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With me, Carson and Truth mean the same thing. John Charles Frémont

Christopher "Kit" Huston Carson

Frémont's hunter and guide.

Born in Madison County, Kentucky in 1809. Ever westering, his family moved to Boonslick--[Daniel] Boon's [salt] Lick--Missouri when Kit was one year old. Kit was apprenticed to a saddle maker, and not liking the work, ran away at age 17 to enter the Santa Fe trade. He met Ewing Young in Santa Fe, and was hired on as a cook for a trapping expedition to California.

By the time that Frémont met him in 1842, on a steamboat in Missouri, Kit had had a long career as a hunter and trapper. Frémont hired him as a hunter and guide to his mapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains via the South Pass.

Kit and Frémont rapidly became fast friends, and Kit did invaluable service on the Frémont expeditions of 1842, 1843-44, and 1845; the latter ending with the outbreak of war with Mexico in 1846. Carson then served under Frémont and Stockton for the duration of the "Conquest of California." He could carry dispatches to Washington in 30 days.

On the 3rd Expedition, at Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River Frémont sent an express to Carson at a ranch he had started on the Cimaron.

He had promised that in the event that I should need him, he would join me. And I knew that he would not fail to come. My messanger found him busy starting the congenial work of making up a stock ranch. There was no time to be lost, and he did not hesitate. He sold everything at a sacrifice, farm and cattle; and not only came himself but brought his friend Owens [Richard L. "Dick" Owens] to join the party. This was like Carson, prompt, self-sacrificing, and true. That Owens was a good man it is enough to say that he and Carson were friends.

Carson left his blaze on a tree at the top of today's Carson Pass. This may have been done in 1853, when Carson drove a very large herd of sheep into California. The tree was cut down in 1888, and a slab was cut out and removed to the Society of California Pioneers in San Francisco. Just before the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, it was moved to the museum at Sutter's Fort. There it was on display there for many years, but it was removed to a State Parks and Recreation storage facility in West Sacramento some years ago.
A monument , with a bronze reproduction of the blaze, was placed at the top of the Pass in 1922 by the Native Sons of the Golden West.
It was Frémont's expeditions, and the published reports and newspaper coverage of them, that brought the name "Kit Carson" before the public--making him a popular hero and legend in his own time.

Carson took up ranching in New Mexico, and in 1853 drove a large flock of sheep to California, where gold rush prices paid him a large profit. Returning to New Mexico, he was appointed federal Indian agent; a post he held until the Civil War imposed new duties on him in 1861. Serving in the southwest in Indian campaigns, he was brevetted to Brigadier General in 1865.

Carson and Frémont both benefited immeasurably from their association. Imagine the world opened up to Carson; for instance, watching Jupiter and its moons through Frémont's telescope! Whereas he had previously signed his name with his mark, by the second expedition he was carving his name and date on trees, and in later years, could read and write some, but with difficulty (he preferred to have Jessie Frémont read to him).

go The FIRST, and little-known, biography of Carson's life, 1847

"I was with Frémont from 1842 to 1847. The hardships through which we passed I find it impossible to describe, and the credit which he deserves I am incapable of doing him justice in writing. But his services to his country have been left to the judgment of impartial freemen, and all agree in saying that his services were great and have redounded to his honor and that of his country. I can never forget his treatment of me while in his employ and how cheerfully he suffered with his men when undergoing the severest of hardships. His perseverance and willingness to participate in all that was undertaken, no matter whether the duty was rough or easy, is the main cause of his success. And I say without fear of contradiction, that none but him could have surmounted and succeeded through as many difficult services, as his was." Col. Cristopher Carson, 1856

The Kit Carson of my imagination was over six feet high--a sort of Hercules in his build--with an enormous beard, and a voice like a roused lion.
real Kit Carson I found to be a plain, simple, unostentatious man; rather below the medium height, with brown curling hair, little or no beard, and a voice as soft as a woman's. In fact, the hero of a hundred desperate encounters was one of Dame Nature's gentlemen--a sort of article which she sets up occasionally, but nowhere in better style than in the backwoods of America. Lt. George Douglas Brewerton, 1848.

The newest biographys

Read Tom Dunlay, Kit Carson and the Indians, University of Nebraska Press, 2000. Find in bookstores, or click the image to go to Amazon.com.

And Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder, Doubleday, New York, 2006.



©1999, 2007
Bob Graham