After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview

17

KIT CARSON:
THE CONTINENT SPANNED

KIT CARSON'S LOYALTY to John C. Frémont knew no limits. He served his chief capably, faithfully, courageously—and unquestioningly. So did the rest of the Frémonters, former trappers and voyageurs of the beaver era. Only Joe Walker had exhibited a tendency to independence, which blew up with finality after the affair on Gavilan Mountain. Carson, Owens, and Godey appealed to Frémont's romantic instincts, and his prose (and Jessie's) bathed them in a heroic glow that made Carson, at least, a national idol.

Nor were the tributes self-serving press-agentry. Frémont and Carson esteemed each other's special talents, and their shared hardships, dangers, and tilts with death had cemented bonds of friendship.

On three expeditions, Carson had contributed to Frémont's success. He had shown the way as well as how to live in comparative comfort along the way. He had scouted ahead for campsites and eligible trails in deserts, plateaus, canyons, and mountains. He had braved extremes of weather and terrain ranging from the shimmering salt flats to the snow-choked Sierras. And he had fought Indians with consummate skill, sometimes with warrant, sometimes without.

In Frémont's triumphs of 1842–46, Kit Carson played a distinguished part. Now, with his chief, he shed the mantle of explorer and donned the mantle of imperialist. Carson's role now was to aid Frémont, in whatever way directed, to "make the Pacific Ocean the western boundary of the United States."

-241-

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