Kit Carson

John Gehl sends us this bio of the frontiersman Kit Carson (1809-1868), whose exploits as a trapper, scout, Indian agent and soldier made him a legend in his own time. Though small in stature, Carson was an expert shot (at age 8, he could shoot a squirrel at 50 yards), and during his early years in the Western wilderness grew into a lean and hardy member of the fearless breed of fur trappers known as the "Mountain Men." Caught up in the westward migration of settlers, Carson became a feared Indian fighter. Yet in his later role as an Indian agent, he emerged as a protector and friend of the tribes he supervised.

Carson was born with the given name Christopher, in Madison County, Kentucky. His father died when he was nine, and Kit received no schooling. He was apprenticed to a saddle maker in 1825, but ran away to join an expedition to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he became an experienced trapper and Indian fighter. When John C. Frémont was commissioned to conduct government mapping expeditions of the Northwest Territories, he chose Carson to be his guide. During the third expedition in 1847 war broke out with Mexico, and Frémont moved quickly to occupy California as a U.S. possession. Frémont then sent Carson to Washington with dispatches for President Polk. En route Carson ran into General Stephen Kearny who countermanded Carson's orders and forced him to guide his army group back to California.Thirty miles from San Diego, they were ambushed by the Mexicans, and were only saved from defeat when Carson crept through enemy lines and ran on foot all the way to San Diego for reinforcements.

Again sent to Washington with dispatches, Carson and a small party crossed the continent in three months. President Polk acclaimed Carson a hero and made him a lieutenant in the Mounted Rifle Corps. When he returned West, Carson learned that the Senate had voted down his commission, in all likelihood a spiteful action taken against Fremont's father-in-law, Senator Thomas H. Benton. Carson settled into civilian life with his second wife, Maria Jaramillo. They were married following the death of his first wife, an Arapaho woman he named Alice. In 1854 Carson was appointed Indian agent at Taos for two Utes tribes and (unlike many agents) Carson dealt honestly with the Indians -- who admired him for that and for his obvious love of children. (He had seven children of his own.)

When the Civil War broke out, Carson was appointed Colonel of the 1st New Mexico Volunteers, and in 1862 he fought Confederate forces at Valverde, New Mexico. Later he led campaigns against the Apaches and other Plains Indians, forcing them to live on reservations. In 1865 Carson was made a brigadier general and later was appointed Colorado's territorial superintendent of Indian affairs, a position he held until his death in 1868. The Carson name is honored historically in various Southwest locations, including Nevada's capital at Carson City, Colorado's Ft. Carson, and California's Carson Pass.

[See for Kit Carson's autobiography

RH: Kit Carson interests WAIS because of his dealings with Mexico, where he does not enjoy the prestige he does in the US. There is a difference between US and Mexican folk heroes. Americans admire rough frontiersmen like Kit Carson, whereas in Mexico there is the tradition of well-dressed, skilled horsemen, proud of their steeds.

John Gehl sent us a bio of the frontiersman Kit Carson (1809-1868), whose exploits as a trapper, scout, Indian agent and soldier made him a legend in his own time.  Tim Brown writes: Nice posting, especially since I live in the Carson Valley that is watered by the Carson River, both also named after him. RH: The capital of Nevada is Carson City.  This suggests to me that the only famous people associated with Nevada are Kit Carson and Tim Brown.

Ronald Hilton -