Monday, February 25, 2019

Sand Creek Massacre: Major Ned Wynkoop

Next month, my first full-length novel, Sand Creek Serenade releases. For the last several months, I’ve been telling you the history of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and some of the historical figures from the attack who make appearances in my novel. Today, I want to focus on Major Edward “Ned” Wynkoop, the fort commander at Fort Lyon in Southeastern Colorado Territory.

Major Ned Wynkoop
Ned Wynkoop was born in Pennsylvania, the youngest of seven children, on June 19, 1836. His father died during Ned’s first year of life, so his childhood was a difficult one. However, between his mother and older siblings—many who were nearly adults when Ned was born—they instilled in the boy a love of country, a sense of duty, a deep hunger for learning, and an appreciation of literature and the arts. With these qualities, he seemed destined to lead from an early age. In 1856, twenty-year-old Ned headed to Kansas to make his fortune in the West. Life in the new state was far different than he’d known in Pennsylvania, and he quickly learned he must stay armed and learn self-defense skills, or he might be overrun by the conflicts that arose between those on either side of the slavery debate.

He quickly made friends with those well-connected in the area, and he and some of his siblings became some of the founders of Denver, Colorado. Through these connections, Ned Wynkoop was made the first Sheriff of Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory, in 1858. It was a position that was largely ceremonial rather than a true law-enforcement position, which frustrated the man. However, he did the job to the best of his ability. He met Louise Wakely, a British-born actress, in 1859, and began courting her. Over time, opposition arose to Wynkoop as Sheriff. During the next election cycle, Ned was defeated and lost the position.

Very soon after, the Civil War broke out, and by July 31, 1861, he enlisted as a second lieutenant. Soon after his enlistment, he married Louise Wakely, and within short order, attracted the attention of the higher-ranked officers who elevated him to Captain and put him in charge of building the fighting force in Colorado. During the Battle of Glorietta Pass, Wynkoop distinguished himself and received a field promotion to the rank of major. Across the next several years, Major Wynkoop helped assure that the rebel forces from Texas didn’t infiltrate the Colorado Territory. Once that threat was largely neutralized, his focus shifted to the escalating tensions between the Indian tribes and white settlers. 

Louise Wynkoop
On May 9, 1864, Wynkoop took command of Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado Territory. Between May and August of that year, tensions escalated dramatically between the Indians and whites. Each side traded blows—the Indians raiding settlements or attacking travelers on the known paths, and the settlers responding in retaliation. But in September of 1864, something happened to turn the tide. Chief Black Kettle, leader of the Southern Cheyenne, approached Wynkoop with an offer. He would negotiate the release of seven white captives, mostly women and children, in exchange for Wynkoop granting a peace treaty.

Wynkoop didn’t have such authority, but he didn’t let that stop him. In a gutsy move, he agreed to the terms. Upon receiving several of the captives back—with promise of the rest being released by the Northern Cheyenne at a later time—Wynkoop took an envoy of soldiers and the Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs to Denver to meet with Colonel John Chivington and the governor of the territory. Across the next days, Wynkoop and his second in command, Captain Silas Soule, helped to broker the peace talks between the two sides. All looked and sounded promising. Colonel Chivington told the Cheyenne and Arapaho to camp at Sand Creek and await the final peace treaty. In addition, the Indians were told that if they flew the American flag and the white flag of surrender over their tents, they would be protected by the military. So Wynkoop led the group home, feeling he’d done a great thing.

Col. John Chivington
Unfortunately, Chivington and the governor were angry with Wynkoop for acting outside his authority, and Chivington opened an investigation against Wynkoop for abandoning his post without permission. By early November, Major Scott Anthony arrived at Fort Lyon, relieved Wynkoop of his duty, and once Wynkoop moved on to his next assignment at Fort Reilly, Colonel Chivington rode in with hundreds of soldiers and launched an all-out massacre against the sleeping camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children on the morning of November 29, 1864.

Due to his travels, word didn’t reach Ned Wynkoop of the massacre until early January 1865 when he arrived at Fort Reilly. Heartsick at the news of his friends being slaughtered when they’d been promised peace, Wynkoop began fighting for a resolution to the investigation against him. When it came, he was exonerated of wrongdoing, andhe was placed in charge of the Congressional investigation against Chivington and his men. Of course, if you’ve followed this blog series on the massacre, you know that due to the short-term contract which Chivington’s men had signed, none of them paid a price for the great atrocities they’d committed, despite the public outcry for justice.

After the investigation was complete, Wynkoop felt his chance to help the Cheyenne and Arapaho people was notby working with the army. Instead, he mustered out and instead, took a job as an Indian agent with the Bureau of Indian affairs. But tensions were still high, and within four years (almost to the day!) of the massacre at Sand Creek, Wynkoop saw yet another such attack fall against the Indian people he’d come to respect—the Battle of Washita, where Black Kettle and his peaceful band of Cheyenne were again attacked and murdered without provocation. Wynkoop resigned as Indian agent in disgust.

It’s Your Turn: Ned Wynkoop hadn’t always acted on the “right side” in circumstances he faced. One of those could be seen as his bold decision to attempt to broker peace with the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, despite not having such authority. Do you feel he made the right decision, particularly given how things turned out? Why or why not? 

Jennifer Uhlarikdiscovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list numerous times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.

Available March 14, 2019:

Dr. Sadie Hoppner is no stranger to adversity. She’s fought to be taken seriously since childhood, when her father began training her in the healing arts. Finding acceptance and respect proves especially difficult at Fort Lyon, where she’s come to practice medicine under her brother’s watchful eye.

Cheyenne brave Five Kills wouldn’t knowingly jeopardize the peace treaty recently negotiated between his people and the Army. But a chance encounter with the female doctor ignites memories of his upbringing among the whites. Too intrigued to stay away, tension erupts with the soldiers, and Five Kills is injured.

As he recuperates under the tender care of the pretty healer, an unlikely bond forms. However, their fledgling love is put to the test when each realizes that a much greater danger awaits—a danger they are wholly unable to stop, and one which neither may survive.


  1. An interesting question. It is the nature of man to resent people who usurp there authority. During this time in history Native American's were misunderstood and mistreated. Wynkoop had the right heart. But he went about it the wrong way. Had he promised to talk to his superiors and not taken the Natives with him things might have turned out different. Based on your earlier post Chivington was a bit psycho. Perhaps if Wynkoop would have sent messages to the commander and the Governor and used the influence he had with others it might have been avoided. But probably not, unless Chivington was not his superior officer. And as we see today Native Americans are still mistreated and misunderstood. Up until the last few decades people didn't talk about their "Indian" bloodlines. My husband talked about attending high school in the late sixties with a full blood Native American girl who always wore a blond wig to fit in. The government still disregards treaties and their private reservation land when it suits their purposes. Because man is self-centered I am not sure this would not have happened anyway. History has continued to repeat itself in the treatment of Native Americans.
    Interesting post by the way.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer, Cindy! So glad you enjoyed the post.

      I think I agree with you that, no matter how Wynkoop handled the circumstances, things likely would've turned out badly.

  2. Rank is pretty important in the military so I think his efforts were misguided from the start since he hadn't the authority to do what he was attempting. And Chivington seems pretty ruthless and unpredictable so there's that. Maybe Wynkeep should have tried to attain the rank needed to accomplish what he wanted, but kudos to him that he pursued his goals in private life. Thanks for the post.

    1. You are correct--Rank is VERY important in the military. You're also correct that Chivington had a ruthless side and some very off-base ideas. The whole scenario is just heartbreaking.