Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek


When Edward W. Wynkoop arrived in Colorado Territory during the 1858 gold rush, he was one of many ambitious newcomers seeking wealth in a promising land mostly inhabited by American Indians. After he worked as a miner, sheriff, bartender, and land speculator, Wynkoop’s life drastically changed after he joined the First Colorado Volunteers to fight for the Union during the Civil War. This sympathetic but critical biography centers on his subsequent efforts to prevent war with ...

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When Edward W. Wynkoop arrived in Colorado Territory during the 1858 gold rush, he was one of many ambitious newcomers seeking wealth in a promising land mostly inhabited by American Indians. After he worked as a miner, sheriff, bartender, and land speculator, Wynkoop’s life drastically changed after he joined the First Colorado Volunteers to fight for the Union during the Civil War. This sympathetic but critical biography centers on his subsequent efforts to prevent war with Indians during the volatile 1860s.

A central theme of Louis Kraft’s engaging narrative is Wynkoop’s daring in standing up to Anglo-Americans and attempting to end the 1864 Indian war. The Indians may have been dangerous enemies obstructing “progress,” but they were also human beings. Many whites thought otherwise, and at daybreak on November 29, 1864, the Colorado Volunteers attacked Black Kettle’s sleeping camp. Upon learning of the disaster now known as the Sand Creek Massacre, Wynkoop was appalled and spoke out vehemently against the action.

Many of his contemporaries damned his views, but Wynkoop devoted the rest of his career as a soldier and then as a U.S. Indian agent to helping Cheyennes and Arapahos to survive. The tribes’ lifeways still centered on the dwindling herds of buffalo, but now they needed guns to hunt. Kraft reveals how hard Wynkoop worked to persuade the Indian Bureau to provide the tribes with firearms along with their allotments of food and clothing—a hard sell to a government bent on protecting white settlers and paving the way for American expansion.

In the wake of Sand Creek, Wynkoop strove to prevent General Winfield Scott Hancock from destroying a Cheyenne-Sioux village in 1867, only to have the general ignore him and start a war. Fearing more innocent people would die, Wynkoop resigned from the Indian Bureau but, not long thereafter, receded into obscurity. Now, thanks to Louis Kraft, we may appreciate Wynkoop as a man of conscience who dared to walk between Indians and Anglo-Americans but was often powerless to prevent the tragic consequences of their conflict.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Ned Wynkoop—one of Colorado's most fascinating forgotten heroes—is finally resurrected in this crackerjack biography by Louis Kraft. To those familiar with Sand Creek, the worst U.S. Army slaughter of Native Americans in our history, this book will show you that there was one good white guy involved."Thomas J. Noel co-author of Colorado: A History of the Centennial State
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806142265
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 10/30/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,029,766
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Writer, historian, and lecturer Louis Kraft is the author of several books, including Custer and the Cheyenne and Gatewood & Geronimo.
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Read an Excerpt

Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek

By Louis Kraft


Copyright © 2011 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8954-3


Gone A-westering

Edward W. Wynkoop stood out in any crowd. According to his son, Frank, he was "six feet three inches tall, broad-shouldered and athletically built," which made him tower above most of his contemporaries. By summer 1856, when just twenty, he had decided to leave home and make his fortune. Emily, knowing her younger brother was anxious to begin his adult life, insisted he follow her to Lecompton, in the rolling hills of northeastern Kansas Territory. Built in 1854 on a bluff above the south bank of the Kaw (or Kansas) River, the town (originally named Bald Eagle) had just become the first capital of Kansas Territory.

On his way to Lecompton by the fall of 1856, Wynkoop took a "train to Pittsburgh, a boat down the Ohio to the Mississippi, and a steamer up the Mississippi to the Missouri." Here he boarded the steamer F. X. Aubry for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory. But floating ice hindered progress, and the captain put Wynkoop and the other passengers ashore to walk. Twenty-two miles later they found food and shelter. Upon his arrival at Lecompton, Emily welcomed him into her home, a log cabin, and Brindle hired him as a general clerk in the Receiver's Department of the Pawnee Land Office, which occupied the first floor of a two-story wooden building that also had a basement. To avoid being flooded when the Kaw River overflowed, it was built above a perpendicular cut into a small hill. A wide wooden staircase led up to the front entry of the building. The second floor housed the territorial legislature.

At first, Wynkoop found his new life in Lecompton invigorating. This would not last, since his duties as clerk did not inspire him. But one day when he arrived at the office, he was surprised to see Brindle standing by his desk "with a Bowie Knife peeping from under one side of his coat tail and a Six shooter from the other." Wynkoop knew that Brindle condemned slavery, not a popular or safe view in Lecompton, and he was aware that free-staters and border ruffians, those opposed to slavery and those for it, made Lecompton a powder keg ready to explode. Up to now, though, Wynkoop had been on the outside looking in.

The threat was real, as Wynkoop—who shared the upstairs of the Brindles' cabin with three other Pennsylvanians, the Petrikin brothers (Hardman and Henry) and George Crawford—would soon learn. Hardman served as head clerk in the Receiver's Department; Henry was evidence clerk. Shortly after Wynkoop's arrival, Emily, who was known to her inner circle as "Joan of Arc," and Brindle invited him to join co-conspirators Crawford and the Petrikins in plotting against border ruffians. Taking him into their confidence, they showed him the arsenal that Brindle maintained in the cabin—muskets in the cellar and on the upstairs floor. Brindle had every intention of protecting his home against invasion.

The image his brother-in-law presented in the office, combined with the arsenal, made it clear to Wynkoop that survival skills were critical. Violence had become common as free-state advocates and slavers struggled to control the territory. So in his spare time Wynkoop worked at mastering the art of self-defense. Gaining confidence as his skill improved, and in stark contrast to "the frantic struggles of the speculators in their endeavor to snatch up the most valuable lands," he quietly completed the transformation. "In those dark days and darker nights," George Crawford later explained, "when assassination lurked in alleys, and prowled upon the streets, and listened through the keyholes, we whispered or quietly muttered many an hour away together." Joining his friends and coworkers, all of whom "were armed like Brigands," Wynkoop wore buckskin and packed a Bowie knife and revolver.

One evening Wynkoop ate dinner at the Brindle residence before returning to the land office. A young Quaker, a new hire of Brindle's who had just arrived from Pennsylvania, sat at the table for the first time. Finished eating, Wynkoop excused himself, stood, and buckled on his weapons. The Quaker watched him in horror. "I should consider myself no better than a murderer," he said, "were I to go armed in that fashion; why do you do it?" Acclimated to Lecompton, Wynkoop looked at the newcomer. "Never mind, my boy," he drawled, "if you stay here long you will find out." And the newcomer did, ultimately arming himself "with a bigger pistol and a longer Bowie Knife."

By the time the territorial legislature met in January 1857, the population of Lecompton exceeded one thousand. The fast-growing town was a proslavery hotbed that housed four churches, a school, a livery stable, three hotels, six dry goods stores, a number of law offices, the land office, surveyor general's office, the capitol building, a U.S. courthouse, and a great many saloons. Choice town lots sold for $500 to $1,000 each. That year hundreds of settlers came to the Pawnee Land Office to record their claims, many of which were contested at the courthouse. One or two stores, the land office, lawyers, and saloons all did a booming business. During this time Wynkoop was continually aware of the discontent that seethed on the streets, but his clerical duties kept him too busy to conspire with his housemates.

In February the legislature passed a bill to create a constitution for entry into the Union as a slave state. John W. Geary, third territorial governor of Kansas (July 31, 1856–March 20, 1857), vetoed the bill, but the legislature immediately overruled him, which aggravated the antislavery group. Fed up with the incendiary atmosphere, Geary submitted his resignation. Incoming President James Buchanan ignored the resignation and fired Geary, effective March 20. Robert J. Walker became the fourth territorial governor on May 27, 1857.

Prior to the establishment of Nebraska and Kansas territories, many eastern Indians had been removed to the lands west of the Missouri River. As whites migrated westward they discovered that much of the reservation land granted to the displaced Indians was attractive for settlement. The Peoria, Kaskaskia, Piankeshaw, Wea, and Miami Indians signed over most of their reservation lands to the United States in May and June 1854. Held in trust, this territory included 400,000 acres of Kaskaskia and Peoria, 150,000 acres of Piankeshaw and Wea, and 400,000 acres of Miami reservation lands.

By early June 1857 the Pawnee Land Office relocated temporarily to Paola, a small town near the Missouri border, about forty-five miles southeast of Lecompton. The move to Paola did not provide a respite from the tensions in Lecompton for Wynkoop or his companions. Determined to obtain as much land as possible, proslavers from Missouri crossed the border. This set up yet another opportunity for bloodshed as free-staters also intended to control the land in the area.

That June tensions between the feuding sides drove the situation to a crisis. Before violence could erupt, Governor Walker addressed a mob from a wagon parked in front of the Paola Land Office. Wynkoop stood to the side and watched as Walker spoke to the belligerent gathering, "composed of hundreds armed to the teeth, about equally divided between free-state and pro-slavery men." When no one responded to his words, an unnerved governor hastily climbed into the land office through a window behind the wagon. Charles Foster, an attorney and free-stater, leaped onto the wagon and denounced Walker and the U.S. government. His words agitated the crowd, which began to grumble. Realizing his peril, Foster jumped off the wagon and disappeared. Seeing an opportunity, New Yorker Edwin O. Perrin, who traveled with the governor, climbed out of the window that Walker had used for his exit. He attempted without success to calm the restless crowd. Supporters of Foster's views drew their guns and began yelling. A rider charged the wagon. Brandishing a pistol, he demanded to know if Perrin's goal was to insult Foster. Unnerved, Perrin blurted a negative response and dove through the window.

With their weapons drawn, the antagonists backed away from each other, lining opposite sides of the street. Quietly watching the spectacle, Wynkoop kept his distance and maintained a firm grip on his revolver and knife. He later described the scene, tongue firmly in cheek. "Not being interested [in] either side, [I] looked on feeling somewhat like the old woman who saw her husband and the Bear fighting." Although his politics were already well formed, he was not yet ready to take a public stand.

Suddenly Commissioner of Land Sales Robert Stevens leaped onto the wagon to address the crowd. He warned them that if they started shooting, he would shut down the land office. Both sides knew the ownership of land would play an important part in the territory's entry into the union, whether as a free or a slave state. Although the selling of human chattel remained a growing concern in American politics, on that day land sales ruled in Kansas Territory. As Wynkoop later remembered, "land sales progressed without any further excitement." He nonchalantly added, "Occasionally a man was killed but that thing had become monotonous."

One day in Paola, Wynkoop with some companions from the land office, including his well-armed Quaker friend, decided to have a drink. While walking down the street they came upon an old man hanging by his ankles from a tree. A group of ruffians poked their prisoner, prodding him to confess to a robbery he claimed he had not committed. Wynkoop's party pushed their way to the front and cut the tethered man down. When the accusers complained, the Quaker cracked one of them over the head with his revolver, ending the confrontation.

As the days passed there would be additional incidents, some more serious than others. Once as Wynkoop and some friends were strolling down a road bordered on both sides by a wooden fence, they were startled to see a Miami Indian woman galloping toward them. As Wynkoop and the others scrambled, she changed directions and tried to ride them down. Missing one of the white men, she aimed at another. Realizing she was drunk, Wynkoop leaped onto the fence, and cockily made mocking and offensive gestures at her. She immediately charged him, pulled a pepper-box pistol from her blanket, and pointed it at him. Wynkoop flipped over backward onto the grass. Looking up from flat on his back, he watched as she drew a bead on him. He began rolling, then regained his feet and ran. She did not shoot, but Wynkoop never lived it down. No matter how hard he tried to silence his companions he failed to hush up the incident, for they had too much fun telling and then retelling the story. He later proclaimed, "I have never run away from a Squaw since."

Wynkoop's sense of humor grew right along with his manliness. Over the coming years he would take potshots at his own bravery, underplaying the danger of some of the situations in which he found himself.

Soon after the incident on the streets of Paola, Brindle closed the land office. He had over $800,000 in gold coin, and now faced the daunting prospect of safely transporting it to the U.S. subtreasury in St. Louis. As Brindle's brother-in-law, Wynkoop was privy to the threats that the shipment of gold would never reach its destination.

The most direct route was the road to Kansas City and then the Missouri River to St. Louis. Brindle and Wynkoop decided that the best course of action was not to deny anything, which gave the impression that they would take the quickest route north. On the day of their departure, they set out on the Kansas City road at 3:00 P.M. Their party consisted of four wagons manned by mixed-bloods hauling the money, the land office's attachés, and an armed guard. In all, the Brindle-Wynkoop party consisted of "nineteen well armed men."

The wagon train slowly made its way north, continuing long after dark. Finally, two hours after sunset, when Brindle and Wynkoop felt certain no one was following them, they changed direction and headed west onto the grassland. After they finally called a halt, one of the guards reported that he heard voices. As it turned out, a well-armed band of ruffians was hunting them. At midnight, the moon offered enough light to travel and the convoy continued the journey. They reached Leavenworth City, not Kansas City as previously advertised, and their ultimate destination, St. Louis, without further incident. After making the delivery Wynkoop and Brindle returned to Lecompton. The trip gave Wynkoop a foretaste of battle. No bullets had been fired, no blood drawn, but he had become a veteran of a conflict that did not take prisoners. This was a lesson he would not forget.

During the summer of 1857 United States stocks began falling at alarming rates. On August 24 the stock market crashed, initiating a panic that swept the country. In New York City alone, more than 40,000 people lost their jobs. The panic produced high prices, a large excess of goods, and an "orgy of railroad construction" that spiraled out of control. The panic soon deepened into a depression. The frontier borderlands suffered more than the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic states. With the massive influx of immigrants to western territories, the land market should have continued to boom, but low prices combined with the abundance of prime land marked the end of a promising future.

Violence stemming from the slavery issue continued and then escalated. Simply walking the streets of Lecompton put one at risk. Free-state views did not sit well in a predominantly proslavery land. Even though he had developed survival skills, Wynkoop questioned his prospects. He was earning a living, but that was all. Bleeding Kansas had little to offer beyond an early grave. With well-defined views on slavery, he avoided confrontations by declining to discuss the subject. Young and ambitious, Wynkoop looked for a more positive future.

The governor's office constantly changed occupants, and on May 12, 1858, James W. Denver became Kansas Territory's fifth governor. As the territorial congress convened on the second floor of the land office, Wynkoop found himself in close proximity to the governor and the congress. At an opportune time he stepped up to Denver and introduced himself, mentioning that his older brother Frank, who had died in December 1857, had been Denver's comrade during the Mexican War. Frank's recent death opened the door. Wynkoop's boldness led to a friendship, and Denver, who liked Wynkoop, took him into his confidence. On one of Wynkoop's visits to the governor's office, Denver showed him a large map of a newly discovered gold region then known only as Pike's Peak, at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains. Denver spoke of his plans for turning the area into a territory known as Shoshonee, which, according to Wynkoop's memory, took in portions of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska territories. The name would change, but the plan and its scope would survive.

In the spring of 1858, rumors of gold discoveries east of the Rocky Mountains began sweeping through Kansas Territory. Like many in Lecompton, Ned Wynkoop found himself caught up in the excitement. At the beginning of September 1858 he attended a meeting in Lecompton to set up a land development project in the gold region. Eager to make his fortune and anxious to put bleeding Kansas behind him, he joined the outfit. Denver heard of the plans, and on September 21 he bestowed official positions upon some of the members of the group. By this time he had recognized Wynkoop's potential and named him sheriff of Arapahoe County, a massive area in the western portion of the territory. Wynkoop would later express the opinion that his position as sheriff was as worthless as the paper it was printed on, but in 1858 he had every intention of using his appointment for all it was worth. He was now known as Sheriff Wynkoop. Other appointed officials included Hickory Rogers, chairman of supervisors, who carried blank commissions to use as he deemed appropriate; Lucillias J. Winchester and Joseph McCubbin, supervisors; Hampton L. Boan, clerk of supervisors; H. P. A. Smith, a friend of Denver's from his California days, probate judge; and John H. St. Mathews, county attorney. While Denver envisioned his newly commissioned officers organizing Arapahoe County, setting up a town-site, and selling lots, several members of the expedition were intent primarily on mining.


Excerpted from Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek by Louis Kraft. Copyright © 2011 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Preface and Acknowledgments,
Prologue: Formative Years,
1. Gone A-westering,
2. To Civilization and Back,
3. The Streets of Denver,
4. A Bad Man from Kansas,
5. Civil War,
6. The Winds of Change,
7. Prelude to Infamy,
8. Wynkoop's Gamble,
9. Perfidy,
10. A People Divided,
11. Walking between the Races,
12. Hancock's War,
13. Hope and Discontent,
14. A Matter of Conscience,

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