8.Conclusion

A man’s a man for a’ that.
Robert Burns, “Is There For Honest Poverty”

Kit Carson was a good type of a class of men most
useful in their day, but now as antiquated as Jason of the
Golden Fleece, Ulysses of Troy, the Chevalier La Salle of the
Lakes, Daniel Boone of Kentucky,[Jim] Bridger and Jim
Beckwith of the Rockies, all belonging to a dead past.
William Tecumseh Sherman in Edward Ellis, The Life of Kit Carson

Carson’s early biographer, Edward Ellis, quotes an undated tribute to him from a Salt Lake City paper, perhaps an obituary notice, proclaiming, “To the red man he was the voice of fate. … To them he was a voice crying the coming of a race against which they could not prevail; before which they were to be swept away.” Ellis finds this an eloquent tribute to “the matchless scout, hunter, and guide.” Ellis, the dime-novel writer, was a creator of the type of fiction that depicted Carson as “a great hero, slaying Indians by the hundred,” but few of Kit’s contemporaries would have doubted the truth of those words. Kit Carson was the symbolic hero of white expansion in the trans-Mississippi West, expansion at the expense of Indians. Ever since Benjamin Church, the frontier hero had been first of all an Indian fighter.1

In the twentieth century, as popular attitudes toward the Winning of the West shifted, so did the Kit Carson image. In the 1920s Stanley Vestal could celebrate both Kit Carson and Sitting Bull as representatives of a heroic age with no sense of incongruity. In the 1950s Jack Schaefer could condemn James Carleton’s Indian policy and still admire Kit Carson. But about 1970, with the Vietnam-era revulsion at the purified, triumphal version of America’s past, Carson had to take on a new role.

Then, Carson’s very fame as the Western Frontier Hero, fame gained largely in contests with Indians, made him suitable for a new role as villain. George Armstrong Custer had always been an equivocal figure to

-418-

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Kit Carson and the Indians
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • 1- Will the Real Kit Carson Please Stand Up? 1
  • 2- Backcountry 24
  • 3- Mountain Man 37
  • 4- Guideandscout 85
  • 5- Indian Agent 148
  • 6- Soldier 228
  • 7- Peacemaker 343
  • 8- Conclusion 418
  • Notes 461
  • Index 509
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