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fur trapper, wilderness guide, fighter for California, Indian fighter
Christopher Houston Carson was born on December 24, 1809, in Boone's Lick, Missouri. His father died when he was nine years old, and Kit had to forego schooling in favor of earning money for the family. He was apprenticed to a saddle-maker when he turned fourteen, but ran away in 1826 to join a group of traders headed for Santa Fe, in what is now New Mexico. He moved to Taos in 1828.
From 1829 to 1841, Carson worked in the fur trade, trapping beavers as far west as California and up the Rocky Mountains into what is now Wyoming. For a time in the early 1840's, he was employed by William Bent as a hunter at Bent's Fort. As was the case with many white trappers, Carson travelled and lived extensively among Native Americans. In fact, his first two wives were Arapahoe and Cheyenne women. Unlike most trappers, however, Carson was known for his clean living and even temper.
In 1842, while returning to Missouri to visit his family, Carson happened to meet John C. Frémont, who subsequently hired him as a guide. Between 1842 and 1845, Carson guided Frémont to Oregon and California three times. The success of these expeditions was attributed by Frémont to Carson, and his widely-read reports made Carson a national hero.
Carson was still serving as Frémont's guide when Frémont joined California's Bear-Flag Rebellion just before the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846. The Californians, with Frémont and Carson's help, defeated the Mexicans at San Diego, and Frémont sent Carson to Washington, D.C., with messages. Carson was intercepted at Socorro, New Mexico, however, by U.S. General Stephen Kearny, who ordered Carson to guide him to California. Kearny's troops were attacked by Mexicans at San Pasqual, near Escondido, California. Carson and two others managed to slip through the enemy lines and walk/crawl 30 miles for help, and Kearney's troops were subsequently rescued.
After the war, Carson returned to New Mexico and took up sheep ranching. By 1853, he and his partner were able to drive a large flock of sheep to California, where they turned a nice profit. In 1853, Carson was appointed Indian Agent for Northern New Mexico, a post he held until outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
Carson was made a Colonel of the New Mexico Volunteer Infantry in 1861, and fought a battle against Confederate forces at Valverde, New Mexico, in 1862.
During the fall of 1862, Carson gathered together about 400 Apache and forced them onto a reservation near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. In 1863, he began waging economic war against the Navajo, destroying their crops, orchards and livestock. When Utes, Pueblos, Hopis and Zunis, who for centuries had been prey to Navajo raiders, took up arms against their traditional enemy, the Navajo were unable to defend themselves. In 1864, most of the Navajo surrendered to Carson, who then forced almost 8,000 Navajo men, women and children to march 300 miles to Fort Sumner. In November 1864, Carson fought the Kiowas, Comanches, and other Plains Indians at Adobe Walls, an abandoned trading post in Texas. His force of about 400 men retreated after being attacked by 1,500 to 3,000 Indians.
Carson was promoted to Brigadier General in 1865 and given command of Fort Garland in Colorado the following year. He resigned from the Army in 1867 because of ill health.
After the war, Carson moved to Colorado in the hope of expanding his ranching business. He died there on May 23, 1868. His remains were moved to a small cemetery near his old home in Taos the following year.
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This page was last updated on May 22, 2017.