Kit Carson was illiterate yet he learned to speak Spanish and French, as well as various Native American languages. In our minds we might imagine this legendary American being a tall, swaggering, tough-talking scout and Indian fighter. Instead, he was none of those things. He was a small, soft-spoken man, and although he spent months away from home at a time, he was a loving husband and father.
His legendary life was the subject of many a “pulp novel”. Once he was shown a book just published with his supposed image on the cover, his arm around the waist of a slender and buxom young woman, surrounded by the bodies of vanquished savages. He took the book, put on his glasses and looked at the cover. He put the book down after studying it and said with a wink, “Gentlemen, that thar may be true, but I hain’t got no recollection of it.”
Christopher Houston Carson was born in Kentucky in 1809, the same year as the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. His family headed west to Missouri the following year, becoming neighbors of the sons of Daniel Boone. His father, Lindsey, was killed in 1818 when a large tree limb fell on him killing him instantly. Some of the children were already grown, but Rebecca Carson was left with ten children to provide for. Kit was only seven but he had to quit school and help his family by hunting and working in the fields.
When he was able to surreptitiously sign up to work with a large caravan heading to Santa Fe, his life would change forever. He worked every kind of job – hunting, cooking for the caravan, fur trapper, scout and in later years employed as a United States military officer in the Indian wars. After Carson finishes his assignment as a scout for John Fremont and his expeditions to California and Oregon, a significant portion of the book is then centered on New Mexico history.
The book contains fascinating details about the life of Kit Carson – pulp fiction it’s not. The author, Hampton Sides, is careful to treat his subject with respect and dignity (and maybe a little awe). The use of actual accounts of Carson’s life from his oral interviews and the diaries of those who served with him throughout his lifetime are meticulously woven throughout the book. Every other chapter or so, the author also writes about the Navajo people and their struggles with the invasion of their land and the attempts to get along with the white man.
The book was long (624 pages) but I never felt that it was tedious. The author’s writing style is what one reviewer called “friendly”. His writing flowed easily in describing Carson’s life, intertwining it with the events surrounding the “manifest destiny” of the country and those who played a part in the expansion west. If the conquest of the American West is something that interests you, I would highly recommend the book.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2013.