Christopher Carson was apprenticed to a saddle-maker when “being anxious to travel for the purpose of seeing different countries, I concluded to join the first party for the Rocky Mountains.” In 1826 he ran away and joined a party westward bound, and spent many years scouting, trapping, and hunting. He describes traveling in California in 1830:
We found signs of trappers on the San Joaquin. We followed their trail and, in a few days, overtook the party and found them to be of the Hudson Bay Company. They were sixty men strong, commanded by Peter Ogden. We trapped down the San Joaquin and its tributaries and found but little beaver, but game plenty, elk, deer, and antelope in thousands.
His encompassing knowledge of the West led to his career as a guide and in the 1840’s he was employed by James Fremont. In typical abbreviated fashion Carson packs a several month journey from (what is now) Utah to Wyoming to Washington into a single paragraph:
We now took up Bear River till we got above the Lake. Then crossed to and took up Malade, thence to Fort Hall where we met Fitzpatrick and party. Fremont from here took his party and proceeded in advance. Fitzpatrick keeping in rear some eight days march and we struck for the mouth of the Columbia River. Arrived safe at the Dalles on the Columbia. Fremont took four men and proceeded to Vancouver’s to purchase provisions. I remained in charge of camp.
In 1854 the army was engaged in a campaign against the Jicarilla Apache in New Mexico, and Carson acted as the principle guide to Major Carleton:
It was evident that the Indians were making for the Mosco Pass. The command marched through the Sangre de Cristo Pass…I discovered a trail of three Indians in the pass, followed it till I came to the main trail near the Huerfano…They had passed through the pass as predicted. The main trail was now taken and followed six days when the Indians were discovered. We marched over very rugged country, mountains, cañons, ravines had to be passed, but we overtook the Indians at last. The Indians were encamped in the east side of Fisher’s Peak in the Raton Mountains. The troops charged in on the village. The Indians ran. Some were killed and about 40 head of horses were captured. They were followed until dark…
A 1935 pamphlet about Kit Carson is subtitled “Pathfinder, Patriot and Humanitarian.” By today’s standards the world “humanitarian” would have to go, and a more complex understanding of the man and his era emerge. For instance, the laconic Carson barely mentions his Mexican and Indian wives in the brief autobiography he dictated to Colonel Peters.
You may not get the entire story here, but you certainly experience the understated yet forceful personality behind the icon. The dialogue in this book has a ring of truth to it that is sometimes lacking in many of the books written by scouts, trappers and cowboys.