Hon. William N. Byers. It would be impossible to write a history of Denver without making frequent allusion to the subject of this article, for he has been intimately identified with its most important enterprises since the days of its infancy. To his enterprise the city is indebted to all extent impossible to estimate. His far-seeing sagacity and business acumen have over-leaped obstacles that secured to others insurmountable. Especially is his name associated with the founding and early history of Denver’s oldest paper, the Rocky Mountain News. He arrived in Denver April 17, 1859, bringing with him the first printing press west of Omaha, and at once established a weekly newspaper. Success smiled upon his efforts and rendered possible the establishment of a daily paper, the first issue of which appeared August 18, 1860. He continued the manager and editor of the paper until 1878, when he severed his connection with it. In the early days of Colorado he did much to attract settlers by publishing articles pertaining to this State, explaining its resources, the advantages it presented for stock-raising and farming, the wealth of its mountains in minerals, and the salubrity of its climate. Through his pen he did probably as much as anyone in Colorado to enhance the interests of the state and render possible its wonderful development of today.
The organization with which the name of Mr. Byers is now most intimately associated is the famous festival of mountain and plain, which has been held annually since 1895. He was a member of the first board of directors, and since the second year has been the president. Much of his time is given to preparation for this great celebration, which attracts thousands to Denver. Many of the most striking features of the festival are original with him, among them the bal champedre (outdoor ball), when five thousand or more persons, in masquerade attire, dance under a covered canvas on Broadway. There are four grand parades, the one on the first day representing a pageant of progress in the history of the state and five miles in length. On the second day occurs the great masked parade, while on the third day is the military and social parade, ending with a sham battle at City Park, and in the evening the parade of the slaves of the silver serpent.
Mr. Byers is descended from a Scotch family that, during the religious persecution of the sixteenth century, was driven into the borders of Ireland, and there took part in the siege of Londonderry. They emigrated to Pennsylvania when that state was still a wilderness, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The great-grandfather of our subject, and his three sons, took part in the Revolution. The father, Moses Watson Dyers, was born in Washington County, Pa., and at the age of four years, in 1808, accompanied his parents to Ohio. They settled at Circleville, Pickaway County, but later he and a brother removed to Darby Plains, in Madison County, where he improved a place of nearly three hundred acres. In 1860 he sold his property there and settled near Muscatine, Iowa, where he improved a large tract. His last days were spent in Muscatine, where he died in 1866, at the age of sixty-two years. In religious belief he was a Presbyterian. His wife, Mary A. Brandenburg, was a member of a well-known German family that became early settlers of Montgomery County, in the Miami Valley of Ohio; she died in Iowa in 1884.
Of the family of six children, five attained maturity and four are living, William N. being the eldest. Mrs. Ann Eliza McDonald resides in Washington, Iowa; Mrs. Olivia M. Kessinger makes her home in Muscatine; Mrs. Rachel Jane Morris resides in Denver. One of the sons, James H., was a member of an Iowa regiment during the Civil war and was killed in 1863, during the siege of Vicksburg. Our subject was born in Madison County, Ohio, February 22, 1831, and spent his early years upon a farm. In 1850, with team and wagon, he removed to Iowa, and the following year he engaged in government surveying in western Iowa, soon becoming deputy United States surveyor in Iowa, and later in Oregon and Washington. From there, in the winter of 1853-54, he went to California, returning east after a few months. For a short time he engaged in railroad surveying, but when the Kansas and Nebraska bill opened those territories for settlement, he went to Omaha, which then had only one house and that a log cabin. As county surveyor, he laid out a large part of the city. He was the first deputy United States surveyor appointed in Nebraska, in which capacity he ran the township and section lines in the eastern part of the territory. When the city government of Omaha was established, he was elected an alderman, and in 1854-55 he was a member of the first territorial legislative assembly of Nebraska, From Omaha he came to Denver early in 1859. Here he established the now famous Rocky Mountain News, which in 1872 became an incorporated company, with himself as president.
The connection of Mr. Byers with Denver’s history has by no means been limited to journalistic work. He has been interested in the development of mining properties, is now a member of the executive committee of the city library, and a member of the chamber of the commerce, of which he was president in 1893 and 1894. He was interested in the Denver Pacific, Denver & Rio Grande, South Park, and Denver, Utah & Pacific roads, all of which had an important part in the developing of Denver’s resources. From the organization of the Denver Tramway Company he has been a director, and since it became the Denver Consolidated Tramway Company he has also been vice-president and acting president of the company, and a member of the executive and auditing committees. In Muscatine, Iowa, in 1854, he married Miss Elizabeth Minerva Sumner, granddaughter of Governor Lucas, an early governor of Ohio and afterwards the last territorial and first state governor of Iowa. The Sumners are an old Virginia family and are connected with the famous statesman, Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts. Two children were born to the union of Mr. and Mrs. Byers. Frank, the son, owns a horse and cattle ranch at Hot Sulphur Springs, Grand County, this state. The daughter, Mary Eva, is the wife of William F. Robinson.
From the organization of the party Mr. Byers has been a stanch Republican. For years, through his influence with his pen, he was a power in public affairs. For the admission of Colorado into the Union he labored unceasingly. In June, 1859, he was chairman of the first convention called to secure a state organization, but this convention adjourned without definite action. In 1864 he was a member of the convention that framed the first state constitution, under which the enabling act was passed by both houses of congress, but vetoed by Andrew Johnson. In 1864 President Lincoln appointed him postmaster in Denver, which office he held until 1867, resigning then on account of the pressure of business. Again, under the administration of President Hayes, he was appointed postmaster April 14, 1879, and served until 1883.
The rapid growth of the city between his first term as postmaster and his second tenure of the office brought many problems before the postal authorities for solution. During the summer months, when the city was crowded with visitors from the east, the throngs around the post office were so great that it was almost impossible to gain access to the building. In front of each delivery window would form long lines extending out into the street, and although the delivery clerks worked unceasingly people sometimes were obliged to wait an hour for their mail. Such a condition of things could not be tolerated in a growing and enterprising city. Upon accepting the position the second time, Mr. Byers again set himself to work to secure improvements. It was largely through his influence and untiring efforts that the free delivery system in Denver was organized and he at once began to plan for its establishment. It was the work of many days before the system was put into operation. The force at first consisted of only six letter carriers who were properly equipped and trained. Letter boxes were placed on convenient corners through out the city, and soon the people began to reap the benefit of the improved system. Before the expiration of his term of office about thirty carriers were employed. The telegraph had been introduced in October, 1853; the street railway system had been inaugurated in January, 1872; the steam cars had brought Denver into touch with other localities June 24, 1870, when the first railroad train reached Denver over the Denver pacific road; water and gas works had been introduced, fire alarms and telephones, so that the free delivery system was about the last “link” that was necessary to constitute Denver a metropolitan city. It was during Mr. Byers’ term of office from 1879 to 1883 that Denver made giant strides toward becoming a metropolis and the queen of all our mountain states and it was during these busy years so fruitful of future greatness that Mr. flyers worked faithfully and enthusiastically to bring his department to its subsequent excellence, thus adding no small share towards its growth and development.
Fraternally Mr. Byers is past master of Denver Lodge No. 5, A. F. & A. M., past high priest of Denver Chapter No. 2, R. A. M., and for two terms grand high priest of the grand chapter of Colorado. On the organization of the Knights Templar Commandery in Denver, he was elected the first candidate for the orders in Colorado and later was elected eminent commander and served as such several years. In the organization of the Pioneer Society he took an active part, and served as its first secretary, later was president for several years. Some years after the organization in 1859 the records were lost and in 1866 the society was re-organized. He is president of the Colorado State Historical and Natural History Society which has the best collection of cliff dwellers’ relics in the world.
From this resumé of the life of Mr. Byers it will he seen that he has borne a very active part in the growth of Denver and indeed of the state itself. His sympathy and support have always been given to measures calculated to promote the welfare of the people. In earlier days the influence of his pen was given toward the advancement of the city; later, through other ways, he has been no less potent in securing the promotion of public-spirited and progressive projects. It is doubtful if, in a review of the eminent men of the state, there could be found a man who has done more than he in the promotion of the state’s welfare from the early settlement of Colorado to the present time.
Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.