Friday Friends: Western Heritage Award – When Wynkoop Was Sheriff

Friday – This week’s edition of Friday Friends features an article by Louis Kraft which earned the 2012 Western Heritage Award for best magazine article from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The award marks the fifth Wrangler, and second consecutive, for Wild West Magazine. The article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue.


By December 31, 1860, Arapahoe County Sheriff Ned Wynkoop, according to the DenverInter-Ocean, had a reputation as a “badman from Kansas, who wore buckskin breeches and carried a bowie knife and revolver in his belt.” The Denver weekly Field and Farm described him as “a wildcat sort of fellow and generally in debt.” Both statements were true, and on this winter day, when 24-year-old Wynkoop entered the post office in Denver, Kansas Territory, Postmaster William Park McLure made the mistake of testing his onetime friend’s reputation.

The week before, McLure had refused to hand over Wynkoop’s correspondence, as the sheriff hadn’t paid the $5 he owed for mail service. Wynkoop had simply grabbed his letters and walked off, with the postmaster screaming at his back. This time McLure wanted to avoid a repeat performance; he again cursed Wynkoop, but not with the sheriff’s mail in hand. They had been the best of friends, and friendship should have been worth more than 5 bucks—but not in this case. Contributing to their confrontation were their political differences. McLure was a Southerner, Wynkoop a Northerner, and each had been vocal about his views with civil war fast approaching. Wynkoop was not going to pay up now, and he wasn’t going to stand for any more cursing. Ignoring the fact that dueling was illegal, Wynkoop challenged the postmaster. McLure responded with a counterchallenge, one that Wynkoop accepted. They set their gentlemen’s duel for January 2, 1861.

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