Christopher Carson was born on Christmas Eve, 1809, in Madison County, Kentucky, just one of 14 Carson kids. While still just an infant, the folks moved to the Missouri frontier and settled in Howard County. That was well before statehood, and the family had to live at the nearby fort for the first few years.
Eventually, their father built a rough log cabin along the banks of the Missouri River at the small community of Franklin. Christopher grew up worshiping his older brothers, who nick-named him “Kit Carson.” He was always a runt – small for his age, but solidly built, with light hair and blue eyes. As a child, Christopher had very little interest in books or book learning, so he didn’t have much in the way of schooling.
His world fell apart when he was 14, because his father died. Those older brothers split and headed out West, but before they left they apprenticed young Christopher to David Workman, a cranky old saddle maker in Franklin. This did not make the lad very happy, as he wanted to go westward with the brothers. After a few miserable years working under the saddle maker, he ran away and headed for the frontier outpost of Independence, where he hoped to join up with a wagon train bound for Santa Fe. Workman posted a one cent reward for the return of the boy, but apparently never had any takers.
Carson met another young teenage apprentice in Independence, Jim Walker, who was aching to run away also, so the two of them tied up together with a wagon train heading down the Santa Fe Trail. To earn his keep, Carson cared for the horses, mules and oxen of the traders and did other odd jobs. Then later, he worked as a teamster and a trail cook.
At Taos, New Mexico, in 1829 Carson met Jim Bridger, who was a free trapper at the time and Bridger taught young Carson everything he needed to know about beaver trapping and simply how to survive in the wilderness. That first winter they headed for California trapping beaver, then back to Taos the next winter. They had many skirmishes with Indians along the way and by the age of 22 Carson was considered an outstanding trapper and Indian fighter.
He only stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed roughly 160 pounds, but had lightning fast reflexes and agility, rode like a whirlwind, shot with deadly accuracy and got along with people regardless of their race or color. He never started a fight, but there is nothing in his history to suggest that he ever lost one.
At 27, he married a pretty Indian girl by whom he had a daughter, Adeline. His wife died a few years later, so Carson took the child to relatives in St. Louis, where she would be well taken care of. The following year in Taos he married Josefa Jaramillo, a sister-in-law to the famous Charles Bent, civil governor of New Mexico.
Back in Missouri, he met General John Freeman and agreed to serve as his guide into Oregon and California in 1843. When the Mexican War began Carson became quite important to Freeman because of his knowledge of the land and of both the Mexicans and the Indians. He galloped horseback, back and forth, from the war zone to Washington, D.C., with vital information between Freemont and President James Polk. During the American Civil War, Carson was made a brigadier general for his distinguished service in New Mexico.
During his brief lifetime, Kit Carson earned a reputation as one of the most famous frontiersmen, trappers, hunters, scouts, trail blazers, soldiers and Indian fighters the nation ever produced. He died in Colorado at age 59, May 23, 1868.
Reference: “Missouri Heritage” by Lew Larkin.
-- To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.