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W. E. R. Byrne


A prominent attorney from a prominent family, writer William Easton Randolph ‘‘Bill’’ Byrne (October 26, 1862-December 11, 1937) is best remembered as ‘‘the fishing lawyer’’ and author of Tale of the Elk. He was born in Fort Defiance, Virginia. After the Civil War, during which his father served as a Confederate officer, the family moved to West Virginia. Byrne attended school in Wheeling and Charleston, worked as a civil engineer, and studied law with his uncle, Supreme Court Justice Homer A. Holt. Byrne was admitted to the bar in 1884, began practicing law in Sutton, and was elected prosecuting attorney of Braxton County in 1892. He was an ardent Democrat but well-liked by everyone who knew him, regardless of party affiliation.

Byrne was said to practice law when he had to and to fish when he could. His love affair with the Elk River led to a lifetime study of the river and its environs. Byrne enjoyed sitting around the campfire telling stories with his numerous friends, who included prominent figures of the day. Eventually Byrne’s stories and tales, first published as magazine articles, were compiled into the West Virginia classic, Tale of the Elk. Stricken with pneumonia at his Elk River camp, Byrne died at the age of 75.

Written by Bill Clements


  1. Comstock, Jim, ed. West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia vol. 4. Richwood: Jim Comstock, 1976.

  2. Laidley, W. S. History of Charleston and Kanawha County. Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Pub. Co., 1911.

  3. Sullivan, Kenneth. W.E.R. Byrne: A Fishing Lawyer. Goldenseal, (Spring 1996).