Christopher “Kit” Carson was a famous American frontiersmen born in Madison County, Kentucky on December 24th, 1809, who made an important contribution to the expansion of The United States of America. Kit Carson became a legend due to his name associated with several key events in the Westward expansion. Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange, Christopher Carson experienced a lot of this during his life. In 1818 Kit Carson’s father Lindsey Carson died due to an incident while clearing a field.
Kit Carson’s mother took care of him for many years, and Kit Carson became apprenticed to David Workman, a saddle maker. When Kit Carson was a young man working for the saddle maker, he longed for freedom and adventure. In the year 1826, against his mother’s wishes, the young Kit Carson fled from the saddle maker, breaking his contract with him; Kit Carson headed West on the Santa Fe Trail where he worked as a laborer with a merchant caravan. Kit Carson learned quite a bit about trapping in the hostile lands of the West from Mathew Kinkead, a trapper and explorer.
Kinkead was a war veteran, now an explorer who fought with Carson’s older brothers during the war of 1812. With the knowledge learned from his mentor, Kit Carson became one of the famed “Mountain Men”3. Between 1827 and 1829 Kit Carson worked as a translator, cook, wagon driver and a miner. At the age of Nineteen Carson began his career as a “Mountain Man” and traveled around many parts of the American West with other famous mountain men such as Old Bill Williams, and Jim Bridger. From around 1828 – 1831 Kit Carson used Taos, New Mexico as a base camp for his fur trapping expeditions.
Sometimes these expeditions took Carson as far west as as California; Also, along these expeditions Carson joined Ewing Young in an expedition to Mexican California as a cook and joined Ewing Young’s fur trapping expeditions into the Rocky Mountains in 1829. Kit Carson had his first combat experience with Young and his party when they were attacked by Native Americans6, Young, Carson, and their party returned from their expedition to Taos, New Mexico in 1830 after trapping along the Colorado River. Young’s leadership is credited with shaping Kit Carson’s early life in the mountains.
Kit Carson also worked with the Hudson Bay Company and Jim Bridger at different times. During all these years of exploration, Kit Carson learned how to speak Spanish, French, and several Native American languages to help him with his trade. Kit Carson joined another expedition in 1831 led by the trapper and trail blazer, Thomas Fitzpatrick also known as “Broken Hand1”. Carson, Fitzpatrick, and the trappers went North to the central Rocky Mountains. Kit Carson would continue to hunt and trap in the wild West for about ten years.
Life as a mountain man for Kit Carson was difficult, as there was little to none medical access in the regions in America that he worked in, Carson often had to treat and dress his own wounds. Also, there were many predators out in the West and the Grizzly Bear was one of the Mountain Men’s greatest enemies. There’s a neat anecdote about an experience Kit Carson had with a pair of Grizzly Bears, some time in 1834 Carson was hunting an Elk alone. Two bears had crossed paths with Carson and he was chased up a tree, the Bears had tried to make Carson fall by shaking the tree.
The Bears eventually went away and Kit Carson ran back to his camp as fast as he could and wrote in his Memoirs how he has never been so scared in his life4. In the year 1836 Carson met a Native American woman named Waanibe, or Singing Grass. Singing Grass was a lovely woman and many Mountain Men wanted to marry her, So Kit Carson fought a duel with Chouinard, a French trapper for her hand in marriage. Carson won with a narrow escape where the French mans bullet singed Carson’s hair, this became one of the best know stories of Kit Carson in the 19th century5.
Singing Grass later had a daughter with Carson named Adaline, Singing Grass later died after giving birth to another daughter who died about 3 years later. Around 1840 when the fur trade began to drop off, Carson knew it was time to find other work and wrote in his Memoirs that Beaver was becoming scarce and it was time to try his hand at something else. In the year 1841 Kit Carson was hired at Bent’s Fort in Colorado, one of the greatest buildings in the West where hundreds of people worked and lived.
Kit Carson hunted wild animals to supply food for the people living there to eat and he was payed one dollar a day to do this, Carson returned there many times in his life to provide meat for the people living in the fort. Also during this year Carson married a Cheyenne women named, Making Out Road, soon after she would divorce him to travel with her people throughout the West. Sometime in April 1842 Carson returned to his childhood home in Missouri to put his daughter Adaline in the care of relatives.
When Kit Carson was returning to Taos, New Mexico, he met a United States officer in the Corps of Topographical Engineers that went by the name of John C. Fremont. Fremont was about to lead an expedition into the West and after a brief conversation Carson was hired to be his guide for one hundred dollars a month2. Being the guide for Fremont was the best paying job of Kit Carson’s life. In 1842 they started their first expedition, the purpose of the expedition was to map the Oregon Trail to the South Pass.
Fremont wrote his government reports and these reports made Carson’s name well known across the United States and the reports spurred a migration of American settlers farther West via the Oregon Trail. Also in 1842 Kit Carson met his third and final wife Josefa Jaramillo, who was the daughter of a wealthy Mexican couple and Carson married her in 1843 when she was 14, they would have eight children together5. In 1843 Carson was asked to join Fremont’s second expedition and Carson guided him to the Columbia River, the purpose of this expedition was to map the Oregon Trail from South Pass to Wyoming, and then to the Colombia River.
During this expedition Fremont and Carson trekked into the Mojave Desert where they met a Mexican man and boy who’s party of travelers was killed by Native Americans. Kit Carson and a man named Alexis Godey went after the murderers and killed two of the Natives and took back the parties’ stolen horses2. This confirmed Carson’s status as a Western hero in the eyes of the American people. In 1845, Carson would guide John C. Fremont on their third and final expedition. The goal for this expedition was originally to locate the source of the Arkansas River but Fremont made a sudden trail straight to California without explanation.
He proceeded to stur up patriotic enthusiasm among the settlers, the party then headed North to Oregon and created a camp at Klamath Lake. Native Americans attacked their camp on March 6, 1846 killing three men and the next day the party attacked an Indian fishing village and completely destroyed it, while attacking Kit Carson’s gun had malfunctioned and Fremont trampled a Native attacking Carson with his horse, after that Carson felt he owed Fremont his life3. Later that year in June Carson and Fremont participated in the uprising against Mexico known as the Bear Flag Revolt.
Kit Carson executed an old Mexican man and his two nephews during the Revolt to prevent them from taking reports to Mexico about the Revolt against the Mexican government2. In the year 1853, Carson took on a new role, and he agreed to serve as Federal Indian Agent for Northern New Mexico, primarily working with the Native American tribes known as the Utes and the Jicarilla Apaches1. During this job Carson saw the impact of the Western migration of white settlers on the Native American people, and he believed that attacks on whites by the Native Americans were committed in desperation.
To prevent these peoples from becoming extinct, and Carson became an advocator for the creation of reservations. During the year 1861 the American Civil War had started. The outbreak of this war had caused Kit Carson to quit his job as an Indian Agent and he had joined the Union Army as a Lieutenant. Carson was in command of the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry and he trained the men himself in the regiment. Carson’s regiment engaged exclusively against the Native Americans and the regiment would later be led by Theodore Roosevelt6.
Kit Carson’s regiment went on a campaign against the Apaches once the Confederate forces were driven out of New Mexico. When the Mescarelo Apaches were tired of fighting Carson put them in a reservation on the Pecos River. Kit Carson attempted to resign from the Army in 1863 but General Carelton refused and sent Carson to lead a campaign against the Navajo. After Carson started to burn the Navajo’s homes and fields, one Ired and eighty eight Navajo surrendered. Carson sent the Navajos to the Bosque Redondo reservation, where he previously sent the Apaches, the tribes constantly fought one another on the reservation.
In 1865, when the Civil War had ended Carson was promoted to a General and was appointed commandant of Fort Garland in Colorado. After being mustered out of the Army Kit Carson became a rancher and settled in Boggsville in Bent County. In the year of 1868 Carson’s wife Josefa died due to complications after giving birth to their eighth child. Josefa’s death was a crushing blow to Carson, and he died a month later at age 58 on May 23 in Fort Lyon, Colorado. His cause of death was abdominal aortic aneurysm, Christoper “Kit” Carson’s last words were “Goodbye, friends. Adios, com-padres” His body now rests in Taos, New Mexico3.