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New Mexico Flag - High Country LegendsNEW MEXICO LEGENDS
Kit Carson - Legend of the Southwest

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Kit Carson

Kit Carson

This image available for photographic prints HERE!

 

"We 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

 

 

 

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Christopher Carson, better known as Kit Carson, was an explorer, scout, trapper, Indian 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, where Carson spent most of his early childhood in Boone's Lick. His 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 Santa Fe Trail in 1826.

 

From Santa Fe, Kit 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 California, 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 1840, 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 Cheyenne women, one of whom bore a daughter in 1836 and died shortly thereafter. Carson 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.

Around 1840 Carson was employed as hunter for the garrison at Bent's Fort, Colorado, soon becoming its chief hunter.

In 1842, while returning from Missouri, where he took his daughter to be educated in a convent, Carson happened to meet John C. Fremont on a Missouri Riverboat. Fremont hired 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 Fremont to Oregon and California, and through much of the Central Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin. His service with Fremont, celebrated in Fremont's widely-read reports of his expeditions, quickly made Kit Carson a national hero, presented in popular fiction as a rugged mountain man capable of superhuman feats. After returning to Taos from California in 1843, 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 serving as Fremont's guide when Fremont joined 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 conquest of California.

Carson also led the forces of U.S. General Stephen Kearney from Socorro, New Mexico into California, when a Californio band led by Andrés Pico mounted a challenge to American occupation of Los 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, Carson 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, Carson returned to New Mexico and took up ranching.

 

By 1853, he and his partner, Lucien Maxwell, were able to drive a large flock of sheep to California, where gold rush prices paid them a handsome profit. In 1854 he was appointed Indian agent for the Ute and Apache at Taos, New Mexico, a post he held until the Civil War imposed new duties on him in 1861. During the American Civil War he helped organize New Mexican infantry volunteers, which saw action at Valverde in 1862. Most of his military actions, however, were directed against the Navajo Indians, 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 that surrendered.

 

When the Ute, Pueblo, Hopi, and Zuni, who for centuries had been prey to Navajo raiders, took advantage of their traditional enemy's weakness by following the Americans onto the warpath, the Navajo were unable to defend themselves. In 1864 most surrendered to Carson, who treated them well, but was ordered to force nearly 8,000 Navajo men, women and children to take what came to be called the "Long Walk" of almost 300 miles from Arizona to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. 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.

 

Navajo Prisoners taking the "Long Walk"

Navajo Prisoners taking the "Long Walk"
 

During this time, in 1865 Carson was given a commission as Brigadier General and cited for gallantry and distinguished service. In the summer of 1866, he moved to Colorado to expand his ranching business and took command of Fort Garland. Ill health forced him to resign the following year, and in 1868 the family moved to Boggsville, near present-day La Junta, Colorado. 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, New Mexico.

 

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May, 2011.

 

 

Kit Carson's home in Taos, New Mexico 1900.

Kit Carson's home in Taos, New Mexico 1900.

 

Also See:

 

Cimarron -Wild & Baudy Boomtown

Cimarron Photo Gallery

Lucien Maxwell by a Santa Fe Trail Driver

My Friend, Kit Carson by a Santa Fe Trail Driver

Santa Fe Trail - Highway to the Southwest

From Legends' General Store

 

Photo Art by Kathy Weiser-AlexanderWild West 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 finished product. Prints are available in photos, giclee fine art and canvasPhoto Prints HERE. Fine Art & Canvas HERE.

 

 

Wild West Photo Art by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Wild West Photo Art by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Wild West Photo Art by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Wild West Photo Art by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Wild West Photo Art by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

 

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