History of Byron City

History of Byron City

Founder of Byron City

Founder of Byron City, Byron Wilkes

In 1887, explorer and miner Byron Wilkes entered our fair valley from the cities of the east with a party of over 60 men, women, and children, who headed for the valley to find gold and build their own fortunes. But after an attack by Indian tribes, an outbreak of malaria, an outbreak of dysentery, an outbreak of “the wagon crazies,” another attack by Indians, a buffalo hunting expedition gone horribly wrong, and a fight over who’d get to drive the lead wagon next, Byron Wilkes finished the 5 mile trek as the sole survivor of the party. He was all alone with only an ox, an uncovered wagon, a handful of tools, a box of dynamite that had been salvaged from the buffalo hunting expedition, and a box containing his severed left leg that he salvaged from the first Indian raid. Regarding the injury, he’s believed to have said, “We’re not leaving anyone behind. Not even parts of anyone behind!” That is where the saying on our city crest comes from.

So it was on May 12th, 1887, that Byron hobbled into the then-called Nemanau Mezau Valley and changed it from its stupid Indian name to his own: Byron Valley. With hope in his heart and a peg on his leg, he began mining the hills immediately in search of his fortune.

He never found even a spec of gold.

What he did find, however, was that expedition had paved the start of a new pioneer trail further west, and many travelers stopped to trade with the “strange, one-legged crazy man of the hills.” Though he was an honest trader, Byron refused to let anyone settle permanently in his valley, sometimes resorting to chasing families away with his pickaxe (the origin of our town’s annual One-Legged Race Festival). Eventually, though, time and whiskey placated Byron towards the new settlers, and soon the mine became a settlement, the settlement a town, and the town into a city.

Although the remnants of the past city are long gone, buried by time and by the bulldozers that destroyed the old Byron Hotel & Saloon last summer to make room for the mini-mall, the impact that the brave, patriotic, determined Byron Wilkes is still felt throughout the city, and will never be forgotten. Some say they can still hear him working away in his old mine, tapping away at the rocks, swearing profusely, yelling at mine ghosts, chasing strangers. True or not, his legacy will never be forgotten.

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One thought on “History of Byron City

  1. Pingback: Non-Alcoholic St. Patrick’s Day Celebration | The City of Byron City

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