walk of fame recipient Plaque 6

Christopher “Kit” Carson

  • Born December 24, 1809, four miles northwest of Richmond, Kentucky, in Millian, Kentucky, the fifth child of Lindsay and Rebecca (Robinson) Carson.
  • Nicknamed “Kit” as a child because of his unusually small stature.
  • Settled with his parents in Howard County, Missouri, in 1811, on land bought from Daniel Boone’s sons.
  • Apprenticed to a saddlemaker at age fifteen, but ran off to the West.
  • Joined an expedition to New Mexico in 1826, settled in Taos, New Mexico, and engaged in trapping and hunting, becoming fluent in Spanish and half a dozen Native American languages.
  • Married an Arapaho woman named Waa-Nibe and had daughter he called Alice.
  • Married a Cheyenne woman briefly after Waa-Nibe’s death, but the marriage ended in divorce.
  • Returned to Missouri in 1842 to take Alice to live with his sister.
  • Met John C. Frémont in 1842 and became his guide on expeditions to map the West from the Mississippi River to California and Oregon; as a result of Frémont’s publications, Carson became a legend of the West and the hero of “Dime Novels.”
  • Married Josefa Jaramillo, a daughter of a prominent family from Taos, in 1842. She was fourteen and Carson thirty-four.  They had eight children.
  • Participated in 1846 with Frémont in the Bear Flag Revolt by which California separated from Mexico, and led Gen. Stephen W. Kearny’s troops from New Mexico back to California to fight the Mexicans.
  • Settled in 1849 in Taos to farm.
  • Appointed in 1853 as an Indian agent in New Mexico and successfully established treaties between the Native American tribes and the United States. 
  • Joined the Union when the Civil War broke out in 1861 and helped recruit the New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, which he joined with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
  • Followed orders of Brig. Gen. James H. Carleton and subdued the Navajo.
  • Promoted brevetted brigadier general on March 13, 1865, and given command of Fort Garland in Colorado in 1866.
  • Retired from the army in 1867 and became a farmer in Boggsville, Colorado.
  • Died May 23, 1868, at age fifty-nine of an abdominal aortic aneurysm at Fort Lyon, Colorado, exactly one month after his wife Josefa, who had died from childbirth.
  • Remains moved from Colorado in 1869 and reburied in a cemetery in Taos, New Mexico.

Christopher “Kit” Carson Biography

Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson was born on December 24, 1809, four miles northwest of Richmond, Kentucky, in Millian, Kentucky, the fifth of ten children born to Lindsay Carson and Rebecca Robinson Carson. Christopher also had five older half-brothers and sisters from his father’s first marriage, making a total of fifteen children in the family. Christopher acquired the nickname “Kit” when he was a child for his unusually small stature, and this name would stick throughout his life. The Carson family followed Daniel Boone to Howard County, Missouri, in 1811, settling on land bought from Boone’s sons.

Kit’s father died when he was eight years old leaving the family destitute. He quit school and worked the farm to help support the family. At age fifteen he was apprenticed to a saddlemaker in Howard County for two years in an attempt to settle him down. Kit found that working in a shop made him feel confined, so he broke his legal apprenticeship contract and ran away to the West. As was customary, the saddlemaker posted a reward for Kit’s return. The law allowed thirty days for this posting. The saddlemaker waited until the end of the thirty days and only offered one dollar as a reward. This delayed response and meager reward would indicate that the saddlemaker was sympathetic to Kit’s desire to explore, or perhaps he had found the boy a difficult apprentice.  

Kit joined an expedition to New Mexico in 1826 when he was sixteen. He wintered with a friend of his father’s, Matthew Kinkead, who taught him how to be a trapper. Kit also learned the languages he would need to be a trapper—Spanish and a half dozen Native American languages. Taking up a career as a trapper and hunter he settled in Taos, New Mexico.

About 1836 Kit fell in love with and married an Arapaho woman named Waa-Nibe. She had another suitor who, upon her rejection of him, challenged Carson, nearly killing him. Carson and Waa-Nibe had a daughter named Alice. A second daughter was born as well and Waa-Nibe died as a result of the birth. No one knows what happened to the second daughter. 

Kit also briefly married a very beautiful but reputedly obstinate Cheyenne woman. It is recorded that women of the Cheyenne tribe of that area were exceptionally independent. Soon Making Out Road left Carson to follow her tribe’s migration route, and in 1842 Kit became engaged to Josefa Jaramillo, a daughter of a prominent family from Taos. They married in February 1843 when Josefa was fourteen and Carson was thirty-four. She was reputedly quite beautiful and the marriage proved a success with eight children and a lifetime of loyalty and love.

 In 1842, while taking Alice to live with his sister in Missouri, Kit met John C. Frémont, who was preparing to make his first exploration of the West, and he hired Kit to be his guide. Together the men blazed trails across the American West, from the Mississippi River, through the Rocky Mountains, to California and Oregon. Frémont’s colorful reports of Carson’s skills and daring exploits published in Eastern newspapers made Kit Carson famous.  This fame was enhanced by writers of fictitious Wild West stories of Carson in what was known as “Dime Novels.”

In 1846 Carson and Frémont participated in the Bear Flag Revolt, which wrested California from Mexico. During the U.S.-Mexican War, Carson led General Stephen W. Kearny’s forces from New Mexico back to California to fight off an invading Mexican army.  In 1849 he decided to settle down and farm in Taos and spend time with Josefa. By this time Kit had become aware of the adventure novels being written about his exploits painting him to be a grand hero. He did not care for the novels or the distorted public image they gave him.

In 1853 Carson was appointed an Indian agent in New Mexico. He was considered successful, establishing treaties between the Indian tribes and the United States, as he was fluent in several Native American languages and was familiar with their customs. In 1861, when the Civil War started, Kit supported the Union and resigned his post as Indian agent to help organize the New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, which fought the Confederates in the Battle of Valverde in 1862.

A lieutenant colonel, Carson was charged with directing Union actions against Indians in the Southwest. The United States government planned to place the Navajo on a reservation. It was Kit’s job to subdue them so Brig. Gen. James H. Carleton, commander of the Federal District of New Mexico, could carry out this plan. Carson resisted at first and then was compelled by Carleton to complete the task. 

On March 13, 1865, Carson was brevetted brigadier general and given command of Fort Garland in Colorado the following year. He resigned from the army in 1867 due to ill health and moved to Boggsville, Colorado.  In April 1868 his wife died from childbirth, and one month later, May 23, 1868, at Fort Lyon, Colorado, Kit died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm at the age of 59. The last words on his lips were, "Adios Compadres." The next year the remains of Carson and his wife were removed to Taos, New Mexico, and reburied in a cemetery there.  The capital of Nevada, Carson City, is named in honor of Carson.

Kit Carson Links


Kit Carson Suggested Reading

Boraas, Tracey. Kit Carson: Mountain Man. Bridgestone Press: Mankato, Minn., 2003.

Roberts, David. A Newer World: Kit Carson, John C. Frémont, and the Claiming of the American West. Simon and Schuster: New York, 2000.

Simmons, Marc. Kit Carson and His Three Wives: A Family History. Volume in Calvin P. Horn Lectures in Western History and Culture. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 2003.    

Kleber, John E., editor. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. 2d ed. University Press of Kentucky: Lexington, 1992.