Last of the Great Scouts

Listen to American Minute

[slaudio:, Listen to American Minute]

Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos, NM

Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos, NM (Photo credit: Billy Hathorn)

American Minute from William J. Federer

Fur trapper, Indian agent, and soldier was Kit Carson.

Kit Carson’s exploits west of the Mississippi were as famous as Daniel Boone’s east.

Francis Parkman, Jr., wrote in The Oregon Trail:

“The buffalo are strange animals…in order to approach them the utmost skill, experience, and judgment are necessary. Kit Carson, I believe, stands pre-eminent in running buffalo.”

The famous “Buffalo Bill” Cody named his son after Kit Carson, as his sister, Helen Cody Wetmore, wrote in “Last of the Great Scouts the Life Story of Col. William F. Cody ‘Buffalo Bill'”:

“The first boy of the family was the object of the undivided interest of the outpost for a time, and names by the dozen were suggested. Major North offered ‘Kit Carson’ as an appropriate name for the son of a great scout and buffalo-hunter, and this was finally settled on.”

Helen Cody Wetmore continued describing her brother, “Buffalo Bill” Cody:

“He may fitly be named the ‘Last of the Great Scouts.’ He has had great predecessors. The mantle of Kit Carson has fallen upon his shoulders, and he wears it worthily.”

General Sherman wrote of meeting Kit Carson in “The Memoirs of General William T. Sherman”:

“As the spring and summer of 1848 advanced, the reports came faster and faster from the gold-mines at Sutter’s saw-mill…It was our duty to go up and see with our own eyes, that we might report the truth to our Government. As yet we had no regular mail to any part of the United States, but mails had come to us at long intervals, around Cape Horn…

“I well remember the first overland mail. It was brought by Kit Carson in saddle-bags from Taos in New Mexico. We heard of his arrival at Los Angeles, and waited patiently for his arrival at headquarters. His fame then was at its height, from the publication of Fremont’s books, and I was very anxious to see a man who had achieved such feats of daring among the wild animals of the Rocky Mountains, and still wilder Indians of the Plains.

“At last his arrival was reported at the tavern at Monterey, and I hurried to hunt him up. I cannot express my surprise at beholding a small, stoop-shouldered man, with reddish hair, freckled face, soft blue eyes, and nothing to indicate extraordinary courage or daring. He spoke but little, and answered questions in monosyllables.

“I asked for his mail, and he picked up his light saddle-bags containing the great overland mail, and we walked together to headquarters, where he delivered his parcel into Colonel Mason’s own hands.

“He spent some days in Monterey, during which time we extracted with difficulty some items of his personal history. He was then by commission a lieutenant in the regiment of Mounted Rifles serving in Mexico under Colonel Sumner, and, as he could not reach his regiment from California, Colonel Mason ordered that for a time he should be assigned to duty with A.J. Smith’s company, First Dragoons, at Los Angeles.

“He remained at Los Angeles some months, and was then sent back to the United Staten with dispatches, traveling two thousand miles almost alone, in preference to being encumbered by a large party.”

In January of 1868, Kit Carson was appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs in Colorado.

Though suffering severe breathing difficulty, he brought Ute Indian Chiefs to Washington, DC., to arrange a treaty. Traveling through northern cities, they met crowds and posed for pictures with western military notables James Carleton and John C. Fremont.

While staying with the Indian Chiefs at New York City’s Metropolitan Hotel, Kit Carson almost died. He wrote:

“I felt my head swell and my breath leaving me. Then, I woke…my face and head all wet. I was on the floor and the chief was holding my head on his arm and putting water on me.

“He was crying. He said, ‘I thought you were dead. You called on your Lord Jesus, then shut your eyes and couldn’t speak.’

“I did not know that I spoke…I do not know that I called on the Lord Jesus, but I might – it’s only Him that can help me where I now stand…”

Kit Carson ended:

“My wife must see me. If I was to write about this, or died out here, it would kill her. I must get home.”

Carson successfully arranged the treaty, as President Andrew Johnson wrote March 24, 1868:

“To the Senate of the United States: I herewith lay before the Senate, for its constitutional action thereon, a treaty made on the 2d day of March, 1868, by and between Nathaniel G. Taylor, Commissioner of Indian Affairs; Alexander C. Hunt, governor and ex officio superintendent of Indian affairs of Colorado Territory, and Kit Carson, on the part of the United States, and the representatives of the Tabeguache, Muaehe, Capote, Weeminuche, Yampa, Grand River, and Uintah bands of Ute Indians. A letter of the Secretary of the Interior of the 17th instant and the papers therein referred to are also herewith transmitted.”

Carson returned home to Taos, New Mexio, but unfortunately, his wife Josefa (“Josephine”) died shortly after from complications giving birth to their eighth child.

A month later, Kit Carson died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm on MAY 23, 1868, at the age of 58. He was buried next to his wife.

His last words were: “Adios Compadres” (Spanish for “Goodbye friends”).

Comments are closed.