Carson, Kit

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Carson, Kit

Carson, Kit (Christopher Houston Carson), 1809–68, American frontiersman and guide, b. Madison co., Ky. In 1811 he moved with his family to the Missouri frontier. After his father's death, he was apprenticed to a saddler in Old Franklin, an outfitting point on the Santa Fe Trail, but in 1826 he ran away, joining a caravan for Santa Fe and continuing on to Taos, N.Mex., which became his home and his headquarters. For the next 14 years he made his living as a trapper, miner, teamster, cook, guide, and hunter for exploring parties. In 1842, while returning from St. Louis by boat up the Missouri, he met J. C. Frémont, who employed him as a guide for his Western expeditions of 1842, 1843–44, and 1845.

After Los Angeles was taken (1846) by U.S. military forces, Carson was ordered to Washington with dispatches. In New Mexico he met Gen. Stephen Kearny's troops, and Kearny commanded him to guide his forces to California. When Kearny's men were surrounded in California, Carson, E. F. Beale, and a Native American made their way by night through enemy lines to secure aid from San Diego. In 1847 and again in 1848, Carson was sent east with dispatches.

Carson determined to retire to a sheep ranch near Taos, but plundering by Native Americans led him to continue as an Indian fighter. In 1853 he was appointed U.S. Indian agent, with headquarters at Taos, a position he filled with notable success. At the outbreak of the Civil War he helped organize and commanded the 1st New Mexican Volunteers, who engaged in campaigns against the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche in New Mexico and Texas. At the end of the war he was made a brigadier general, in command (1866–67) of Fort Garland, Colo.

Carson first became known to the general public as a figure in Frémont's much-read expedition reports (1845), becoming famous as a result of Frémont's reports of his skill and courage. His considerable exploits were exaggerated by his biographer (1858) and, subsequently, wildly inflated in dozens of Wild West pulp novels. A national hero, Carson eventually attained an almost mythic status in the annals of the American West.


See D. C. Peters, The Life and Adventures of Kit Carson, the Nestor of the Rocky Mountains, from Facts Narrated by Himself (1858, much repr.); Kit Carson's Autobiography (ed. by B. C. Grant, 1926; ed. by M. M. Quaife, 1935, repr. 1966); biographies by S. Vestal (1928) and M. M. Estergreen (1962, repr. 1967); E. L. Sabin, Kit Carson Days (rev. ed. 1935); H. L. Carter, “Dear Old Kit”: The Historical Christopher Carson (1990); D. Roberts, Kit Carson, John C. Frémont and the Claiming of the American West (2000); H. Sides, Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West (2006).

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Carson, Kit (Christopher)

(1809–1868) frontiersman, guide, and Indian fighter in the West and Southwest. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 466]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Carson, (Christopher) Kit

(1809–68) guide, trapper, soldier, Indian agent; born in Madison County, Ky. His father died when he was nine and he received no schooling. He was apprenticed to a saddlemaker (1825) but ran away to join an expedition to Sante Fe, N.M. He became an experienced trapper and Indian fighter and around 1836 married an Arapaho woman he called Alice. After her death, he met John C. Frémont and served as the guide for Frémont's first expedition (1842). He married again (1843) and served as a guide on Frémont's second expedition (1843–44). After Frémont's third expedition and the conquest of California (1846–47), he was selected to carry the reports back to Washington. When the Senate refused to confirm a commission in the regular army, he served as an agent for the Ute Indians (1853–61) and dictated the narrative of his life and adventures. During the Civil War he led the 1st New Mexican Volunteer Infantry, mostly in battles against Native American peoples; his most famous episode involved leading captured Navahos on a 300-mile "long walk." Breveted to rank of brigadier general, he remained in the army and was assigned to command Ft. Garland in Colorado (1866–67) but his health soon failed.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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