A Legend Brought to Life — Patti Shene
Today I’m happy to welcome author Pattie Shene as she shares some fascinating history about a legendary man.
On Christmas eve 1809 in Madison County, Kentucky, a child was born to Lindsey and Rebecca Carson and given the name Christopher Houston Carson. This young man would grow up to be one of the most notorious legends in the west, the famous “Kit” Carson.
Kit encountered tragedy at a young age when his father was killed by a falling tree when Kit was barely nine.. He had a price on his head while still in his teens, when he ran away from an apprenticeship with a saddle maker who offered a reward of one-cent for the return of the boy in a local paper.
He probably never saw the notice, for he had joined a wagon train that took him to the west he yearned to explore. Kit’s many occupations in his younger years included cook, interpreter, and teamster for a copper mine, but his notoriety stems from his skills as a trapper, mountain guide, Indian agent, and United States Army Officer. He was the subject of many dime novels that launched him to legendary fame.
Kit was unable to read or write for most of his life, but his ability to master languages was extraordinary. He knew some French, but was fluent in Spanish and ten Indian languages, including Indian sign language.
His first marriage to an Arapahoe Indian woman, Was-nibe (Singing Grass), ended in tragedy when she died in childbirth with their second child. The child died tragically at a young age when she fell into a kettle of boiling soap. A second marriage to a Cheyenne woman was short-lived with no children involved. Kit later married a socially prominent woman from New Mexico, Josefa Jaramillo. Although Kit was in his early thirties and his bride barely into her teens, the two enjoyed a happy marriage that produced seven children.
John Carson, a park ranger at Bent’s Fort near La Junta, Colorado for the past twelve years, is the grandson of Kit’s youngest son. He admits to a degree of fascination for the history that surrounds him at Bent’s Fort, knowing his great grandfather hunted for the fort some 175 years ago.
When asked what characteristic he admires most about his great grandfather, John expresses pride in Kit’s fierce independence and his undying loyalty. He relates how Kit, upon completing scouting duties for two expeditions for Lieutenant John C. Fremont, told the Lieutenant “all you have to do is holler” if Fremont ever needed him again. When Fremont sent word by way of a messenger from Bent’s Fort, requesting his services for another expedition, Kit sold the ranch he had built up near Cimarron, taking a considerable loss on the sale, to keep his word.
John’s great grandfather, the famous Kit Carson, did not meet the stereotype of many tough and crude mountain men of the era. He enjoyed a smoke, but seldom drank, never to excess, and exercised a gentle tongue that never produced curse words.
Kit and his wife Josefa made their final home in Boggsville, Colorado, where he served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Colorado Territory. He was in poor health when he traveled to Washington D.C. to negotiate a treaty for the Ute Indians. Shortly after his return home, his wife died unexpectedly, devastating Kit. He sought medical care at nearby Fort Lyon for his own ailing condition and died 150 years ago today on May 23, 1868, in the quarters of Surgeon General Tilton.
The quarters where Kit Carson died was a rock and wood building at the time of his death. Several years later, when the former western frontier U.S Cavalry Fort became the property of the Veterans Bureau, designated as a neuropsychiatric Veterans Administration hospital, the rocks were used to construct a museum, which later became the Kit Carson Chapel. Many weddings and funerals were performed there, but the chapel eventually fell into disrepair.
In 2007, after local support of the project and assistance from a Colorado state senator, the chapel was reopened to visitors. Fort Lyon now serves homeless men and women, but the chapel can be easily located just inside the Fort Lyon gate at the end of Highway 183, just off of Highway 50, about 85 miles east of Pueblo, Colorado.
The legacy of Kit Carson lives on in this area of Colorado through the pride of his descendants and the restoration of the historic building that preserves his memory.
When Patti Shene brought a flaming “36” home on a report card for a mid-term exam history grade in High School, she decided to hate the subject forever. However, since her move to Colorado over forty years ago, she has slowly developed a fascination for the rich history of the old west that permeates the southeastern corner of the state where she resides.
Patti maintains two blogs, Patti’s Porch and The Over 50 Writer on her website www.pattishene.com and hosts a blog talk radio show, Step Into the Light.