My Friend, Kit Carson
By William H. Ryus in
Christopher Carson, known among his friends as
simply Kit Carson, was a Kentuckian by birth, having been born in December,
1809. Kentucky, was at the time of his birth, an almost pathless
wilderness, rich with game, and along its river banks the grasses grew so
luxuriant that it invited settlers to settle there and build homes out of
the trees which grew in such profusion. Small gardens were
cultivated where corn, beans, onions and a few other vegetables were
raised, but families subsisted, for the most part, on game, with which the
forests abound, and the lakes and rivers were alive with fish. Wild
geese, ducks, turkeys, quail and pigeons swept through the air with
perfect freedom. Deer, antelope, moose, beaver, wolves, catamount
and even grizzly bear often visited the scene of the settler’s home, among
whom was our friend, Kit Carson.
Kit Carson had no education. There were no schools to attend other than the school of "trapping,” and
he became a trapper, Indian guide, and interpreter.
When Kit was a small boy his
father moved, on foot, so history relates, to
Missouri. At the time
of the move; however, there was no state or even territory of Missouri. France had
ceded to the United States the unexplored regions which were, in 1800,
called Upper Louisiana.
Kit's father had a few white
friends, trappers and hunters, but the
Indians were numerous. Mr. Carson, together with the other white families, banded themselves
together and built a large log house, fashioned as to be both a
house and a fort, if occasion demanded them, to fortify against a
possible foe. The building was one story high, having port holes
through which the muzzles of rifles could be thrust. As
additional precaution, they built palisades around the house. This house was built in what is now Howard County,
Missouri north of the
River. Christopher Carson, at fifteen years of age, had never been to
school a day but, he was "one of the Four Hundred” equal to any man in
his district. He was a fine marksman, excellent horseman, of
strong character and sound judgment. His disposition was quiet,
amiable and gentle. One of those boys who did things without
boasting and did everything the best he could.
At about this stage of his life, his
father put him out as an apprentice to learn a trade. The trade
he was to learn was that of a "saddler.” However, the boy
languished under the confinement and did not take to the business. He was a hunter and trapper by training and nothing else would satisfy
One night about two years later,
when Kit was eighteen years old, a
man who chanced to pass his father’s humble home, related his
adventures. He told how much was to be earned by selling buffalo
robes, buckskins, etc. at
New Mexico. He drew beautiful word pictures of wealth that could be attained in
the great Spanish capital of New Mexico,
more than a thousand miles from
Soon, several able-bodied men decided to equip some
pack mules and go to the great bonanza. They intended to live on game
which they would shoot on the way. Kit heard of the party and
applied to them to let him accompany them. They were not only
glad of his offer to go, but considered they had a great need for him
because he was so "handy” among the
Indians. It turned out that Kit engineered the whole
party. He had a military demeanor. When the mules were
brought up and their packs fastened upon their backs, which operation
required both skill and labor, it was Kit who ordered the march,
which was conducted with more than ordinary military precision.
Kit Carson was a beloved friend
of several tribes of Indians.
He learned from them how to make his clothes, which he considered were
of much more artistic taste and style and more becoming than the,
tightly fitting store suits of a "Broadway dude” he had once "gazed
This suit that he was so proud of consisted of
a hunting shirt of soft, pliable deer skin, ornamented with long fringes
of buckskin dyed a bright vermillion or copperas. The trousers were made
of the same material and ornamented with the same kind of fringes and
porcupine quills of various colors. His cap was made of fur which could
entirely cover his head, with "port holes” for his eyes and nose and
mouth. The mouth must be free to hold his clay pipe filled with tobacco.
It is needless to say that he wore moccasins upon his feet, beautified
with many colored beads.
the year of 1860, I was not personally acquainted with Kit Carson, but after
that year I knew him well. At Fort Union,
he was the center of attraction from the first of April, 1865 until April, 1866. Everyone wanted to hear Kit tell of exploits he had been
in, and he could tell a story well.
Kit loved to play cards and while
he was as honest as the day was long he was usually a winner. He
didn’t like to put up much money. If he didn’t have a good hand he
would lay down.
Kit Carson, like Colonel A.G. Boone, dealt honestly with the
and Kit Carson had on several
occasions told me that had Colonel A. G. Boone remained the
agent, if he had not been withdrawn by the government, the great war with
the Indians would never have occurred. Kit Carson was a born leader of
men and was known from Missouri to
Santa Fe -- he was one of the most widely known
men on the frontier.
Carson was the father of seven
children. At the time of his death, his wife had already passed away in April, 1868. His disease was aneurism of the
aorta. A tumor pressing on the pneumo-gastric nerves and trachea
caused such frequent spasms of the bronchial tubes, which were exceedingly
distressing. He died just short time later on May 23, 1868. His last words were addressed to his faithful doctor, H. R. Tilton,
assistant surgeon of the United States Army, and were "Compadre adois”
(dear friend, good bye). In his will, he left property to the value of
$7,000 to his children.
Kit Carson's first wife was an
Cheyenne girl of unusual
intelligence and beauty. They had one girl child. After her
birth, the mother only lived a short time. This child was tenderly
Kit until she reached eight
years, when he took her to
St. Louis and liberally provided for all her
wants. She received as good an education as
St. Louis could afford and was introduced to the
refining influences of polished society. She married a Californian
and removed with him to his native state.
of today  are possessed with the same ambitions as the whites. There are
school teachers and other educators, but in the frontier days when from
Santa Fe the plains were thronged with
they were looked upon as uncivilized and were uncivilized, but were so
badly abused, run out of their homes and were given no chances to become
civilized or to learn any arts.
Maxwell’s ranch were mostly a lazy crowd because they had nothing to
do. Maxwell fed them, gave them some work, gave the
women considerable work -- they wove blankets with a skill that cannot be
surpassed by artists of today. Not only were these
women fine weavers, but they worked unceasingly on fine buckskin (they
tanned their own hides), garments, beading them, embroidering them,
working all kinds of profiles such as the profile of an
chief or brave, animals of all kinds were beaded or embroidered into the
clothes they made for the chiefs of their tribes. These suits were
often sold to foreigners to take east as a souvenir and they would sell
them for the small sum of $200 to $300. Those
women would braid fine bridle reins of white, black and sorrel horse hair
for their chiefs and for sale to the white men. The
women were always busy but liked to see a horse race as well as their
superior—their chief. An
woman is an excellent mother. While
she cannot be classed as indulgent she certainly desires to train her
child to endure hardships if they are called upon to endure them. She trains the little papoose to take to the cold water, not for the
cleansing qualities, but for the "hardiness” she thinks it gives him.
William H. Ryus, 1913.
of America, updated December, 2015.
About the Author: Excerpted from the book,
The Second William Penn - A True Account of Incidents that Happened
Along the Old Santa Fe Trail, by William H. Ryus, 1913.
William "Billy". H. Ryus was better known as
"the Second William Penn” by passengers and old settlers of the
Trail because of his rare and exceptional knowledge of
traits and characteristics and his ability to trade and treat with them so
tactfully. Ryus was one of the boy drivers of the a stage company
with U.S. Mail contracts, regularly running along the Santa Fe Trail. During this time, he routinely crossed the plains at a
time when the West was still looked upon as "wild and wooly,” and in
reality, was fraught with numerous, and oftentimes, murderous dangers.
Carson's home in Taos,
is now a museum.
& Baudy Boomtown
- Legend of the Southwest
Maxwell by a Santa Fe Trail Driver
Trail - Highway to the Southwest