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Christopher "Kit" Carson was born on December 24, 1809, in Madison County, Kentucky, and as an infant was moved with his parents Lindsay and Rebecca Carson to the Missouri frontier. His father’s death forced him into early employment as an apprentice to a saddle maker and this limited his education.
In 1826, he left home and followed the Santa Fe Trail to Taos, New Mexico. He soon developed skills as a hunter and guide, and accompanied the noted John C. Fremont on mapping expeditions in 1842 and 1843-1844. It was Fremont’s reports that helped to make Kit Carson into a widely known personality. Unlike many in his line of work, Carson remained a quiet and temperate individual.
In 1846, during the Mexican War, following the Battle of Los Angeles, Carson guided Stephen Kearny’s soldiers into California. This force was stopped by a Mexican army, but Carson and a few others made a harrowing escape through enemy lines and secured reinforcements from San Diego. Carson also served as a courier to the East during the war.
Kit Carson later operated a ranch near Taos and in 1853 was made the U.S. Indian Agent for the area. In 1861, during the Civil War, Carson organized Union forces from New Mexico volunteers.
Carson fought the Navajo with a special enthusiasm, conducting what amounted to total war against them. Navajo homes were burned, their crops destroyed and livestock killed. Such harshness stemmed from the Navajo refusal to accept assignment of a reservation.
Eventually the traditional enemies of the Navajo (the Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni, and Utes) joined in the warfare. The result was the near-genocide of the Navajo, the remnants of whom were forced to make the “Long Walk” from Arizona to Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
Kit Carson was a hero during his own lifetime and became the subject of the dime novel westerns of the 1860s and 1870s. Carson City, the capital of Nevada, was named in his honor. Changing attitudes in more recent times have made Indian fighters less appealing figures.
Towards the end of his life, Kit Carson served for a period as a brevet brigadier general in command of Fort Garland in Colorado. He died at Fort Lyon, Colorado, on May 23, 1868.
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