Saturday, October 29, 2016

Frontier Lawman, Rancher, and Business Leader Ed Winn [otd 10/29]

Sheriff Ed Winn.
Bonneville County Historical Society.
Frontier marshal, sheriff, and businessman Ed F. Winn was born October 29, 1857, about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Having learned the carpenter’s trade, Winn found work as a young man with the Union Pacific railroad. He then joined Utah & Northern Railway crews as they laid track and built stations north across eastern Idaho.

Ed followed the rails as far as Dillon, Montana. He then returned to Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls) to help with construction of railroad shops there. Probably foreseeing the growth that the shops would bring to the town, Winn quit the railroad and went into the saloon business. His ability to enforce a level of frontier “decorum” in his establishment soon attracted notice. In the early 1880s, authorities appointed him a Deputy Sheriff of Oneida County, which then comprised almost all of Eastern Idaho.

In short order, he became recognized as a man of “grit” and “chilly nerve.” His effective law enforcement efforts drew the attention of U. S. Marshal Fred T. Dubois, who made him a Deputy Marshal. Whether that appointment continued when Dubois focused on politics after 1886 is unclear, but Winn held his sheriff’s job into at least 1900.

Winn survived a number of shootouts, including several that were fatal to his opponents. In one scrape, a man named Swigart opened fire on Winn without warning, missed, but received two serious wounds in return. Ed told the Blackfoot Register (November 3, 1883) that “if he had had his own gun instead of a strange one, he would have killed Swigart.

Nor was he averse to engaging in hand-to-hand scraps. Describing his impact on the criminal element, the Illustrated History said, “He brought many to trial, many fled the country and in time Oneida county came to be a law-abiding place, and as such was gradually taken possession of by law-abiding people.”

For a number of years, Winn owned a cattle ranch, from which he supplied local butcher shops. Around 1888, he opened a grocery store near the downtown area. At one time Winn owned twenty-two acres of prime real estate, much of which he developed into businesses and homes. In several cases, he managed the design and construction himself.
Early Idaho Falls. Bonneville County Historical Society.

After a disastrous fire in 1885, the town organized a formal fire brigade and appointed Winn as its first Fire Chief. He held that position until 1902, when the fire station was moved and a new chief was appointed.

About a year before that, Ed had been appointed Idaho Falls postmaster, a position he held until 1908. (Rumors apparently suggested there were some irregularities in his management of the office, but nothing came of that.)

Winn and a partner turned up in the legal news in 1913 when records showed that their drug store had no pharmacist registered with the state. They were acquitted, however, because investigation showed that a clerk they had hired lied about being a registered pharmacist.

Winn returned to law enforcement in 1918 when he was elected as a Constable for Idaho Falls. He died in 1935, and his obituary lauded the colorful and effective role he had played in Eastern Idaho history.
References: [Illust-State]
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
William Hathaway, Images of America: Idaho Falls, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC (2006).


  1. I'm a Wynn. Is there any chance that the sheriff was also a Wynn? I know that's an alternative spelling

  2. I really have no idea -- other than to say "could be." The biography for him says in was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania on October 28, 1857 and that his parents -- Isaac and Mary Jane (Moore) Winn -- were from Lancashire, England

  3. All of the directory listings, newspaper accounts, and biographies I have seen, in addition to his gravestone in Rose Hill Cemetery in Idaho Falls indicate the spelling is Winn. You can see the stone at