As a youth, I thrilled to stories of Kit Carson. To me, he was 10 foot tall and indestructible. A "Superman" of American history. When I became interested in Native American history, I turned against my hero. I saw him as an "Indian Killer," the man responsible for the near destruction of the Navajo People, the scoundrel that moved 9,000 people from their homelands to a land-locked prison.
In recent years, my interest in this myth-like man has returned, culminating in my most recent research. That research lead me to “Blood and Thunder, the Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West” by Hampton Sides. This book, published in 2006, covers Carson’s life, from start to end. It goes into great detail about the man, how his western trek began, where it took him, the friends made along the way, and his early, untimely death at the age of 59 years, dying less than 1 month after the death of his wife of twenty-five years, lovely Josefa. The volume has pages of references and bibliographies. It is a well researched and documented book.
This man made friends with the legendary mountain men such as Jim Bridger, Broken-hand Tom Fitzpatrick, and Jim Beckwourth. He knew the Rocky mountains from Canada to New Mexico. He led James Fremont on three trips to the Pacific coast.
He was instrumental in defending New Mexico, and thus the Colorado gold fields, from a Confederate force from Texas, led by General Sibley.
Carson was not the “Indian hater” I had been led to believe. In fact, in his younger years he had married into the Arapaho tribe and lived with them until his wife died giving birth to his daughter. He was agent for the Ute tribe for a number of years and became close friends with them. He gained the name from his actions against the Navajo. He was, however, not the architect of the notorious Long Walk to Bosque Redondo. That dubious distinction belongs to General James H. Carlton. It was Carlton’s opinion that to save the Navajo, they must be moved away from their traditional lands, taught to farm, and kept away from old enemies. General Carlton convinced Carson that this was the best resolution for the Navajo. Reluctantly, Carson agreed. He entered the field in the dead of winter and for 6 months pursued the elusive Dene’. Knowing the Indian well, he knew he would never be able to convince the Navajo to surrender. His only means of accomplishing his mission, one he thought would result in saving the people, was destroying the food sources. Without food, he correctly assumed, the Navajo would have no choice but to come in. They did. However, Carson, ill from earlier injuries, was not in the field to see that. He had returned to his rancho and his family. The dirty work of moving the hungry Dene’ went to another.
If Carson had a major fault, it was his dedication to duty. His word was his bond and he “rode for the brand” long before that term came into existence. He was a simple man, uneducated, but a firm believer that duty was of utmost importance. His loyalty to friends and even military commanders never wavered. When he was given a job, if he chose to accept it, he gave it every bit of his energy and attention.
Christopher Carson was one of a kind. He was indeed a hero, but one with his feet on the ground. His contribution to the expansion of this nation is immeasurable.