|Kit Carson from Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia
Carson was eight years old when his father was killed by
a falling tree while clearing land. Lindsey Carson's death reduced the
Carson family to a desperate poverty, forcing young Kit to drop out of
school to work on the family farm, as well as engage in hunting. At age
14, Kit was apprenticed to a saddlemaker (Workman's Saddleshop) in the
settlement of Franklin, Missouri. Franklin was situated at the eastern
end of the Santa Fe Trail, which had opened two years earlier. Many of
the clientele at the saddleshop were trappers and traders, from whom Kit
would hear their stirring tales of the Far West. Carson is reported to
have found work in the saddle shop suffocating: he once stated "the business
did not suit me, and I concluded to leave".
Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson was an American frontiersman.
Born in Madison County, Kentucky near the city of Richmond,
Carson was raised in a rural area near Franklin, Missouri, where his family
moved in 1811 when he was about one year old. Carson's father, Lindsey
Carson, was a farmer of Scots-Irish descent, who had fought in the Revolutionary
War under General Wade Hampton. There were a total of 15 Carson children:
five by Lindsey Carson's first wife, and ten by Kit's mother, Rebecca Robinson.
Kit was the eleventh child in the family. The Carson family settled on
a tract of land owned by the sons of Daniel Boone, who had purchased the
land from the Spanish prior to the Louisiana Purchase. The Boone and Carson
families became good friends, working, socializing, and intermarrying.
Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson
December 24, 1809 – May 23, 1868 (aged 58)
At sixteen, Carson secretly signed on with a large merchant
caravan heading to Santa Fe; his job was to tend the horses, mules, and
oxen. During the winter of 1826-1827 he stayed with Matthew Kinkead, a
trapper and explorer, in Taos, New Mexico, then known as the capital of
the fur trade in the Southwest. Kinkead had been a friend of Carson's father
in Missouri, and he taught Carson the skills of a trapper. Carson also
began learning the necessary languages and became fluent in Spanish, Navajo,
Apache, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute.
The trapper years (1829-40)
After gaining experience along the Santa Fe Trail and
in Mexico, Carson signed on with a trapping party of forty men, led by
Ewing Young in the Spring of 1829; this was Carson's first official expedition
as a trapper. The journey took the band into unexplored Apache country
along the Gila River. Ewing's group was approached and attacked by Apache
Indians. It was during this encounter that Carson shot and killed one of
the attacking Indians, the first time he killed a man.
At the age of 25, in the summer of 1835, Carson attended
an annual mountain man rendezvous, which was held along the Green River
in southwestern Wyoming. He became interested in an Arapaho woman whose
name, Waa-Nibe, is approximated in English as "Singing Grass" Her tribe
was camped nearby the rendezvous. Singing Grass is said to have been popular
at the rendezvous and also to have caught the attention of a French-Canadian
trapper, Joseph Chouinard. When Singing Grass chose Carson over Chouinard,
the rejected suitor became belligerent. Chouinard is reported to have disrupted
the camp, so that Carson could no longer tolerate the situation. Words
were exchanged, and Carson and Chouinard charged each other on horses,
brandishing their weapons. Carson blew off the thumb of his opponent with
his pistol, while Chouinard's rifle shot barely missed, grazing Carson
below his left ear and scorching his eye and hair. Carson stated that had
his opponent's horse not shied as he fired, Chouinard might have finished
him off, as he was a splendid shot.
Controversy regarding Chouinard's fate continues, with
no certainty achieved. The duel with Chouinard is said to have made Carson
famous among the mountain men but was also considered uncharacteristic
Carson considered his years as a trapper to be "the happiest
days of my life." Accompanied by Singing Grass, he worked with the Hudson's
Bay Company, as well as the renowned frontiersman Jim Bridger, trapping
beaver along the Yellowstone, Powder, and Big Horn Rivers, and was found
throughout what is now Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Carson's
first child, a daughter named Adeline, was born in 1837. Singing Grass
gave birth to a second daughter and developed a fever shortly after the
child's birth, and died sometime between 1838-40.
At this time, the nation was undergoing a severe depression
(see Panic of 1837). The fur industry was undermined by changing fashion
styles: a new demand for silk hats replaced the demand for beaver fur.
Also, the trapping industry had devastated the beaver population; this
combination of facts ended the need for trappers. Carson stated, "Beaver
was getting scarce, it became necessary to try our hand at something else."
He attended the last mountain man rendezvous, held in
the summer of 1840 (again at Ft. Bridger near the Green River) and moved
on to Bent's Fort, finding employment as a hunter. Carson married a Cheyenne
woman, Making-Our-Road, in 1841 but Making-Our-Road left him only a short
time later to follow her tribe's migration. By 1842 he met and became engaged
to the daughter of a prominent Taos family: Josefa Jaramillo. After receiving
instruction from Padre Antonio José Martínez, he was baptized
into the Catholic Church in 1842. When he was 34, he married 14-year-old
Josefa, his third wife, on February 6, 1843. They raised eight children,
the descendants of whom remain in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado.
Guide with Frémont (1842-1846)
Carson decided early in 1842 to return east to bring his
daughter Adeline to live with relatives near Carson's former home of Franklin,
for the purpose of providing her with an education. That summer he met
John C. Frémont on a Missouri River steamboat in Missouri. Frémont
was preparing to lead his first expedition and was looking for a guide
to take him to South Pass. The two men made acquaintance, and Carson offered
his services, as he had spent much time in the area. The five month journey,
made with 25 men, was a success, and Fremont's report was published by
Congress. His report "touched off a wave of wagon caravans filled with
hopeful emigrants" heading West.
Frémont's success in the first expedition lead
to his second expedition, undertaken in the summer of 1843, which proposed
to map and describe the second half of the Oregon Trail, from South Pass
to the Columbia River. Due to his proven skill as a guide in the first
expedition, Carson's services were again requested. This journey took them
along the Great Salt Lake into Oregon, establishing all the land in the
Great Basin to be land-locked, which contributed greatly to the understanding
of North American geography at the time. Their trip brought them into sight
of Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood.
One purpose of this expedition had been to locate the
Buenaventura, a major east-west river that was believed to connect the
Great Lakes with the Pacific Ocean. Though its existence was accepted as
scientific fact at the time, it was not to be found. Frémont's second
expedition established that this mystical river was a fable.
The second expedition became snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas
that winter, and was in danger of mass starvation. Carson's wilderness
expertise pulled them through, in spite of being half-starved. Food was
scarce enough that their mules "ate one another's tails and the leather
of the pack saddles."
The expedition moved south into the Mojave Desert, enduring
attacks by Natives, which killed one man. Also, when the expedition had
crossed into California, they had officially invaded Mexico. The threat
of military intervention by that country sent Fremont's expedition further
southeast, into Nevada, at a watering hole known as Las Vegas. The party
traveled on to Bent's Fort, and by August, 1844 returned to Washington,
over a year after their departure. Another Congressional report on Fremont's
expedition was published. By the time of the second report in 1845, Frémont
and Carson were becoming nationally famous.
Somewhere along this route, Frémont and party came
across a Mexican man and a boy who were survivors of an ambush by a band
of Natives, who had killed two men, staked two women to the ground and
mutilated them, and stolen 30 horses. Carson and fellow mountain man Alex
Godey took pity on the two survivors. They tracked the Native band for
2 days, and upon locating them, rushed into their encampment. They killed
two Native Americans, scattered the rest, and returned with the horses.
"More than any other single factor
or incident, [the Mojave Desert incident] from Frémont's second
expedition report is where the Kit Carson legend was born....."
On June 1, 1845 John Frémont and 55 men left St.
Louis, with Carson as guide, on the third expedition. The stated goal was
to "map the source of the Arkansas River", on the east side of the Rocky
Mountains. But upon reaching the Arkansas, Frémont suddenly made
a hasty trail straight to California, without explanation. Arriving in
the Sacramento Valley in early winter 1846, he promptly sought to stir
up patriotic enthusiasm among the American settlers there. He promised
that if war with Mexico started, his military force would "be there to
protect them." Frémont nearly provoked a battle with General José
Castro near Monterey, which would have likely resulted in the annihilation
of Frémont's group, due to the superior numbers of the Mexican troops.
Frémont then fled Mexican-controlled California, and went north
to Oregon, finding camp at Klamath Lake.
On the night of May 9, 1846 Frémont received a
courier, Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie, who brought him messages from
President James Polk. Frémont stayed up late reviewing these messages
and neglected to post a watchman for the camp, as was customary for security
measures. The neglect of this action is said to have been troubling to
Carson, yet he had "apprehended no danger". Later that night Carson was
awakened by the sound of a thump. Jumping up, he saw his friend and fellow
trapper Basil Lajeunesse sprawled in blood. He called an alarm and immediately
everyone else came to: they were under attack by Native Americans estimated
to be several dozen in number. By the time the assailants were beaten off,
two other members of Frémonts group were dead. The one dead warrior
was judged to be a Klamath Lake Native. Frémont's group fell into
"an angry gloom." Carson was beside himself, and Frémont reports
he smashed away at the dead warrior's face until it was pulp.
To avenge the deaths of his expedition members, Frémont
chose to attack a Klamath Tribe fishing village named Dokdokwas, at the
junction of the Williamson River and Klamath Lake, which took place May
10, 1846. Accounts by scholars vary as to what happened but it is certain
that the action completely destroyed the village. Carson was nearly killed
by a Klamath warrior later that day: his gun misfired, and the warrior
drew to shoot a poison arrow; but Frémont, seeing Carson's predicament,
trampled the warrior with his horse. Carson stated he felt that he owed
Frémont his life due to this incident.
"The tragedy of Dokdokwas is deepened
by the fact that most scholars now agree that Frémont and Carson,
in their blind vindictiveness, probably chose the wrong tribe to lash out
against: In all likelihood the band of Indians that had killed [Frémont's
three men] were from the neighboring Modocs....The Klamaths were culturally
related to the Modocs, but the two tribes were bitter enemies."
Turning south from Klamath Lake, Frémont led his
expedition back down the Sacramento Valley, and slyly promoted an insurrection
of American settlers, which he then took charge of once circumstances had
adequately developed, known as the Bear Flag Revolt. Events escalated when
a group of Mexicans murdered two American rebels. Frémont then intercepted
three Mexican men on June 28, 1846, crossing the San Francisco Bay, who
landed near San Quentin. Frémont ordered Carson to execute these
three men in revenge for the deaths of the two Americans.
Mexican American War service
Frémont's California Battalion next moved south
to the provincial capital of Monterey, California, and met Commodore Robert
Stockton there in mid-July 1846. Stockton had sailed into harbor with two
American warships and taken claim to Monterey for the United States. Learning
that the war with Mexico was underway, Stockton made plans to capture Los
Angeles and San Diego and proceed on to Mexico City. He joined forces with
Frémont, and made Carson a lieutenant, thus initiating Carson's
Frémont's unit arrived in San Diego on one of Stockton's
ships on July 29, 1846, and took over the town without resistance. Stockton,
traveling on a separate warship, claimed Santa Barbara a few days later.
(See Mission Santa Barbara and Presidio of Santa Barbara). Meeting up and
joining forces in San Diego, they marched to Los Angeles and claimed this
town without any challenge, and Stockton declared California to be United
States territory on August 17, 1846. The following day, August 18, Stephen
W. Kearny rode into Santa Fe, New Mexico with his Army of the West and
declared the New Mexican territory conquered.
Stockton and Frémont were eager to announce the
conquest of California to President Polk, and wished for Carson to carry
their correspondence overland to the President. Carson accepted the mission,
and pledged to cross the continent within 60 days. He left Los Angeles
with 15 men and 6 Delaware Indians on September 5.
Service with Kearny
Thirty one days later on October 6, Carson chanced to
meet Kearny and his 300 dragoons at the deserted village of Valverde.
Kearny was under orders from the Polk Administration to subdue both New
Mexico and California, and set up governments there. Learning that California
was already conquered, he sent 200 of his men back to Santa Fe, and ordered
Carson to guide him back to California so he could stabilize the situation
there. Kearny sent the mail on to Washington by another courier.
For the next six weeks, Lt. Carson guided Kearny and the
100 dragoons west along the Gila River over very rugged terrain, arriving
at the Colorado River on November 25. On some parts of the trail mules
died at a rate of almost 12 a day. By December 5, three months after leaving
Los Angeles, Carson had brought Kearny's men to within 25 miles (40 km)
of their destination, San Diego.
A Mexican courier was captured en route to Sonora Mexico
carrying letters to General Jose Castro that reported a Mexican revolt
which had recaptured California from Commodore Stockton: all the coastal
cities now were back under Mexican control, except for San Diego, where
the Mexicans had Stockton pinned down and under siege. Kearny was himself
in perilous danger, as his force was reduced both in numbers and in a state
of physical exhaustion: they had to come out of the Gila River trail and
confront the Mexican forces, or risk perishing in the desert.
By December 10, Kearny had decided all hope was gone, and
planned to attempt a breakout the next morning: but that night, 200 American
troops on fresh horses arrived, the Mexican army dispersed with the new
show of strength. Kearny was able to arrive in San Diego by December 12.
This action contributed to the prompt reconquest of California by the American
|The Battle of San Pasqual
While approaching San Diego, Kearny sent a rancher ahead
to notify Commodore Stockton of his presence. The rancher, Edward Stokes,
returned with 39 American troops and information that several hundred Mexican
dragoons under Capt Andres Pico were camped at the Indian village of San
Pasqual, lying on the route between him and Stockton. Kearny decided to
raid Pico in order to capture fresh horses, and sent out a scouting party
on the night of December 5-6.
The scouting party encountered a barking dog in San Pasqual,
and Captain Pico's troops were aroused from their sleep. Having been detected,
Kearny decided to attack, and organized his troops to advance on San Pasqual.
A complex battle evolved, where twenty-one Americans were killed and many
more wounded: many from the long lances of the Mexican caballeros, who
also displayed expert horsemanship. By the end of the second day, December
7, the Americans were nearly out of food and water, low on ammunition and
weak from the journey along the Gila River. They faced starvation and possible
annilation by the Mexican troops who vastly outnumbered them, and Kearny
ordered his men to dig in on top of a small hill.
Kearny then sent Carson and two other men to slip through
the siege and get reinforcements. Carson, Edward Beale, and an Indian left
on the night of December 8 for San Diego which was 25 miles (40 km) away.
Because their canteens made too much noise, they were left along the path.
Because their boots also made too much noise, Carson and Beale removed
these and tucked them under their belts. These they lost, and Carson and
Beale traveled the distance to San Diego barefoot through desert, rock,
Click on image to enlarge
Civil War and Indian campaigns
Following the recapture of Los Angeles in 1846, Frémont
was appointed Governor of California by Commodore Stockton. Frémont
sent Carson to carry messages back to Washington City. He stopped in St.
Louis and met with Senator Thomas Benton, who was a prominent supporter
of the settling of the West and a proponent of Manifest Destiny, and had
been prominent in getting Frémont's expedition reports published
by Congress. Once in Washington, Carson delivered his messages to Secretary
of State James Buchanan, as well as had meetings with Secretary of War
William Marcy and President James Polk.
Having completed this mission, Carson received orders
to do it all again: return to California with messages, receive further
messages there, and bring those back yet again to Washington. By the end
of the Frémont expeditions and these courier missions, Carson felt
he wanted to settle down with Joséfa, and decided in 1849 to go
into farming in Taos.
Carson's public image as an action hero had been sealed
by the Frémont expedition reports of 1845. In 1849, the first of
many Carson action novels appeared. The first, written by Charles Averill,
bore the name Kit Carson: The Prince of the Gold Hunters. This type of
western pulp fiction was known as "blood and thunders." In Averill's novel,
Carson finds a kidnapped girl and rescues her, after having vowed to her
distraught parents in Boston that he would scour the American West until
she was found.
This book was among the possessions Carson and Major William
Grier found when they recovered the body of Mrs. Ann White in November,
1849. Mrs. White and her daughter had been taken captive by Jicarilla Apaches
several weeks earlier. She had been traveling with her husband James White,
a trader, to Santa Fe, when a group of Indians approached them as they
camped along the Santa Fe trail. Mr. White tried to disperse the Indians
with his rifle, but they attacked, killing everyone except Mrs. White,
her daughter, and a servant.
Carson and Grier tracked the Indians for twelve days to
their camp on the Canadian River. Carson wanted an immediate attack, while
Grier wanted to parlay with the Jicarillas. The disagreement in tactics
caused delay, which gave the Indians time to disperse from camp and escape.
In the process, Mrs. White appears to have attempted to flee and was killed
by an arrow through the heart.
While picking through the belongings that the Jicarillas
had left in their camp, one of Major Grier's soldiers came across a book
that the White family had carried with them from Missouri: the paperback
novel starring Kit Carson. This book must have been shown to him, for he
was to comment on it later. This was the first time that the real Kit Carson
came in contact with his own myth.
The episode of the White massacre haunted Carson's memory
for many years. He once stated, "I have often thought that, as Mrs. White
read the book, she prayed for my appearance, knowing that I lived nearby."
His fear was that the book had given her a false hope. He wrote later,
"I have much regretted the failure to save the life of so esteemed a lady."
He was troubled by the implications and false image that developed around
his celebrity status.
When the American Civil War began in April 1861, Kit Carson
resigned his post as federal Indian agent for northern New Mexico and joined
the New Mexico volunteer infantry which was being organized by Ceran St.
Vrain. Although New Mexico Territory officially allowed slavery, geography
and economics made the institution so impractical that there were only
a handful of slaves within its boundaries. The territorial government and
the leaders of opinion all threw their support to the Union.
Overall command of Union forces in the Department of New
Mexico fell to Colonel Edward R. S. Canby of the Regular Army's 19th Infantry,
headquartered at Ft. Marcy in Santa Fe. Carson, with the rank of Colonel
of Volunteers, commanded the third of five columns in Canby's force. Carson's
command was divided into two battalions each made up of four companies
of the First New Mexico Volunteers, in all some 500 men.
Early in 1862, Confederate forces in Texas under General
Henry Hopkins Sibley undertook an invasion of New Mexico Territory. The
goal of this expedition was to conquer the rich Colorado gold fields and
redirect this valuable resource from the North to the South.
Advancing up the Rio Grande, Sibley's command clashed
with Canby's Union force at Valverde on February 21, 1862. The day-long
Battle of Valverde ended when the Confederates captured a Union battery
of six guns and forced the rest of Canby's troops back across the river
with losses of 68 killed and 160 wounded. Colonel Carson's column spent
the morning on the west side of the river out of the action, but at 1 p.m.,
Canby ordered them to cross, and Carson's battalions fought until ordered
to retreat. Carson lost one man killed and one wounded.
Colonel Canby had little or no confidence in the hastily
recruited, untrained New Mexico volunteers, "who would not obey orders
or obeyed them too late to be of any service." In his battle report, however,
he did commend Carson, among other volunteer officers, for his "zeal and
After the battle at Valverde, Colonel Canby and most of
the regular troops were ordered to the eastern front, but Carson and his
New Mexico Volunteers were fully occupied by "Indian troubles."
Prelude to the Navajo campaign
Contact between the Navajo and the U.S. Army was prompted
by a Navajo raid on Socorro, New Mexico near the end of September, 1846.
General Kearny, passing nearby on his way to California after his recent
conquest of Santa Fe, learned of the raid and sent a note to Col. William
Doniphan, his second in command in Santa Fe. He asked Doniphan to send
a regiment of soldiers into Navajo country and secure a peace treaty with
A detachment of 30 men made contact with the Navajo and
spoke to the Navajo Chief Narbona in mid-October, about the same time that
Carson met Gen. Kearny on the trail to California. A second meeting with
Chief Narbona and Col. Doniphan occurred several weeks later. Doniphan
informed the Navajo that all their land now belonged to the United States,
and the Navajo and New Mexicans were now the "children of the United States."
In spite of this, the Navajo signed a treaty, known as the Bear Spring
treaty, on November 21, 1846. The treaty forbade the Navajo to raid or
make war on the New Mexicans, but allowed the New Mexicans the privilege
of making war on the Navajo if they saw fit.
Despite the treaty, raiding continued in New Mexico by
the Navajo, as well as the Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, Ute, Comanche,
and Kiowa. On August 16, 1849 the U.S. Army began an expedition into the
heart of Navajo country on an organized reconnaissance for the purpose
of impressing the Navajo with the might of the U.S. military, and to map
the terrain for further operations and to plan forts. The expedition was
led by Col. John Washington, the military governor of New Mexico at the
time. The expedition included nearly a thousand infantry (U.S. and New
Mexican volunteers), hundreds of horses and mules, a supply train, 55 Pueblo
Indian scouts, and four artillery guns.
On August 29-30, 1849, Washington's expedition was in
need of water, and began pillaging Navajo cornfields. It became clear the
Navajo intended to resist further pillaging, with mounted warriors darting
back and forth around Washington's troops. It is further documented that
Washington's reasoning was that the pillaging of Navajo crops was justified
because the Navajo would have to reimburse the U.S. government for the
cost of the expedition.
In this setting, Washington was still able to communicate
to the Navajo that in spite of the hostile situation, they and the whites
could "still be friends if the Navajo came with their chiefs the next day
and signed a treaty." This is in fact exactly what the Navajo did.
The next day Chief Narbona came once again to "talk peace,"
along with several other headmen. An accord was reached on nearly every
matter. When a New Mexican thought he saw his stolen horse and the Navajo
protested its return, a scuffle broke out. (The Navajo position was that
the horse had passed through several owners by this time, and now rightfully
belonged to its Navajo owner). Col. Washington sided with the New Mexican.
Since the Navajo owner now took his horse and fled the scene, Washington
told the New Mexican to go pick out any Navajo horse he wanted. The rest
of the Navajo present figured out what has happening, and turned and fled.
At this, Col. Washington ordered his soldiers to fire.
Seven Navajo were killed in the volleys; the rest ran
and could not be caught. One of the dying was Chief Narbona, who was scalped
as he lay dying by a New Mexican souvenir hunter. This massacre prompted
the warlike Navajo leaders such as Manuelito to gain influence over those
who were advocates of peace.
Carson's Navajo campaign
Raiding by Amerindians had been rather constant up through
1862, and New Mexicans were becoming more outspoken in their demand that
something be done. Col. Canby devised a plan for the removal of the Navajo
to a distant reservation and sent his plans to his superiors in Washington
D.C. But that year, Canby was promoted to general and recalled back east
for other duties. His replacement as commander of the Federal District
of New Mexico was Brigadier General James H. Carleton.
Carleton believed that the Navajo conflict was the reason
for New Mexico's "depressing backwardness." He naturally turned to Kit
Carson to help him fulfill his plans of upgrading New Mexico and his own
career: Carson was nationally known and had helped boost the careers of
a series of military commanders who had employed him.
Carleton saw a way to harness the anxieties that had been
stirred up [in New Mexico] by the Confederate invasion and the still-hovering
fear that the Texans might return. If the territory was already on a war
footing, the whole society alert and inflamed, then why not direct all
this ramped up energy toward something useful? Carleton immediately declared
a state of martial law, with curfews and mandatory passports for travel,
and then brought all his newly streamlined authority to bear on cleaning
up the Navajo mess. With a focus that bordered on obsession, he was determined
finally to make good on Kearny's old promise that the United States would
"correct all this."
Furthermore, Carleton believed there was gold in the Navajo's
country, and felt they should be driven out in order to allow the development
of this possibility. The immediate prelude to Carleton's Navajo campaign
was to force the Mescalero Apache to Bosque Redondo. Carleton ordered Carson
to kill all the men of that tribe, and say that he (Carson) had been sent
to "punish them for their treachery and crimes."
Carson was appalled by this brutal attitude and refused
to obey it. He accepted the surrender of more than a hundred Mescalero
warriors who sought refuge with him. Nonetheless, he completed his campaign
in a month.
When Carson learned that Carleton intended for him to
pursue the Navajo he sent Carleton a letter of resignation dated February
3, 1863. Carleton refused to accept this and used the force of his personality
to maintain Carson's cooperation. In language that was similar to his description
of the Mescalero Apache, Carleton ordered Carson to lead an expedition
against the Navajo, and to say to them, "You have deceived us too often,
and robbed and murdered our people too long, to trust you again at large
in your own country. This war shall be pursued against you if it takes
years, now that we have begun, until you cease to exist or move. There
can be no other talk on the subject."
Under Carleton's direction, Carson instituted a scorched
earth policy, burning Navajo fields, orchards and homes, and confiscating
or killing their livestock. He was aided by other Indian tribes with long-standing
enmity toward the Navajos, chiefly the Utes. Carson was pleased with the
work the Utes did for him, but they went home early in the campaign when
told they could not confiscate Navajo booty.
Carson also had difficulty with his New Mexico volunteers.
Troopers deserted and officers resigned. Carson urged Carleton to accept
two resignations he was forwarding, "as I do not wish to have any officer
in my command who is not contented or willing to put up with as much inconvenience
and privations for the success of the expedition as I undergo myself."
There were no pitched battles and only a few skirmishes
in the Navajo campaign. Carson rounded up and took prisoner every Navajo
he could find. In January 1864, Carson sent a company into Canyon de Chelly
to attack the last Navajo stronghold under the leadership of Manuelito.
The Navajo were forced to surrender because of the destruction of their
livestock and food supplies. In the spring of 1864, 8,000 Navajo men, women
and children were forced to march or ride in wagons 300 miles (480 km)
to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Navajos call this "The Long Walk." Although
Carson had ridden home before the march began, he was held responsible
by the Navaho for breaking his word that those who surrendered would not
be harmed. As many as 300 died along the way, and many
more during the next four years of imprisonment. In 1868, after signing
a treaty with the U.S. government, remaining Navajos were allowed to return
to a reduced area of their homeland, where the Navajo Reservation exists
today. Thousands of other Navajo who had been living in the wilderness
returned to the Navajo homeland centered around Canyon de Chelly.
Southern Plains campaign
In November 1864, Carson was sent by General Carleton
to deal with the Natives in western Texas. Carson and his troopers met
a combined force of Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne numbering over 1,500
at the ruins of Adobe Walls. In what is known as the Battle of Adobe Walls,
the Native force led by Dohäsan made several assaults on Carson's
forces which were supported by two mountain howitzers. Carson inflicted
heavy losses on the attacking warriors before burning the Indians' camp
and lodges and returning to Fort Bascom.
A few days later, Colonel John M. Chivington led U.S.
troops in a massacre at Sand Creek. Chivington boasted that he had surpassed
Carson and would soon be known as the great Indian killer. Carson was outraged
at the massacre and openly denounced Chivington's actions.
The Southern Plains campaign led the Comanches to sign
the Little Rock Treaty of 1865. In October 1865, General Carleton recommended
that Carson be awarded the brevet rank of brigadier-general, "for gallantry
in the battle of Valverde, and for distinguished conduct and gallantry
in the wars against the Mescalero Apaches and against the Navajo Indians
of New Mexico."
When the Civil War ended, and with the Indian campaigns
successfully concluded, Carson left the army and took up ranching, finally
settling in Boggsville, Colorado (near the current Las Animas on the Purgatory
Carson died at age 58 from an aortic aneurysm in the surgeon's
quarters in Fort Lyon, Colorado, located east of Las Animas. He is buried
in Taos, New Mexico, alongside his wife, Josefa ("Josephine"), who died
a month earlier of complications following child birth. His headstone inscription
reads: "Kit Carson / Died May 23, 1868 / Aged 59 Years."
Many of the early images and recollections of Carson by
his peers and early writers portray him in a positive light. Albert Richardson,
who knew him personally in the 1850s, wrote that Kit Carson was "a gentleman
by instinct, upright, pure, and simple-hearted, beloved alike by Indians,
Mexicans, and Americans".
Oscar Lipps also presented a positive image of Carson:
"The name of Kit Carson is to this day held in reverence by all the old
members of the Navajo tribe. They say he knew how to be just and considerate
as well as how to fight the Indians".
Carson's contributions to western history have been reexamined
by historians, journalists and Native American activists since the 1960s.
In 1968, Carson biographer Harvey L. Carter stated:
In respect to his actual exploits and his actual character,
however, Carson was not overrated. If history has to single out one person
from among the Mountain Men to receive the admiration of later generations,
Carson is the best choice. He had far more of the good qualities and fewer
of the bad qualities than anyone else in that varied lot of individuals.
Some journalists and authors during the last 25 years
present a less benign view of Carson. Virginia Hopkins stated that "Kit
Carson was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of thousands
of Indians". Her viewpoint is contrasted with that of Tom Dunlay, who wrote
in 2000 that Carson was directly responsible for less than fifty Indian
deaths and that, as Carson was not there at the time, Indian deaths on
the Long Walk or at Ft. Sumner were the responsibility of the United States
Army and General James Carleton.
Ed Quillen, publisher of Colorado Central magazine and
columnist for The Denver Post, wrote that "Carson...betrayed [the Navajo],
starved them by destroying their farms and livestock in Canyon de Chelly
and then brutally marched them to the Bosque Redondo concentration camp".
In 1970, Lawrence Kelly noted that Carleton had warned 18 Navajo chiefs
that all Navajo peoples "must come in and go to the Bosque Redondo where
they would be fed and protected until the war was over. That unless they
were willing to do this they would be considered hostile". Quillen's contention
that Bosque Redondo was a concentration camp has been challenged. For instance,
several men went off the reservation and stole 1,000 horses from the Comanche
Indians to the east. In addition, there was a hospital and a school, services
not available at a 'concentration camp' in the modern sense of the word,
particularly since World War II.
On January 19, 2006, Marley Shebala, senior news reporter
and photographer for Navajo Times, quoted the Fort Defiance Chapter of
the Navajo Nation as saying, "Carson ordered his soldiers to shoot any
Navajo, including women and children, on sight." Carson did not order his
soldiers to do that. This view of Carson's actions may be from General
James Carleton’s orders to Carson on October 12, 1862, concerning the Mescalero
Apaches: "All Indian men of that tribe are to be killed whenever and wherever
you can find them: the women and children will not be harmed, but you will
take them prisoners and feed them at Ft. Stanton until you receive other
instructions". Carson refused to obey that order then, and again with the
Navajo in 1863.[original research?]
Hampton Sides stated that Carson felt the Native Americans
needed reservations as a way of physically separating and shielding them
from white hostility and white culture. He believed most of the Indian
troubles in the West were caused by "aggressions on the part of whites."
He is said to have viewed the raids on white settlements as driven by desperation,
"committed from absolute necessity when in a starving condition." Native
American hunting grounds were disappearing as waves of white settlers filled
The legend of Kit Carson began before he died, and has
continued to grow through the years through dime novels, poems, music,
movies, television, and comic books. These fictional tales tend to portray
Carson as a heroic figure slaughtering two bears and a dozen Indians before
breakfast, and when mixed with a few real historic events, the result is
that Kit Carson becomes larger than life.
Click on image to enlarge
There are at least 25 titles that have been recorded,
from Kit Carson, Prince of the Gold Hunters (1849) through Kit Carson,
King of Scouts (1923).
There is also a children's novel, Adaline Falling Star
(2000), by Mary Pope Osborne. It tells the story of Kit Carson and his
times through the eyes of his daughter from his first marriage.
Kit Carson also appears in historical fiction novel Flashman
and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser, where he helps guide Flashman
and his party across the west to California.
A character by the Name of Kit Carson also appears in
the Time Scout novels by Robert Asprin. While not identical in origin or
time period to the original, the character bears several similarities,
most notably the scouting profession.
There is a Welsh novel, I Ble Aeth Haul Y Bore by Eirug
Wyn, which focuses on the Great Walk, and Kit Carson is one of the main
characters. He first helps the Blue Coats to persuade the Navohos to move
from De Chelley, but then he realises his mistake and then helps them to
overcome a particularly evil Sargent called Dicks.
There were four silent films made with Kit Carson as the
"star" from 1903 to 1928. Hollywood produced 3 talking films: Fighting
with Kit Carson, a serial (1933), revised as a single movie: The Return
of Kit Carson (1947); Overland with Kit Carson (1939); and Kit Carson (1940),
starring Jon Hall in the title role. The Adventures of Kit Carson was a
TV series (1951-1955); Disney released Kit Carson and the Mountain Men
in 1977, Dream West was a TV 1986 docudrama that includes Kit Carson and
John C. Fremont as characters, and the History Channel produced "Carson
and Cody, the Hunter Heroes" in 2003. Several other motion pictures include
Kit Carson as a minor character.
A successful western series,The Adventures of Kit Carson,
starring veteran actor Bill Williams ran on syndicated television from
1951-1955.A total of 104 half-hour episodes were filmed over 4 seasons.
Some of these are now available on DVD.
The Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn, has a
track entitled "Kit Carson" on his 1991 album "Nothing But a Burning Light".
In 1931 Kit Carson was the subject of J. Carrol Mansfield's
daily comic strip High Lights of History and these strips were reprinted
as a Big Little Book, Kit Carson(1933). Avon began a series of Kit Carson
comic book that lasted 9 issues (1950-1955). Classics Illustrated No 112,
titled The Adventures of Kit Carson (1953), is based on John C. Abbott's
1873 book, and Blazing the Trails West, another Classics Illustrated publication,
includes a chapter on Kit Carson. Six Gun Heroes had two Kit Carson titles
(1957 & 1958) and there was a Kit Carson No. 10 in 1963. Boy's Life
includes a continuing strip story "Old Timere Tales of Kit Carson" from
March 1951 to May, 1953. There was a 1970 Walt Disney Comics Digest that
included Kit Carson, and Carson strips are in several issues of Frontier
Fighters and Indian Fighter. In England, there was a Kit Carson comic that
lasted at least 350 issues (1950s), and 7 Kit Carson Annuals (1954-1960)
Kit Carson is included in a number of 20th century novels
and pulp magazine stories: Comanche Chaser by Dane Coolidge, On Sweet Water
Trail by Sabra Conner, On to Oregon by H. W. Morrow, The Pioneers by C.
R. Cooper, The Long Trail by J. Allan Dunn and Peltry by H. D. H. Smith.
In Willa Cather's novel Death Comes for the Archbishop,
Kit Carson's multifaceted legend is explored, first as compassionate friend
to the Indians, later as "misguided" soldier.
In the Italian comic Tex Willer, Kit Carson appears as