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Kit Carson - Legend of the Southwest
image available for photographic prints
shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
--T. S. Elliot
Christopher Carson, better known
Carson, was an explorer, scout, trapper,
agent, rancher and soldier during his 40 years of travels throughout the
southwest. Born on Christmas Eve in Madison County, Kentucky, in
1809, Kit was the 9th of 14 children. When he was still an infant,
the family moved to Howard County, Missouri, where
Carson spent most of his early childhood in Boone's Lick.
father died when he was only nine years old, and the need to work
prevented Kit from ever receiving an education. At the age of 14, Kit
was working as an apprentice to a saddle and harness maker. However,
the young man soon became restless and after about a year he joined a
wagon train heading west on the
Trail in 1826.
went north to Taos where he worked as a cook, errand boy and harness
repairer. When he was 19, he was hired for a fur trapping expedition to
where, in spite of his small stature (he never exceeded 5 and a half feet)
he soon proved himself able and courageous.
Between 1828 and
Carson used Taos as a base camp for many fur-trapping expeditions
throughout the mountains of the West, from
California's Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.
As was the case with
many white trappers,
Carson became somewhat integrated into the
Indian world; traveling and living extensively among
Indians. His first two wives were Arapahoe and
women, one of whom bore a daughter in 1836 and died shortly
was evidently unusual among trappers, however, for his self-restraint
and temperate lifestyle. "Clean as a hound's tooth," according to one
acquaintance, and a man whose "word was as sure as the sun comin' up,"
he was noted for an unassuming manner and implacable courage.
Carson was employed as hunter for the garrison at
soon becoming its chief hunter.
In 1842, while
where he took his daughter to be educated in a convent,
Carson happened to meet
Fremont on a
Carson as guide for his first expedition to map and describe
Western trails to the Pacific Ocean. Over the next several years,
Carson helped guide
California, and through much of the Central Rocky Mountains and
the Great Basin. His service with
Fremont, celebrated in
widely-read reports of his expeditions, quickly made
Carson a national hero, presented in popular fiction as a rugged
mountain man capable of superhuman feats. After returning to Taos from
Carson married his third wife, Maria Josefa Jaramillothen.
Carson's notoriety grew as his name became associated with several
key events in the United States' westward expansion. He was still
Fremont's guide when
California's short-lived Bear-Flag rebellion just before the
outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846.
Carson would serve in the war, playing an important part in the
Carson also led the forces of U.S. General Stephen Kearney from
California, when a Californio band led by Andrés Pico mounted a
challenge to American occupation of
Angeles later that year.
On December 6, 1846,
these forces were attacked by Mexicans at San Pasqual, about 30 miles
north of San Diego. On the third night of this battle,
and two others snuck through enemy lines and ran the entire distance to
San Diego, where they brought help for Kearny's pinned-down forces. At the
end of the war,
and took up ranching.
By 1853, he and his
Maxwell, were able to drive a large flock of sheep to
where gold rush prices paid them a handsome profit. In 1854 he was
agent for the Ute and
a post he held until the
Civil War imposed new duties on him in 1861. During the American
Civil War he helped
Mexican infantry volunteers, which saw action at Valverde in 1862.
Most of his military actions, however, were directed against the
many of whom had refused to be confined upon a distant reservation set up
by the government.
Beginning in 1863, under orders from his
commanders in the U.S. Army, Carson
waged a brutal economic war against the
Navajo in an
attempt to relocate them, marching through the heart of their territory to destroy their crops,
and rounding up their livestock, some of which was later given to those
When the Ute, Pueblo,
Zuni, who for centuries had been prey to
raiders, took advantage of their traditional enemy's weakness by following
the Americans onto the warpath, the
unable to defend themselves. In 1864 most surrendered to
who treated them well, but was ordered to force nearly 8,000
women and children to take what came to be called the "Long
Walk" of almost 300 miles from
The US military was unprepared for the large number of Navajo, and
in only a couple of years, with the ground depleted, the ill-planned site
became disease-ridden. In 1868, the Navajo were allowed to return to
land along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
During this time, in
Carson was given a commission as Brigadier General and cited for
gallantry and distinguished service. In the summer of 1866, he moved to
expand his ranching business and took command of
Garland. Ill health
forced him to resign the following year, and in 1868 the family moved to Boggsville, near present-day La Junta,
He died in nearby Fort Lyons on May 23, 1868. The following year, his
remains were moved to a small cemetery near his old home in Taos,
Kathy Weiser/Legends of
America, updated May, 2014.
Carson's home in Taos,
Cimarron - Wild
& Baudy Boomtown
Cimarron Photo Gallery
Maxwell by a Santa Fe Trail Driver
Friend, Kit Carson by a Santa Fe Trail Driver
Trail - Highway to the Southwest
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West Photo Art -
Great additions to any Western decor,
Legends' Photo Art
images include collages, photographs with with watercolor and poster
effects, colorized black & white photos, and digital enhancements to
improve the composition of the original photograph. Prints are available in
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