Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868: Adventures in the Path of Empire - Vol. 1

Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868: Adventures in the Path of Empire - Vol. 1

Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868: Adventures in the Path of Empire - Vol. 1

Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868: Adventures in the Path of Empire - Vol. 1


Volume 1 of Kit Carson Days shows Carson running away from his Missouri home at age fifteen in 1826. He joins a caravan headed toward Santa Fe and in the coming years shuttles between poverty and prosperity as a wrangler, teamster, and trapper. He lives all over the unplotted West, helping to open trails, harvesting fur, befriending mountain men, and fighting and trading with Indians. Carson's reputation grows after John C. Frémont engages him as guide in 1842. He proves indispensable to the Pathfinder in three expeditions and plays a part in the Bear Flag Rebellion. The first volume is an encyclopedia of activity in the West during the first part of the nineteenth century, bringing into play such figures as Ewing Young, William Ashley, Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Hugh Glass, John Colter, William Sublette, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, William Bent, Stephen Kearny, President James K. Polk, John Sutter, and Nathaniel Wyeth. This revised edition includes vivid chapters on the mountain man, his character, habits, clothing, and equipment. Volume 2 begins with Carson carrying the news of the conquest of California across the country to Washington, D. C., stopping en route to see his wife in Taos, New Mexico. The older Carson consolidates his fame as a courier, scout, soldier, and Indian agent. Americans, avid for newfound gold, turn to him as an authority on trail lore, and the government recognizes his usefulness in dealing with "the Indian problem." Carson is seen against the larger background of incessant warfare in the Southwest after midcentury. He fights the Kiowas at Adobe Walls, chases the Apaches, and forces the Navajos into the Bosque Redondo. He fights in the Civil War and retires at fifty-eight-but dies two years later in 1868.


On the great western frontier, the name of Christopher "Kit" Carson was one to be reckoned with. During his adventuresome life as a fur trapper, guide, mail courier, rancher, Indian agent, and soldier, he ranged much of the country between the Canadian and Mexican borders, participating in more than a few of the major historical episodes that shaped the nation's story of westward expansion. As had happened earlier to Daniel Boone, Carson's popular image by the time of his death in 1868 had accumulated elements of the mythic hero. He was a man, in the nineteenth century, who was admired, even revered, by his fellow Americans.

By the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, the Carson reputation, once so luminous, had fallen on hard times. And it had nothing to do with any new documentary discoveries that suddenly painted him in a reprehensible light. Rather the flip-flop occurred because many scholars and writers adopted the trendy social and political agendas of their day, which dictated that men like Kit must be dethroned and their accomplishments disparaged. Columbus fell victim to the same phenomenon during the quincentenary year, 1992.

Beginning in the 1970s, Carson was transformed from a national hero, noble and self-sacrificing, into an arch-villain and stigmatized as a ruthless racist. That the facts of his life did not square with such a characterization seemed to have little effect. The public remained not so much converted to the revisionist, negative view of Carson, as confused.

Modern readers who wish to examine the evidence and sort the matter out for themselves can do no better than to start with Edwin Legrand Sabin's landmark book, Kit Carson Days. When the first edition appeared in 1914, the New York Timescommended the author for his pains in producing an authentic and valuable volume that could serve equally for reading and reference. Western bibliographer Jack D. Rittenhouse praised it as a pioneer scholarly study upon which all later books have been based. And the late Carson biographer Harvey . . .

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