Kit Carson was an American frontiersman and soldier who played an important role in the westward expansion of the United States. He served as a guide on explorer John C. Fremont’s expeditions which ultimately culminated in the extensive expansion of the boundaries of the United States. Born into a large family of modest means in Kentucky, Carson had a difficult childhood. His father died when Kit was a young boy and his mother struggled to singlehandedly raise the children on her own. She later remarried but Kit did not get along with his step-father and ran away from home to seek a life of adventure. He learned fur-trapping from experienced frontiersmen and eventually gained expertise in this skill. Over the years he worked with traders from different countries and earned to speak Spanish, French and several Native American languages. A chance meeting with the explorer John Fremont changed the course of his life. Fremont employed Carson as a guide and he accompanied Fremont on his famous expeditions. Over a period of time Carson became a very popular mountain man and was idealized as a folk hero for his adventures. Over the course of his very interesting life Carson had also worked as a wilderness guide, Indian agent, and American Army officer.
Childhood & Early Life
Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson was born on December 24, 1809, in Richmond, Kentucky, to Lindsay Carson and his second wife, Rebecca Robinson. Kit had several siblings and half-siblings. His father was a farmer and a veteran of the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
His father died in 1818 in a freak accident. His mother struggled alone for four years singlehandedly raising the numerous kids. She eventually remarried a widower with several children. Kit did not get along with his step-father.
Kit never received any formal education and was apprenticed to David Workman, a saddler in Franklin, Missouri. Many of the customers at the saddleshop were fur-trappers and traders and they told Kit about their exciting adventures. The young boy became fascinated with these tales and realized that he too wanted to live an adventurous life. Thus he fled from the saddleshop in pursuit of a more exciting life.
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Kit ran away in August 1826 and joined a caravan of fur-trappers. He traveled with them to Santa Fe and then settled in Taos. He lived with his brothers’ friend, Mathew Kinkead, a trapper and explorer, and learned the nuances of the trade from him.
Between 1827 and 1829 he worked at a number of jobs including that of a cook, translator and wagon driver. He also worked at a copper mine in southwestern New Mexico.
He joined Ewing Young in 1829 to fur-trap in Arizona and California. Over the next several years he also worked for Jim Bridger and the Hudson Bay Company. He learned different languages during this time.
He received the opportunity of a lifetime in 1842 when he met explorer John C. Fremont who was then an officer with the United States Topographical Corps. Impressed with Carson’s experience as a fur-trapper, he asked him to accompany him on his expeditions as a guide.
In 1842, Carson guided Fremont across the Oregon Trail to South Pass, Wyoming, in their first expedition together. At the successful completion of the five-month expedition, Fremont published his government reports in which he praised Carson, making him a popular mountain man.
Carson accompanied Fremont on his second expedition in 1843 as well and guided him across part of the Oregon Trail to the Columbia River in Oregon. Carson also guided Fremont on his third expedition in 1845 to California and Oregon. At the conclusion of the third expedition, Fremont and Carson both participated in a California uprising against Mexico called the Bear Flag Revolt, and Fremont worked hard to win California for the United States.
In 1853, Carson was appointed to serve as a federal Indian Agent for northern New Mexico. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, he left his job as an Indian Agent and joined the Union Army as a lieutenant. Months later he was promoted to colonel and made a brigadier general in 1865. After the war ended he was brevetted a general and appointed commandant of Ft. Garland, Colorado.
Kit Carson is best known for the role he played as a guide to the explorer John C. Fremont on his various expeditions. On their first expedition together, he greatly helped the group in making their way to the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains. Impressed with Carson, Fremont took him on two more journeys. Fremont lavishly praised Carson in his reports which helped to popularize Carson as a legendary folk hero.
Personal Life & Legacy
Kit Carson married an Arapaho woman named Waanibe in the 1830s. She was a beautiful young woman with many suitors and Carson had to fight a duel with her other suitors to win her hand in marriage. The couple had one daughter. His wife unfortunately died while giving birth to their second child.
He married a Cheyenne woman named Making-Out-Road in 1841. But this marriage did not last long and ended in divorce.
He tied the knot with Josefa Jaramillo, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent Mexican couple, in 1843. They had eight children.
Kit Carson was elevated to the status of a folk hero because of the exciting and daring adventures he had participated in while serving as a guide on Fremont’s expeditions. Several novels were published which gave an exaggerated account of his adventures and he became the hero of several fictional works, not just in the United States, but across the world.
In April 1868, his wife died from complications following the birth of their eighth child. He was devastated by her death and his health deteriorated steadily over the ensuing days. He died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm on May 23, 1868.