Posted: June 26, 2012
Dames & Disasters
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Chapter 1: April 23, 1859
A cheer went up along Cherry Creek late the night of April 22, 1859. William Newton Byers, 28, and a crew of three men – not all experienced printers, as you will learn – cranked out the first edition of the Rocky Mountain News, beating its very first competitor, The Cherry Creek Pioneer, to the streets of Denver by 20 minutes.
Colorado had its first newspaper.
Byers had arrived from Omaha only one night earlier, setting up shop on the second floor of a log building operated by Uncle Dick Wooton as a general store and saloon. Immediately, he found himself in a race against the Pioneer, as he explained on page 3 in the first edition:
QUICK WORK. – On the 21st, at 7 p.m., the wagons carrying our press were driven to the door and we began unloading. We set up our press, arranged our matter, and the next day at 10 p.m. began printing the outside of our first issue.
One man working with Byers, Ike “Buckskin” Chamberlain, may have had some printing experience. But Byers apparently wasn’t so sure that he could out-race the Pioneer that he would turn down help from an unlikely volunteer. The following account appeared in the paper’s anniversary edition 38 years later:
O.P. Wiggins, the well-known policeman … was in the city on the day and had never seen a press. Hearing that one was about to be operated he went to The News office and requested to be allowed to assist in the printing. Mr. Byers gave him a chance to run the roller which distributed the ink over the type. He accepted the offer and worked faithfully for an hour … Chamberlain was killed about a year later on the trail between Pueblo and Taos. Mr. Wiggins subscribed for The News at that time and has been a continuous subscriber ever since. Amos Steck divides the honor with Mr. Wiggins, having taken the paper as regularly.
Byers went on to become one of the most influential leaders in the state’s history. He was instrumental in gaining statehood for Colorado; helped bring in telegraph lines and the railroad; served on the committee that founded the Colorado Seminary, later the University of Denver; trekked with the first party known to climb Longs Peak, and helped found the Colorado Historical Society, the Natural History Society and Denver’s first library.
The Rocky first published as an evening weekly. It went on to become one of the leading newspapers in the country and an integral part of Coloradans’ lives. Since 1926 it has been part of the Scripps newspaper chain and media family. It has been a rich and colorful 150 years, as you will see.
From Byers’ first editorial
“Fondly looking forward to a long and pleasant acquaintance with our readers, hoping well to act our part, we send forth to the world the first number of the Rocky Mountain News.”
(In the early days of newspapering, “number” meant edition.)
Paper’s first home
The original site was the second-floor attic of a saloon near the Market St. bridge in Auraria, one of three towns that made up what was to soon become Denver. The other two towns were Montana City and St. Charles. Denver City eventually won out over St. Charles as the city’s name because, in one prospector’s opinion: “There ain’t no saints in St. Charles.”