By Paisley Kirkpatrick
American frontiersman, soldier, western guide, trapper, and Indian agent
Although Carson's later career serving his country in the army and establishing relations with Native Americans was impressive, the name Kit Carson will forever bring to mind thoughts of the wild frontier and westward expansion. When America had a love affair with the untamed land west of the Mississippi River, Carson's reputation as a guide soon turned to that of legend, and the myth of Kit Carson was born.
Christopher "Kit" Carson was born in Madison County, Kentucky, on December 24, 1809. His father, Lindsey Carson, fought in the American Revolution. He married Rebecca Robinson in 1796. Kit was the sixth of ten children. When Kit was just nine years old, his father was killed in a tragic accident. Times were tough on the family and Carson never learned to read or write. At the age of fourteen he became an apprentice to a saddle maker. After less than two years, he left the saddle maker and joined a group of traders who were on their way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Carson's career in the West spanned from 1825 to 1868, a period of rapid national expansion, exploration, and settlement. From 1827 to 1829 young Carson spent time working as a cook, driving a wagon, interpreting Spanish, and mining copper. In August 1829 he gained invaluable experience after joining a trapping party. For the next year or so, Carson trapped animals along the streams of Arizona and southern California.
In 1831 Carson returned to New Mexico, where he immediately joined up with the experienced trapper, Thomas Fitzpatrick. They headed north into the rugged central Rocky Mountains. For the next ten years, Carson worked as a trapper all over western America in what is today known as Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. During the time spent in the wilderness of North America, Carson learned everything he needed to know in order to become a respected guide.
In 1836 Carson married an Arapaho Indian woman. The couple had two children, only one of whom—a daughter—survived. After his first wife died, Carson married a Cheyenne woman. The marriage did not last, and Carson took his daughter to St. Louis, Missouri, to further her education. For the next eight years, Carson split his time between his daughter in St. Louis and his trapping duties in Taos, New Mexico.
In 1842 Carson's fate arrived by steamboat when explorer John C. Frémont landed in St. Louis. Frémont came to St. Louis looking to hire the well-known guide Andrew S. Drips to lead his expedition to the Wind River in Wyoming. Unable to find Drips, Frémont chose Carson instead. From June until September, Carson guided Frémont's party west through South Pass to the Wind River Mountains and then back to Missouri. Over the next several years, Carson worked as a guide for Frémont on three expeditions through Oregon and California.
I live in the El Dorado National forest located in the Sierras,
a mountain range in California and Nevada. The views along Carson Pass are breathtaking.
Our English guests took these photos along our drive while exploring the area. The pass was named for Kit Carson.
In 1846 Carson served in California with Frémont at the outbreak of the Mexican War. During this time his duties were quite dangerous, as he carried dispatches, or messages, between command posts in enemy territory. President James K. Polk called Carson a hero and appointed him lieutenant in the mounted (on horseback) rifle regiment. However, the Senate rejected this appointment, and Carson returned to Taos.
By 1849 Carson had settled near Taos to farm and do occasional scouting for army units fighting hostile tribes. Carson also served in the Office of Indian Affairs, first as an agent and then as a superintendent of Indian affairs for the Colorado Territory. In 1854 he became the agent for several southwestern tribes. For years, Carson worked to keep peace and to ensure fair treatment of Native Americans.
While working for the Office of Indian Affairs, Carson often clashed with his superior, Territorial Governor David Meriwether. Carson disagreed with many of Meriwether's policies and thought that Native Americans were being treated unfairly. In 1856 their conflicts boiled over when Meriwether suspended Carson. Meriwether later arrested Carson, charging him with disobedience and cowardice. Carson soon apologized and got his job back working as an agent.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Carson left his position with Indian Affairs and was soon appointed a lieutenant colonel commanding the First New Mexico Volunteer Regiment. During the war, he fought against invading Confederates at the battle of Val Verde. Carson also directed successful campaigns against the Apache and Navajo from 1862 until 1864. In his last battle he defeated the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache tribes in the Texas panhandle. In 1865 he was appointed as brigadier general of volunteers. For the next two years he held assignments in the West until he left the army in 1867.
In 1868 Carson was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs for the Colorado Territory. He never had a chance to work in this position. He died May 23, 1868, at Fort Lyon, Colorado.
Interesting post, Paisley. And the photoa were beautiful.ReplyDelete
Thanks Ashley. We do live in a beautiful area and I hope I can share more of it. With the forest fires going through forests these days, I really treasure our trees and wildlife - even those pesky squirrels. :)ReplyDelete
Paisley, thanks for an interesting post on Kit Carson. He was very young when he died, but he'd had an exciting life.ReplyDelete
Thanks Caroline. Every time we drive over Carson Pass I wonder about the man it was named after. I found his story very interesting.ReplyDelete
Paisley--I want to live where you live! How wonderful, such magnificent grandeur around you. I just love it.ReplyDelete
Kit Carson resembles one of our early presidents, but I haven't figured out which one.
I did not realize he was such a great man. Thanks so much for the research and photos. Breathtaking.
Thanks Celia. You are welcome to come visit - yes, it is a piece of heaven here. We live halfway between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento in the forest. We've been lucky enough to live in these woods for 20 years so far.ReplyDelete
Good stuff Paisley. I love the view over Carson Pass. I never get tired of seeing it when I go that direction into the mountains.ReplyDelete
w/a Jansen Schmidt
Hi Paisley, I am always so jealous that you get to live there. We go to Tahoe every summer (and have had winter trips, too...even in springtime, it snowed!) and staying on The Ridge, we have views of Carson Valley, too. I know Kit Carson historically is a great explorer etc. but I've never forgotten how he he destroyed the peach orchards as well as other crops and livestock in Canyon de Chelly to defeat the Navajo. Reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown) in college really taught me so much else.ReplyDelete
I love every inch of scenery from this neck of the woods. Only a month until we're back again!
Great post today, sweetheart sister!
Thanks, Patricia. Love the fall colors over the pass. We used to take my Mom up there every year so she could ooh and aah at the colors.ReplyDelete
Good for you, Tanya. I hope you enjoy your time in my area. We haven't been up to Tahoe for a couple of years. It's just an hours drive, but sometimes you forget about the beauty surrounding you. If hubby thinks a tree should come down on our property I throw myself in front of it and tell him it is mine.ReplyDelete
The first thing I think of when I hear the name Kit Carson -and the second, third, and fourth- is that "successful campaign against the Navahos," known to that tribe as The Long Walk, when Carson forced them off their homeland and marched them three hundred miles, hundreds dying along the way, to the desolate Bosque Redondo reservation. Where countless more died.ReplyDelete
Ha- I guess I'm not a Kit Carson fan :-) I'd've used the same title, but substituted something else for "frontiersman" ;-)ReplyDelete