MAPPING THE WAY WEST
CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON CARSON was thirty-one when he attended the last rendezvous in July 1840. In the nine years since he was recruited in Taos by Tom Fitzpatrick to help push the delayed supply train up to rendezvous, Kit Carson had ripened into one of the most accomplished of the mountain man fraternity. Even before signing on with Fitzpatrick, Carson had mastered the techniques of wilderness survival from Ewing Young in his California venture of 1829–31. Though short and slight of build, unprepossessing in appearance and demeanor, and as illiterate as Jim Bridger, he commanded the respect of his peers as a proficient trapper, a courageous Indian fighter, and a dependable teammate.1
Only a handful of mountain men knew the West as intimately as Kit Carson. He traveled more widely than most because he remained a truly free trapper. He never captained his own band, he shifted his allegiance among companies as it suited his fancy, and he went where he wanted with makeshift groups that formed and dissolved in a season or two. With Ewing Young, he had worked the Gila and its tributaries and toured California. With Jim Bridger and Tom Fitzpatrick, he had trapped the northern Rockies. He had even for a time thrown in with the Hudson's Bay Company, and so knew the Snake River Plain, the Bear River and Bear Lake, Great Salt Lake, and the Humboldt corridor across the Nevada desert. Kit never gave up his New Mexican base in Taos and so had scoured the North, Middle, and South Parks of the southern Rockies, the tangled Western Slope back of the Front Range, and the Uinta Basin of the Green River.