the Willamette river. In Oregon, Mr. Byers was attached to an United States surveying party engaged in work in that region, and remained with it until the close of the summer of 1853. While thus employed he ran the first township lines in what is now the State of Washington. In the autumn of 1853 he traversed the gold-fields of California, and then went to San Francisco.
Mr. Byers return to Iowa by way of the Pacific ocean and the Isthmus of Panama late in the autumn of 1853, reaching his home at Muscatine in the last week in December of that year, where he remained but a short time. Congress having in the spring of 1854 created the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska, an inviting field for enterprising and ambitious young men was opened west of the Missouri river. In the summer of 1854 Mr. Byers located in Omaha, a metropolis then represented by a partly surveyed and platted town-site of magnificent distances and one lonely log-cabin. He was soon employed in completing the platting of the town, and afterward on survey work in the eastern part of the Territory for the United States. On this last-mentioned work he ran the first township and sub-division lines in that Territory. He was, also, elected a member of the first Legislative Assembly of Nebraska Territory, and in that position assisted in putting in motion the official machinery of the new Territorial government. Upon the organization of the municipal government of the "city" of Omaha, he was elected a member of the Board of Alderman, and for two years served in that position. He remained a citizen of Omaha until early in 1859. He had heard the reports from the Pike’s Peak country in the summer and autumn of 1858, and had resolved to set out for it at once, but was prevented doing so by an accidental gun-shot wound that came near being a fatal one. In the meantime, being familiar with the Platte river route to the west, and having encountered several men who had returned from the Pike’s Peak region late in the autumn of 1858, he prepared and published his "Pike’s Peak Guide" to which we have elsewhere referred.
Though he had had no experience whatever as a newspaper editor and publisher, and with but limited means at his command, Mr. Byers decided toward the close of 1858 that he would effect arrangements under which he and others would take to the new gold region the equipment and material for the publication of a newspaper. Of the consummation of those arrangements, of the coming to Denver of that newspaper equipment, of Mr. Byers’ arrival here on April 17, 1859, and of the appearance here of the Rocky Mountain News on April 23rd, all the circumstances are elsewhere in this volume related in detail.
The life-history of Mr. Byers since he became a citizen of Denver at that time, forms a large part of the history of the city as narrated in many Chapters of this work. As will have been seen by the reader, his name is encountered almost everywhere in the Story of Denver, in the preparation of which it became to the writer a matter of much personal interest to ascertain whether anything of commanding importance in the city’s history had been consummated without Mr. Byers’ personal participation. The reader who follows the Story to its close will not need to be told that the exceptions to the rule are very few, and that even in most of the exceptions the indirect influence of this eminent figure in the annals of Denver is apparent. For this reason it is not deemed necessary in this note to enter into the particulars of his long and useful life in this city; for they are interwoven in the larger part of the contents of this volume. Nor is it needful to refer at length to his personality. The thousands who personally know him know that it is, and know the sterling worth of our ranking pioneer; and those who do not so know him, may see the man’s nature revealed in the lines and expression of the accompanying portrait from a recent photograph, and in the picture read the character that made him a leader among men at it has made him beloved by the people of a great community and a great State.
It has been the fortune, or the opportunity, whichever it may be termed, of but few men to have witnessed so wonderful a development of an empire as that which has come within the lifetime of William N. Byers, and to have so conspicuously participated in the causes that wrought it. He has seen the majestic panorama of civilization unroll from the Mississippi river to the Pacific Ocean over the plains and mountains he traversed as a pioneer in the vast domain; and it would seem, than he, no man bore a nobler, more unselfishly useful, part in preparing the way for it.
With the establishment of the News in April, 1859, the local record and perpetuation of the history of Denver and of Colorado began. In that and succeeding pioneer years, Mr. Byers carefully explored, and intelligently described in his newspaper, nearly every part of the area now within the State, pointing out the great natural resources and during their development, tracing the streams to their sources, witnessing the founding of towns and hamlets, and giving to the outside world through his reports its earliest and best intelligence of the possibilities and development of the Denver region; and in two notable instances as elsewhere related, he was directly instrumental in locating in Colorado, two great colonies of eastern people about the time the first railway was completed to Denver. Having passed through all the storms of the primitive era here, he was a leader in every movement to secure Statehood for Colorado, and in every other that promised improvement in conditions and advancement of the people’s welfare. The favorite of the people, nothing but the unworthy strifes of contending political factions, kept him from becoming the first Governor of the State; a position for which he was in every way most eminently qualified.
Though, as already said, Mr. Byers had had, prior to his coming hither with the material for publishing the Rocky Mountain News, no experience in editing and publishing a newspaper, he immediately developed into an editor of unusual ability, and of physical and moral courage of the highest type. His energy and fearlessness, the intimate knowledge of the entire region that he made his business to acquire, his faith in its resources and destiny, his incessant labors for its development and welfare, resulted in a personal identification with affairs and events in the progress of this city and this Commonwealth that has rarely been equalled [sic.] anywhere. At the time he retired from the News, he had become the embodiment of the annals of the city and State in which he had for nineteen years been one of the chief directing forces; and in the esteem of the people he seemed, more than any other man, to personally represent and recall all that had been done here. The growth and character of his newspaper had, also, reflected in its own advancement for rise and progress of the city, and of the Territory that had two years before become at last a State of the Union; and for each and all of which its editor had so tirelessly labored through the years of his service.
Mr. Byers had been appointed Postmaster at Denver in 1864 and, after a little more than two years, had resigned on account of the pressure of his private business. Having sold and retired from the News in May, 1878, he was again appointed Postmaster, in March, 1879, and served through a term of four years and a few months. At the close of his term he withdrew from his more active participation in business affairs and gave attention to his accumulated interests in Denver and elsewhere in Colorado. When the Tramway Company was proposed he took part in the organization of that corporation, and ever since has been interested in and identified with it, having long been, as he now is, its Vice President.
Although, at the time of this writing, Mr. Byers has just passed his seventieth birthday, he is yet a hale and sturdy man who might readily lop off ten or fifteen years from the figures of record, notwithstanding his earlier adventurous life of many hardships and perils. With the old-time spirit as young as ever, his interest in the progress and well-being of his city and State is undiminished, and as of old he continues to promptly respond to many calls for his services from them and from his fellow-citizens.
In November, 1854, Mr. Byers married Miss Elizabeth M. Sumner, of Muscatine, Iowa --- a granddaughter of former Governor Lucas of Ohio and later Governor of Iowa - and that union formed nearly a half-century ago, remains unbroken. Mrs. Byers did not accompany her husband on his first journey to Denver, but soon after he had established the News he went to Omaha where she had awaited him at their home in that town, and they crossed the plains that summer, arriving in Denver on August 3rd. They have two surviving children; Frank S. Byers, of Grand county, Colorado; and Mrs. William F. Robinson, of Denver.