Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek by Louis Kraft

This is the third of Louis Kraft’s books that I have enjoyed, and I believe this book is a masterpiece. I am selective in my non-fiction reading choices, and for good reason. There is so much available that is unreadable, if not incomprehensible, and from all of the New York publishers. History sells, and it has always outsold fiction ten to one. This is a historical fact. But the market is glutted with unreadable biographies. What really matters is a love for the topic. That, my friends, is a rarity among historians and biographers these days. Louis Kraft does not fall into that category. He cares very much about Ned Wynkoop, and his passion for his subject is evident on every page. I am quite enamored with this book, and I admit to struggling somewhat to do this fine work the justice that it deserves. Although I have studied American western history at leisure, I had only a smidgen of knowledge about Ned Wynkoop. Thanks to Mr. Kraft, I am now enlightened, and immediately grateful. Wynkoop is fascinating, his story compelling, his era unlike anything we had seen before or since.

Kraft follows Edward Wanshaer Wynkoop from his birth in 1836 through his death in 1891, although the focus here is really Wynkoop’s attitude and actions regarding fair treatment of the Indian tribes. Kraft’s meticulous research highlights all of Wynkoop’s fascinating activities which changed dramatically after he joined the first Colorado Volunteers to fight with the Union Army during the Civil War. Kraft delves into his subject with a relish that I found refreshing. One can easily imagine the author’s joy as he pieced together a practical understanding of this man who stood “six feet three inches tall” and was athletically built. Every document that Kraft examined, every historical account, every map that he studied, and every daguerreotype that he scrutinized must surely have been akin to finding gold flakes in an old Arizona creekbed. Through it all He maintains a reasonable objective viewpoint, but reading Wynkoop’s tale cannot be handled without emotion. It is to Louis Kraft’s credit as a writer and historian that his rendering of Ned Wynkoop’s life strikes the perfect balance. The heart of the matter, of course, are the events of November 29, 1864, when the Colorado Volunteers attacked Black Kettle’s sleeping village. The resulting massacre – and Kraft makes it clear this action was indeed a massacre – would change Wynkoop’s life forever. His substantial efforts at finding a peaceful solution to the Indian Wars were shattered by the actions of Colonel John Chivington. The resulting investigation found Chivington at fault, but he was never punished. Wynkoop was horrified.

We need to pause here and consider again Louis Kraft’s poetic title. There is a reason why he chose to title this book Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek. From this point on Wynkoop is a changed man. He would walk that lonely road as an neglected humanitarian who, as Kraft writes, “...was outraged by the perfidy of butchering people who thought peace had returned to their lives.” (p.269) Ultimately, Wynkoop would protest other such actions. “Although Wynkoop knew that his stance for Indian rights was unpopular,” Kraft writes, “he naively thought that his outrage over what he considered the wanton murder of innocent people would win the day.”(p.252) This is a magnificent book; brimming with passion that is complimented by tonnage of meticulously researched historical facts. Of course, there is so much more to Wynkoop’s tale than this reviewer can detail, and so I am pleased to encourage readers to please add this volume to your home library. Louis Kraft has written the best history on one of the more remarkable characters from this nation’s past. Louis Kraft’s Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek should become mandatory reading for history buffs and scholars alike. This book is a masterpiece!

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