Kit Carson

(Christopher Houston Carson)


Kit Carson
Born in Kentucky but raised in Missouri, Christopher Carson was the eleventh of fifteenth children and quickly earned the nickname "Kit," which he kept throughout his life. When he was eight, his father was killed by a falling tree, forcing his poverty-stricken mother to pull him and his brothers out of school to work on the family farm. At sixteen, after being apprenticed for a time, he secretly joined a large merchant caravan en route to Santa Fe. Upon his arrival, he signed on with various expeditions that trapped and traded throughout Colorado, Utah, Montana, California, and New Mexico. While in the West, he attended a meeting of mountain men in Wyoming, where he fell in love with and married an Arapaho woman, Singing Grass. Carson at last ended his trapping career in 1840, shortly after the death of his wife. He later married a Cheyenne woman, who left him to migrate with her tribe, before becoming engaged to the daughter of a prominent Spanish family. Per their instruction, he was baptized into the Catholic Church, and he married his third wife, 14-year-old Josefa, in 1843.

After the wedding, Carson returned to Missouri, where the explorer John C. Fremont was looking for a guide to take him to Wyoming to map the area. Kit offered his services, and the journey was a success, setting off a flood of immigration into the western states. Frémont soon embarked on another expedition that took the up two into the Sierra Nevadas, where they almost starved, and down into Mexico, where one man of their party was killed by Indians. They returned a year after their departure. On a third expedition, Frémont planned to map the Arkansas River but instead went to stir up patriotic fervor in California, almost provoking a war with Mexico. Frightened, the group retreated, but less than a year later the party was attacked by Native Americans, who killed three men. Frémont retaliated with a brutal attack on a related tribe, killing women and children as well as warriors. The explorer later brought his men back to the Sacramento Valley, where he led an insurrection that would begin the Mexican-American War. Moving south into Mexico, the party met Commodore Robert Stockton, who joined them and made Carson a lieutenant. California and New Mexico were quickly captured, and Carson returned to share the news with President James Polk, but partway through his journey he met with fellow soldier Stephen Kearney, who had him lead him back to California. During Kit’s absence, the Mexicans had taken back nearly all of its lost territory and captured Stockton, holding him in San Diego. Kearny sent Carson and others to save Stockton and reclaim California, which they did on December 10, 1846. Frémont was made governor of California, and Carson was sent to Washington to share the good news. Upon his return, Kit settled in the new territory with Josefa. As word of his exploits spread, he became a hero in the public eye, and several fanciful stories were crafted around his life.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Carson resigned from his position as federal Indian agent and instead joined the New Mexico volunteer infantry on the side of the Union Army. Meanwhile, New Mexican settlers were having difficulties with Indians—particularly outlaw Navajos—and Mexicans. The commander of New Mexico, believing that the Navajo territory contained gold and other riches, ordered Carson to force the removal of the natives. Carson refused and resigned, but still the commander insisted, until at last Carson complied. He, with the help of other tribes, destroyed their crops and forced the Indians to walk the 300 mile journey from Fort Canby to Fort Sumner, called the “Long Walk.” While Carson was not personally responsible for this hardship, the blame was cast upon him by many. In 1868, after a treaty with the U.S. government, the Navajo were at last allowed to return to their homeland.

After the conclusion of the Civil War and difficulties with the natives, Carson was appointed commander of Ft. Garfield in Colorado for a time before he left to take up farming. He passed away in 1868, a month after his wife died in childbirth, and the two were buried together in New Mexico.

Key events during the life of Kit Carson:

Father was killed by a felled tree.
Joined a caravan travelling to Santa Fe, where he learned skills needed for a career as a trapper.
Worked as a trapper.
Married Singing Grass.
Death of Singing Grass.
Married Making-Our-Road, who left him shortly thereafter.
Set out on his first expedition with John C. Frémont.
Married Josefa Jaramillo.
  Second expedition with Frémont.
Third expedition with Frémont.
Start of Mexican-American War.
  Recapture of California by the U.S.
Conducted a peace agreement between the Muatache Utah, the Arapaho, and the Pueblo Indians.
Start of the Civil War.
'Long Walk' of the Navajo People.
Wife died in childbirth.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Early Training  in  The Adventures of Kit Carson  by   John S. C. Abbott
Indian Wars  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis S. Drake
Kit Carson and the Bears  in  Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans  by  Edward Eggleston
The Slavery Quarrel  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A. Guerber
The Battle of Adobe Walls  in  Boys' Book of Border Battles  by  Edwin L. Sabin
Through the Enemy's Lines  in  Frontier Fighters  by  Edwin L. Sabin

Book Links
Kit Carson  by  John S. C. Abbott

Image Links

Western Mountains
 in The Adventures of Kit Carson

Kit Carson
 in Indian History for Young Folks

Short Biography
John C. Fremont American explorer who, along with Kit Carson, led an expedition to California by way of Wyoming and Nevada.
John Ericsson Swedish-American engineer who designed the Moniter, the first iron-clad in the United States Navy.
Davy Crockett Tennessee Frontiersman and congressman. Involved with Texas independence. Died at the Alamo.
Stephen F. Austin Helped found the state of Texas by leading 300 families to settle in the region.
John Sutter Founded a European settlement in the Sacramento Valley where gold was found in 1849.
Buffalo Bill Colorful character of the Old American West. Produced a wild-west show that toured eastern towns with western frontier heroes.