Guests at the original building included Tall Bull and Black Kettle.
Plans survived for the building Indian agent Ned Wynkoop rented from post sutler Theodore Weichselbaum at Fort Larned, Kansas, in 1867–68, and archeological studies pinpointed where it stood. But it took years for staff members at Fort Larned National Historic Site [www.nps.gov/fols] to convince the National Park Service to re-create the structure. The original building that served as Wynkoop’s home and headquarters for the Upper Arkansas Agency sat just outside the western perimeter of the post and southwest of officers’ row near a bend in the Pawnee River. The present-day Fort Larned staff noted the building could also function as a screen to hide modern buildings that mar the fort’s historical aura. The National Park Service agreed, and Wynkoop’s agency home, officially termed a “screening element,” became reality in spring 2012. Actually, the building Wynkoop rented was just one of four Weichselbaum built near the Pawnee River. The others were a wooden-planked mess hall (north of the residence), a stone store (north of the mess hall), and a stone saloon/billiard room (west of the store).
After becoming U.S. Indian agent for the Arapahos and Southern Cheyennes in September 1866, Wynkoop selected Fort Larned for his headquarters. But he immediately ran into problems. Three months passed with no paycheck, and, worse, the Interior Department had done nothing to set up his agency at the post, forcing Wynkoop to live in a mud dugout in the bank above the Pawnee. He asked Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who commanded the Department of the Missouri, for help. The general ignored his letter.
Wynkoop eventually rented Weichselbaum’s residence, which included a storage room, for $100 per month. But the Interior Department refused payment. Did they expect him to continue operating his agency from the mud dugout? Months passed, and still his superiors ignored Wynkoop’s requests for back salary and the residence/office rental fee. Regardless, his wife, Louise, and children joined him at the post. Wynkoop’s residence/office presented an open door to all visitors—some famous, some considered infamous and one rabid terror.
Wynkoop had gained national attention when, without orders, he tried to end a Cheyenne war that terrorized Colorado Territory in 1864. His efforts went up in smoke on November 29 when Colonel John Chivington’s Colorado volunteers attacked and destroyed the lodges of Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyennes and Left Hand’s Arapahos camped on Sand Creek. When Wynkoop learned that people who thought they were under military protection, per his and Major Scott Anthony’s word, were slaughtered and mutilated, he exploded with rage, setting the stage for him to become perhaps the most hated white man in the territory.
Initially opposed to working with Indians, Wynkoop changed his mind in fall 1865. He was ordered to lead a military escort for peace commissioners seeking to end the war triggered by Sand Creek. Wynkoop expected the angry Indians to kill him at the peace council on the Little Arkansas River in Kansas. Instead he found Black Kettle ready to listen. According to Wynkoop, the chief told him “that not for one moment had any of them [Black Kettle’s band] doubts of my good faith.”
Wynkoop suddenly had a new future —first working with Indians on detached duty from the military, then as special Indian agent for the Interior Department, and finally in September 1866 as U.S. Indian agent. Wynkoop had become a cultural broker, serving as a conduit for goods, services and information between Indians and whites.
Many people on the frontier and in Washington found Wynkoop a nuisance, for he refused to back down when he considered himself in the right. Once he accepted Indians as human beings, he became the enemy of pioneers, the press, the military, even the Interior Department. Regardless of Wynkoop’s less-than-sparkling relationship with other white men, those who knew him found him charming and a good host. He welcomed whites and Indians to his home and agency at Fort Larned.
And they came. Chiefs Satanta (Kiowa), Little Raven (Arapaho) and Poor Bear (Apache) enjoyed his hospitality just prior to the Medicine Lodge Creek peace council in fall 1867. So did reporter Henry Stanley, whose pen was as deadly as a rattler, and who targeted Wynkoop when reporting on the Indian wars during the late 1860s.Yet when Stanley joined a Wynkoop party in 1867, he reported: “The major is a genial soul and a polished gentleman. He is a skillful concoctor of drinkable beverages, and in his company we whiled away a social hour.” Captain Albert Barnitz of the 7th U.S. Cavalry visited Wynkoop later that year and wrote: “His parlor is in a little building of board. …His library contains some valuable and entertaining books, and his walls are hung with photographs and Indian trophies.” Wynkoop did not obtain his Indian trophies in battle—there were no scalps. Rather they were gifts from Indians he had befriended. Chief Tall Bull of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers often visited Wynkoop at Fort Larned, as did the famed Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose. By summer 1868 Black Kettle had become a good friend.
Other visitors were less welcome. As darkness drew near and the heat of the day mellowed on August 5, 1868, Ned and Louise were entertaining a number of officers and their ladies at the sutler residence. As Wynkoop put it,“[We] were sitting on the portico in front of my quarters, engaged singing and playing…”
Without warning a rabid visitor struck.
Women screamed as everyone scrambled to escape the vicious assault. Some were lucky; 1st Lt. John Thompson of the 3rd U.S. Infantry wasn’t. According to Wynkoop, a snarling wolf savagely bit the lieutenant, “tearing his limbs in a frightful manner,” before it loped east toward the hexagonal blockhouse that served as a guardhouse, the southeasternmost building at the post. Wynkoop and James Morrison, a scout Ned employed to move among the Arapahos, grabbed their weapons and gave chase. Meanwhile, a sentinel at the guardhouse saw his peril, frantically fired his carbine, missed and was bitten. The wolf then moved across the parade ground,
Wynkoop and Morrison in pursuit. Before they could get off a shot, the wolf dashed past the buildings on the northern side of the parade ground and entered the hospital, an adobe building that sat just south of the Pawnee River. Inside the assault continued. The wolf went after a soldier in bad health, biting off a finger and nearly severing his arm (he was the only casualty to die from the attacks), and then bit a 10th Cavalry trooper. Wynkoop and Morrison dashed into the hospital but were too late. The wolf had moved on to a laundress’ quarters. As the woman pulled back in fright on her bed, the rabid beast leaped and tried to bite her. Luckily, the canine’s teeth ripped through her bedding and nightclothes but didn’t injure her. Just as quickly it darted from the building and ran north toward the Pawnee River. A sentry saw the wolf, fired and killed it.
The evening of the wolf attack might have been the last time Wynkoop entertained at Fort Larned. Five days later, on August 10, warriors from Black Kettle, Little Rock, Bull Bear and Stone Forehead’s villages, en route to raid Pawnees, began killing settlers on the Saline and Solomon rivers in north-central Kansas —raids that would turn Wynkoop’s and the Cheyennes’ lives upside down, never to be righted. The 1868 Indian war had begun, marking the beginning of the end of the Cheyennes’ lifeway and freedom. But at least Wynkoop’s agency home is upright again and will eventually welcome new visitors to Fort Larned.
Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.