The founding of the Rocky Mountain News

Found this history of the Rocky Mountain News via Google Books. The passage is from History of American Journalism, published in 1917.


In Denver The Rocky Mountain News has the distinction of being the oldest paper in Colorado. Its first issue was April 23, 1859, in a struggling, home-seekers’ settlement which had not yet a definite name. The discovery of placer gold some months earlier had made a settlement at the junction of the Platte River and Cherry Creek. On each bank of the river there was a rival town site, so that William N. Byers very wisely dated his paper as published at Cherry Creek, Denver Territory. The first issue of The Rocky Mountain News was printed on brown wrapping-paper. At the start it was published weekly, but later it became a daily. It has been published uninterrupted since its establishment, with a single exception in the early sixties when a flood in Cherry Creek wiped its plant out of existence.

The day The Rocky Mountain News started was one of the most exciting in frontier journalism. When the news of the discovery of gold in the “Pike’s Peak Region” had reached as far east as the Missouri, it promptly started two small newspaper plants which had for their motto, figuratively speaking, “A newspaper near Pike’s Peak, or bust.” One left Omaha and was owned by William N. Byers, Thomas Gibson, and John L. Bailey; the other set out from St. Joseph, Missouri, and consisted of the outfit which John L. Merrick had purchased from The St. Joseph Gazette. Both outfits had to cross the plains by ox teams.

Merrick was the first to arrive. Not knowing that competitors were on the way, he leisurely commenced preparing for the first issue of The Cherry Creek Pioneer. Ten days later the Omaha plant arrived and the competition for the honor of the first paper in Colorado began. The settlement offered a suitable prize to the winner and appointed a committee of citizens to referee the contest. Both The Rocky Mountain News and The Cherry Creek Pioneer announced their date of first publication April 23, 1859. At ten-thirty o’clock, on the evening of April 23, the first copy of The News, a four-page sheet, was pulled from the old Washington hand-press. Other copies soon circulated among the pioneers surrounding the log cabin print-shop. A little later The Pioneer also appeared on the streets. The decision of the committee, however, was that The News had won by twenty minutes.

Worn out by his efforts and depressed by defeat, Merrick the next morning offered to sell his plant to his rival upon terms which were later accepted. Merrick then set off for the mountains, not to hunt for news, but for gold.

As the pioneer settlement grew into a larger town, The News always led in a movement for law and regulation. In his attempts to clear the town of its rougher element, Editor Byers often wrote his editorials and news with a rifle across his knee while armed men guarded his printers. For nineteen years Byers conducted The News.

Under difficulties seldom equaled, and never surpassed, he brought out his paper. When the Indian outbreak caused an embargo on traffic over the Western plains in 1864-65, he frequently ran out of white paper, and in such emergencies he printed the news on wrapping-paper, gathered from Denver stores. That he might have the news before the mails from the East arrived in Denver, he established an overland pony express. By means of a relay of horseback riders he had brought the news from the nearest express lines with a speed which to-day almost seems incredible. Of course, it was expensive to run such a private pony express, but The News in those days cost forty-four dollars a year and single copies sold for one dollar and twenty-five cents apiece. In 1878 the paper was sold to the Rocky Mountain News Printing Company, with W. A. H. Laughlin as editor and principal owner.

Two papers were established in Denver in 1867: the first of these was The Daily Argus, begun on October 25; the second, The Rocky Mountain Star, begun on December 8. A third attempt was made by N. A. Baker, who, after bringing out a few issues of The Colorado Leader, left Denver, to go to Cheyenne, where he founded the first paper in Wyoming.

2 thoughts on “The founding of the Rocky Mountain News

  1. Wow…I know this post was over a month ago, but it especially hits home today. The RMN was actually the first paper I picked up. It’s history was significant, as this post notes.

Leave a Reply