The Life & Times of:

Kit Carson

Kit Carson

Enshrined in popular mythology even in his own lifetime, Kit Carson was an authentic legend of the West. During his long and illustrious career ranging throughout the desert southwest, he was a trapper, guide, scout, Indian agent, military general, and rancher.

In the four decades that Kit Carson traveled the grassy plains and mountain ranges of the west he saw and sometimes helped drive – powerful currents of change to the frontier. He helped carved the way, by his deeds and actions, to making the great American western expansion possible.

Just who was this great plainsman and explorer and how did he achieve such a lofty position in American history? Perhaps the following chronology will lend some insight.

1809 - Christopher (Kit) Carson was born in Madison County, Kentucky, on 24th December, 1809, the 9th of 14 children. His family moved to the Boone's Lick district of Missouri (then part of the Louisiana Territory) when he was a small child.
1818 - Kit’s father was killed, when he was only 9 years old by a falling tree limb. The need to help provide for his siblings prevented him from having time to receive any formal education.
1824 - At the age of 14 Carson was apprenticed as a saddle and harness maker.
1826 - He soon grew restless of a trade he found “distasteful” and two years later, he ran away. He was determined to join the first wagon train heading west on the Santa Fe Trail. He signed on with a trade caravan led by Charles Bent, who would later become an important figure in Carson’s life. From Santa Fe, Kit made his way north to Taos, where he spent the winter in the employee of a retired mountaineer. While residing there, Kit quickly acquired a speaking knowledge of the Spanish language. Over the next couple of years he worked in and around Taos as a cook, interpreter, errand boy, harness repairer, and a wagon driver.
1828 - When Kit Carson was 19, he met Tom Fitzpatrick, the famous mountain man, who taught him the fur trade. Over the next dozen years Kit trapped beaver, sold furs and fought Indians on his many expeditions from California's Sierra Nevadas to the Colorado Rockies. Like other mountain men of that era, Carson traveled and lived extensively among Indians, where he befriended many tribes, learning their languages and customs. Carson also learned French from French-Canadian trappers he met during this period. He gained a reputation, among his peers and the Indians, for his honesty, courage and unassuming manner. According to one acquaintance, his "word was as sure as the sun coming up."
1835 - Carson married his first wife, a 16-year-old Arapahoe girl named Singing Wind.
1836 - Kit’s wife bares him a daughter, Adeline. Singing Wind died shortly after.
1837 - Carson works with James Bridger in Yellowstone.
1840 - Kit marries a 17-year-old Cheyenne girl named Making-Out-Road. She later leaves him to follow her people in a tribal migration. He then goes to work for his old friend, Charles Bent, supplying meat for Bent’s Fort, which had become an important post on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.
1842 - While returning to Missouri to take his daughter Adeline to be educated in a convent, Carson happened to meet a young U. S. Army officer named John C. Fremont. He learned that Fremont was organizing an expedition to map and survey Western trails through the Rockies, and needed a guide. Kit told Fremont that he knew the Rockies well and could guide him to any point he would wish to go. He also pointed out that he could speak to a number of the Indian tribes in their own languages. The two men soon forged a bond and Freemont invited Carson to join him the following year as a scout and guide.
1843 - After returning to Taos, Carson married his third wife, Charles Bent’s sister-in-law, a lovely 15-year-old Mexican girl named Josepha Jaramillo. He had no thoughts of settling down however and together with his old friend Tom Fitzpatrick quickly rejoined with Freemont for his expeditions. With Carson and Fitzpatrick as guides, Fremont's party crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Great Salt Lake, then followed the Snake River to Vancouver. It then turned south where they explored the Great Basin before crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains and reaching Sutter Fort.
1844 - Fremont and Carson eventually reached St. Louis on 6th August, 1844. Kit’s deeds, as a rugged mountain man capable of superhuman feats, are documented in Fremont’s widely-read reports of their expeditions, quickly making him a national hero.
1845 - Carson joins Fremont at Bent's Fort for another expedition. As this journey was progressing westward the Mexican War broke out. General Stephen Kearny persuaded Carson to work as his guide for Fremont, then a major in the United States Army, in his attempts to capture California.
1846 - Carson's notoriety grew when he led the forces of Gen. Kearney from New Mexico into California, to engage a band led by Andrés Pico opposed to the American occupation of Los Angeles. On Dec. 6 these forces were attacked and pinned down north of San Diego. After three days of fierce fighting, Carson snuck through enemy lines at night and ran thirty miles to San Diego, where he mustered forces to rescue Kearny's troops.
1847 - Carson spent the next few years carrying dispatches to President James Polk Washington, DC.
1849 - At the end of the Mexican war, Kit returned to Taos and took up ranching, with the serious intention of settling down. In April, along with several of his long time companions of the trails, he help found a settlement they called "Rayado", and built a modest home for his family. Rayado became an important ranching and farming center supplying regional and military markets. It also became a principal stop on the Santa Fe Trail, serving supply caravans and stagecoaches. Carson, however, wore the mantle of home life uncomfortably. He had been leading a roving life way too long.
1853 - Carson and a partner drove 6,500 sheep to Sacramento California, where gold rush prices paid them a handsome profit.
1854 - Kit Carson sold his farm in Rayado and moved his family back to Taos to accept an appointment as “Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Colorado Territory”. It is speculated that Carson did this because Josepha felt lonely at Rayado and longed for her relatives and friends. Due to his sympathy for the plight of Native Americans, Carson, for the next seven years, served his appointment with distinction. He also occasionally assisted the Army as a scout in clashes with warring Apaches.
1861 - At the outbreak of the Civil War, Carson resigned as Indian agent to organize volunteer troops for the Union Army, whereupon he was given the rank of lieutenant colonel, and command of the “1st New Mexico Volunteers.” Carson's command was divided into two battalions each made up of four companies, in all some 500 men. Overall command of Union forces in the New Mexico theater fell to Col. R.S. Canby of the Regular Army's 19th Infantry, headquartered at Fort Defiance.
1862 - Shortly after Carson received his command Confederate forces in Texas under Gen.H.H. Sibley undertook an invasion of New Mexico Territory. Sibley‘s objective was to conquer the gold fields and thus divert their output to southern coffers. They were met by Canby’s troops at Valverde. In a day long battle Carson lost only one man killed and one wounded. Colonel Canby, in his battle report, commended Carson, for his "zeal and energy under fire".
1863 - Soon after the battle at Valverde “Indian troubles” where again causing problems in Arizona and New Mexico. Canby ordered Carson to lead an expedition with his New Mexico Volunteers against the Navajos, whose continued brutal raids was seen as a hindrance to the war effort. Col. Carson waged a economic war against the Navajo. His principal tactic was to avoid skirmishes and instead destroy or capture the Navajos' crops and animals. To assist in this endeavor he recruited Utes, Pueblos, Hopis and Zunis, who for centuries had been prey to Navajo warriors.
1864 - Nearly 8,000 Navajo men, women and children surrendered to Carson and where forced to take what came to be called the "Long Walk" of 300 miles from Arizona to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where they remained in disease-ridden confinement until 1868.
1865 - Kit Carson, oversaw the construction of Fort Nichols on the Oklahoma segment of the Cimarron Cutoff. He was also promoted to the rank of brigadier general, for “gallantry and distinguished service in the wars against the Mescalero Apaches and against the Navajo Indians of New Mexico."
1866 - General Carson moved to Colorado and took command of Fort Garland. Ill health forced him to resign his commission the following year.
1868 - In April Carson’s beloved Josepha died, and one month later on May 23, one of America’s greatest frontiersman Kit Carson also died.
1869 - The following year, his remains were moved to a small cemetery near his old home in Taos.

Some interesting facts you should know about Kit Carson:

- As a child Kit was unable to receive a formal education due to his father’s death, making it necessary for him to help provide for his siblings. It wasn’t until his service in the Civil War as an army officer when he finally learned to read and write.

- Though he was uneducated, it was said that Carson had a definite gift of languages and could speak nine or more Indian dialects, along with English, Spanish and French. It was these skills that made him indispensable as a frontier scout and guide.

- Carson City the capital of Nevada, Carson Lake, and Carson River, all in Nevada are all named for Kit Carson.

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