So we say that though an Indian civilization might possess many elements strange and grotesque in our eyes, still it was a possibility. The Navajoes had something approaching it. Their customs were somewhat settled. They knew the art of weaving beautiful blankets, and manufacturing many other articles which commanded high prices. Carson and his fellow traders found a ready market among them for their merchandise, and returned from their trip with herds of splendid horses and mules, loaded down with valuable blankets and furs.
For the next year or two Carson went ahead with his life of hunting and trapping. His character is in marked contrast with those of his companions. Carson was a kind-hearted, even-tempered, and intensely practical man. Though a sparing talker, he was one of the geniuses who perform every thing they undertake with skill, rapidity, and success. He had a remarkably smooth, well-balanced, and symmetrical nature, which was rare for a trapper, who was generally a dare-devil, crack-brained, fellow, utterly reckless, erratic, and without stability of purpose. So far from making trapping and hunting his life-work, he had ordinarily followed a dozen different callings -- now making Sunday-school speeches in the Eastern cities; now selling patent medicine in the malarial districts of the Middle States; now preaching to the Indians; and now a New Mexican desperado and cut-throat.
This was just about the career of Williams, an old fellow who was with Carson at this time. He had translated the Bible into two Indian dialects. His irregular genius showed itself in an incident in a Mexican town. He was at the time a trader or shopkeeper there. One day some of his customers complained of his prices, and undertook to jew him down. Williams flew into a terrible rage. He blasphemed and abused them in a horrible manner. Finally, springing on them like a tiger, he kicked them all out of his little booth or lodge; and, as if disgusted with the whole community, commenced throwing his goods and merchandise, helter-skelter, into the street, nor did he stop till his booth was entirely dismantled. Then with horrid curses, and his eyes ablaze with insane fury, he seized his rifle, and shaking the dust of the place from his feet, he angrily took himself off to the mountains.
Another one of these eccentric characters, one who stood high in the trapper profession, was a fellow named Mitchell. He had at one time acquired the notion of some wonderful gold mines being hidden away in the mountains of northern Texas. With the purpose of discovering them, he joined the Comanche nation, became one of their braves, married a pretty Indian squaw, and for some years was one of their leaders in battle, and a terror to their foes. Becoming convinced that the gold mines were myths, he made to his Comanche friends some plausible excuse for a temporary absence, and left them forever.
Some years after that period of Carson's life of which we are now speaking, Mitchell made a trading trip into Kansas. It was the first time in many years that he had been in the States. Kansas was just in the convulsion of political passion which proceeded the civil war. The free-soilers and pro-slavery men were carrying on a guerrilla warfare, each trying to drive the other out of the state. Farm-houses were burned; men were fired upon from thickets as they passed along the road; corpses were found in the forest with knives sticking in their hearts. All this seemed natural enough to Mitchell, with his frontier notions, but his trip was a business one. In his lonely life in the mountains, Mitchell had remained ignorant of all political issues. With the instinctive caution of the frontiersman, as well as from the natural reserve which he felt when among civilized (!) men, he avoided all conversation on political questions. Patriotism and suspicion at once spotted him as a dangerous man, and caused him to be avoided or treated with indifference and marked reserve. Once he was seen reading a newspaper with great interest. It was a fragment of an old New Orleans paper, bitterly pro-slavery. He was observed to put it carefully in his pocket. That night a masked company of free-soilers told him to leave town in six hours, or he would be killed. He left. The article he had been reading related to a new way of making hats, in which silk was substituted for beaver fur, and prophesying that the latter would be entirely supplanted!
On another occasion he went into a store to buy a lot of powder and ball to take back with him. The storekeeper looked suspiciously at him, and asked where he came from. "None of yer business," said Mitchell. "What do you want with ammunition?" "To load my gun. What d' ye s'pose; did you think I wanted ter make bread of it?" This was enough for the storekeeper. With a triumphant glance at the bystanders he said, "I understand what you free-soilers want with ammunition, you dogs; you want to kill us. We want all we have ourselves." All this to the poor mountaineer, who considered every white man his "brother," was insupportable. Hastily finishing his business, he gave up a long contemplated trip to the eastern cities, and started back to New Mexico. A friend fell in with him on his return trip, and asked where he had been.
"After being away for twenty years, I thought I would like to see the whites once more. But what I saw in Kansas disgusted me so I could go no further. They do nothing but get up war-parties against each other. I would rather be in an Indian country than in civilized Kansas."
We have already hinted at a fact which, though its origin was thousands of miles away, in Europe, reached in its effect the lonely mountains of New Mexico, and robbed Kit Carson and his friends of their occupation. The increasing scarcity and high prices of the beaver fur had induced the hat manufacturers of Europe to look for a substitute. It was found in silk, which, though not so durable, presented an equally beautiful appearance in the "plug" hat. Thus the market for beaver fur was seriously affected. The prices fell with the demand, and the lonely mountaineer, like Othello, found "his occupation gone."
This fact, sad enough for the poor trappers, is repeated at every step in the progress of civilization. Human invention is constantly destroying old trades and occupations. It makes a reaping machine, and both the men who use and the men who manufacture the "cradle" are thrown out of employment. It builds a railroad, and all the innkeepers, who had their little hostelries distributed along the roads, so that, after each day's journey, the tired traveler might find lodging and refreshment for "man and beast," find their inns deserted and their business gone. It invents a loom, by which, with one boy to fill the shuttles, the work of twenty hand-weavers is done, and better done. It constructs an automatic air brake for the express train, and the brakesmen are discharged; the engineer does their work, and does it better. All this presents a great problem. In order to live, men must have work. Every year an increasing multitude complain, and not without reason, that there is less labor to do than formerly, and that their hands, though willing, can find no task. Idle classes are dangerous. They are brought into the world without asking their consent, and being here they demand, and rightly, too, that they shall have an opportunity to earn money and procure food. All this, we say, presents a great and serious question. So it was, when their trade was taken away, the trappers were grieved and angry. They felt like striking back, but whom should they hit? Deep in their sullen hearts they cursed the inventor of the silk hat. He was a dog, a devil, a brute!
Kit to some extent shared these feelings, but he cheerfully sought another occupation. There was a trading-post called Bent's Fort. Here he was offered the position of hunter to the fort. It was the duty of the hunter to provide the daily supply of game, summer and winter, for the table of the fort. If he had bad luck in his hunting, the fellows at the fort were sure to be cross. If his provision lacked variety, they were likely to speak of it. Carson's great skill with his gun caused him to be sought after for this position. He accepted it, and held it for eight consecutive years. It is said that, during all the years, "not a single word of disagreement passed between him and his employers." This fact is a monument to Kit's expertness as a hunter.
If any thing in the world will bring on a fuss, it is an insufficient meal. Kit's boarders were unfailingly provided for. He never returned empty handed. On these expeditions Kit was mounted on his magnificent horse "Apache." They knew and loved each other. Neither horse nor rider had an equal, as hunters, in the Rocky Mountains. He was called the "Monarch of the Prairies, the Nestor of New Mexico;" but the name he was most pleased with was, the "Hero of the Rockies." Among the lodges of the Arrapahoes, Cheyennes, and Comanches, Kit was an honored guest on many occasions. One reason for his remaining so quiet for eight years is found in his marriage with an Indian girl, of whom he was passionately fond. It was his misfortune to lose his dusky bride by death, when they had only been married two years. To an infant daughter, however, were transferred the entire wealth of his affections. When of a suitable age, he sent her to St. Louis, to receive every advantage which education could bestow. During this time Carson guided many emigrants across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, patiently helping their toiling ox-teams along the rocky roads.
In 1842, Carson made a trip to the States. For the first time in sixteen years, he looked upon the home of his childhood. But Time had swept his unsparing hand over the place. The old log cabin, in the door of which Kit's mother had stood sixteen years before, waving her hand to her boy as he rode proudly away that sunny morning, was now a crumbling ruin. No light gleamed from its cheerless window. No loving arms were clasped convulsively around the wanderer's neck.
The father and mother slept the sleep that knows no waking, beneath the foot of a lonely forest tree, and within hearing of the ceaseless murmur of the Missouri River. Brothers and sisters, too, were gone; some dead; some, impelled by the same restless spirit which made its home in the heart of Carson, were scattered abroad in the wilderness of the West. None left! Staggered at this desolation, Carson sat down in the shadows of a double darkness -- the darkness of the night, and of the night within. And as the night-bird, wandering from its mate, uttered its lonely cry in the gloom of the forest, the strong man, sensible of his utter loneliness, gave way to the melancholy of the hour, and wept in the solitude as only men can weep.
Shaking off these sad memories, Kit went to St. Louis, where he spent ten days. It was his first visit to a great city. The roar of the streets and bustle of excited throngs contrasted strangely with his life in the mountains. But he was no "greeny," ready to bite at the traps of the city sharpers. He visited the places of interest, investigated the methods of doing business, and availed himself of his opportunities for acquiring information.
But this trip had one momentous result. Carson became acquainted with Lieutenant John C. Fremont, who was just proceeding on his first journey of exploration. Fremont was greatly in need of an experienced pioneer to guide his party through the mountains, as well as give them the benefit of his experience as to means of subsistence and defense against Indians. Kit was introduced into a work which had made his name a household word throughout the republic. The object of the expedition was to survey the South Pass, in what we know as Wyoming Territory, and obtain the altitude of the highest peaks. Up to this time, America was profoundly ignorant of the West.
The success of the expedition was complete. Carson had proven invaluable, for his hunting and trapping career had made him familiar with the entire West, from Mexico on the south to British America on the north. In the following year, Fremont made his second exploring expedition, on behalf of the United States Government. As before, he made Carson his right-hand man. His object this time was to push his investigations westward from the Rockies to the Sierra Nevadas, there connect his work with the Pacific coast surveys, which had already been made, and thus lay a foundation for a survey and map of the entire West.
This party had many thrilling adventures. After leaving the Rockies, and traveling many days across the barren plains, their provisions began to give out. The journey was longer, and game scarcer, than they expected. Before them lay the snowy Sierras; to attempt to cross them in the enfeebled condition of the party was perilous in the extreme. Behind, lay the plains they had just traversed; to retrace their steps was to starve long before a point where supplies could be had. So it was that the only record of Fremont's second expedition came near being the horrible hieroglyphics of bleaching skeletons, which are so often left by explorers, the fearful meaning of which is so readily understood.
To attempt a crossing of the mountains was urged by Carson as the only alternative. It was resolved upon. Snow-shoes for the entire party were indispensable to traversing the whitened expanse, into the depths of which a man unshod would sink out of sight forever. Kit swiftly instructed the men how to make them, and then, with an advance party, pushed on to explore the route, and see if it was practicable to break a path for the animals. The distance was three leagues. Carson said if they could make that, the green valley of the Sacramento, with its splendid game and abounding forage, would open before the weary wanderers. It was a labor of fifteen days to beat and pack the snow with mallets for the passage of the mules. But in this time, most of the animals had died. In the extremity of the situation, the famished beasts ate each other's tails and tore the leather from the pack saddles to devour it. At last, Sutter's Fort was reached, with its hospitable welcome and its abundant table. Carson cautioned the men to eat sparingly, but they could not be restrained. Partly from the terrible strain which they had endured, partly from too sudden indulgence, two of the party lost their reason and became raving maniacs.
On the return trip, just at they were going to camp one evening, a man and boy ran up. The strangers hastily related that they belonged to a Mexican trading party. They, with four others, had been left in charge of the horses, and in the absence of the main party, these six, two of whom were women, were attacked by Indians. The two speakers, Fuentes and the boy, Pablo, had managed to get away. Anguish driven, the one by the unknown fate of his wife, the other by that of his father and mother, they implored the help of the explorers. Only two men volunteered their assistance, Kit Carson and his fellow mountaineer, Godey. The lips of sorrow never appealed in vain to the brave but unselfish Carson.
There were thirty Indians in the attacking party. Carson and Godey, accompanied by Fuentes, determined to attempt a rescue of the unfortunate captives. Quickly striking the trail of the marauders, they commenced pursuit. At the end of twenty miles the horse Fuentes rode broke down. To procure another was impossible. Leaving the unfortunate man behind, Carson and his companion dashed on their errand of kindness. It was two against thirty. But fear was a stranger to the bold hearts. All day they rode. Night came on. Still they rested not. Much of the time they led their horses, and followed the trail in the darkness by feeling. The tracks grew fresher. A few hours only separated them from the chase. To be fresh for the fray they dismounted, and wrapped in their blankets, wet with heavy dew, they tried to sleep. But the cold, wet atmosphere rendered sleep impossible. No fire could be ignited. At early dawn they perceived a neighboring ravine. There they thought safe to build a small fire and warm themselves. The horses were again mounted.
The sun was still on his upward journey when they discovered their enemies, thirty in all, engaged in their usual feast of horse-flesh. The stolen animals, which were yet alive, were picketed at a short distance. The two mountaineers determined to crawl in among the horses, and then be guided by events. The strange figures of the crawling men frightened a colt, and stirred up a commotion in the herd. The Indians, ever quick to read the signal of danger in the conduct of their animals, sprang for their weapons. As the savages came in range the trappers fired. Two braves bit the dust. The remainder, astonished at the conduct of Carson and Godey, suddenly seemed to believe that the two were a decoy, supported by a large party, which sought by stratagem to lure them into giving battle.
As Kit had foreseen, the Indians at once fled, leaving their camp to the victors. Here the terrible scene presented itself of the mangled bodies of the two men, pierced with a hundred arrows. The women were found a little further off. Their naked bodies each had a sharpened stake driven through it into the ground. With sad hearts at the comparative failure of their errand, the trappers interred the bodies; collected the horses, and took themselves back to their more selfish companions. The property was restored to the strangers; the sad story of the victims told to the wifeless husband and the lonely boy. Bowed down with grief, yet overflowing with gratitude, they offered all their horses as a gift to Carson and Godey. Hastily wiping away a tear with his shaggy sleeve, Kit refused to accept any thing, and instead, thrust a small sum of money into the boy's hand. Camp was broken. The men mounted, and with a farewell to the strangers, the party rode away, leaving them alone in the forest in the shadow of their mighty grief.
In the spring of 1845 Kit, being out of employment, resolved to be a farmer. He determined to settle down, fell trees, grub stumps, plow the glebe, sow seed, and gather crops; to become acquainted with corn husking, potato hoeing, and butter making; to learn the mystery of weaning calves, killing hogs, and stringing dried pumpkin. It was a strange calling, that of the patient farmer, for the impetuous Kit to select. But as men approach middle life they become more and more conservative. Carson and a mountaineer named Owens purchased an eligible tract of land on which to make a farm. Kit furnished the money, and laid in a stock of wooded plows, Mexican axes, farm carts, and other utensils. With a company of hired hands he built temporary huts, and chopped away at the trees in fine style. True, they were a little green at the business. The fences were rather clumsy, the fields rather stumpy. The farm-house, which Kit insisted on having built was very large and barny, while the barn was small and badly located. He tried to persuade himself he was contented. But when Fremont sent him word of a third expedition Carson took just twenty-four hours to sell out the whole place for a third of what it had cost, get out his rifle, saddle his horse, and start to join Fremont.
The third expedition thus joined by Carson had many adventures. One night, through carelessness in keeping watch, some treacherous Klamath Indians stole in the camp and cleft the skulls of three of the sleepers before they were discovered. In retaliation Carson, at the head of a war party, burned their village and killed twenty braves. The war with Mexico, which was declared at that time, served to complicate the fortunes of the explorers. Carson was detailed to take dispatches to Washington City. On his way overland he met General Kearney, who was under orders to proceed with his command to the scene of hostilities in California. Kearney at once determined to forward the dispatches by another messenger, and have Carson return with him as a guide.
Kit gave up his important trip to the capitol with great secret reluctance, but it was smothered in his own breast. He saw how much he was needed. To serve others was always his first impulse; to consider himself, his last. Without a murmur he turned back to the wilderness. It was not long before Kearney's command came in conflict with the Mexican forces. His men, being nearly all on foot, suffered severely. In the first regular battle Carson and a quad of twenty-five of the mounted men headed a charge on the enemy. Just before reaching the foe Kit's horse stumbled and fell, throwing its rider under the feet of the advancing column, which dashed on right over him. This accident, though fraught with great danger, in all probability saved his life. Every man in the front squad of twenty-five was killed except Kit.
The Mexicans continued to harass Kearney, at last managing to surround him on a small hill, on which Kearney and his command were virtually besieged. At the close of the day's engagement, which found them in this perilous situation, a council of war was held. Three messengers had been previously dispatched to San Diego with a call for re-enforcements. Each of them had been made captive by the Mexicans before reaching their destination. To attempt to break through the besieging lines meant, in view of their own condition and the superior numbers of the enemy, certain destruction of the command. To remain where they were for more than a short time was impossible. The situation was gloomy in the extreme. After all had expressed their opinions, and no plan had been suggested, Carson rose and said: "General, I will volunteer to undertake to creep through the Mexican lines, push on to San Diego, and bring you succor."
The effect of the simple words was electric. Lieutenant Beale, a brave young naval officer, offered to join Carson. Kearney gratefully accepted the generous offer. Making farewells, which not improbably might be their last, Carson and Beale slipped out under cover of the darkness, determined to render up their lives rather than abandon the attempt. Crawling on hands and knees, over rocks and through underbrush, stopping every few moments to listen, the brave men slowly made their way into the hostile camp. In spite of great care, their heavy shoes would sometimes strike a rock, and it was found necessary to remove them and thrust them into their belts.
The Mexican pickets were found to be arranged in three rows, the sentinels in the second row opposite the spaces in the first, and the third opposite the spaces in the second. Carson at once decided to take a diagonal course through the lines. Even this path took them within a short distance of the watchful sentinels. The gleam of the bayonet in the starlight shot through the overhanging branches; yet, with Carson's marvelous skill, the fruit of a lifetime of Indian warfare, they reached the third line of pickets. In five minutes they would have been safe. Though neither spoke, each felt the increased confidence of the other. But, hush! Kit, who was in the lead, with his quick ear caught the sound of crunching twigs, and a heavy footfall approaching. Pushing Beale with his foot, as a signal to follow his example, Carson threw himself perfectly flat on the ground, and awaited developments. The sounds grew louder. Presently, the dim figure of a sentinel on horseback revealed itself to the piercing eye of the pioneer.
Beale said afterwards: "I looked on myself as a corpse." When within six feet of Carson, the Mexican dismounted leisurely, drew out a cigaretto and a bit of paper, which by the help of fling and steel, he proceeded to ignite. The blaze of the paper distinctly revealed the two prostrate forms. In relating the story, Carson, who never exaggerated, said: "I heard every heart-beat of Beale, as we lay there, and they sounded to me like the strokes of a maul." But the Mexican, when the paper blazed, was intent on lighting his cigaretto. He did not raise his eyes. The yellow flame lit up his sinister countenance. He leisurely drew three or four puffs, then, with a quick motion, flung the little torch on the ground, where it flickered for a moment and went out. With a grunt of satisfaction, he re-adjusted his accouterments, mounted his horse, which, with a finer instinct than his master, was already snorting slightly at the figures in the grass, and shortly disappeared among the trees.
Not till the Mexican was well out of the way, did Carson stir. Then he commenced his onward progress. Feeling that danger was now behind and not before them, they hurried forward. The Mexican camp was left far to the rear, and the disfigured heroes rose and warmly clasped each other's hands in the moment of thankfulness for their escape. To put on their shoes was their first thought. But, misery of miseries, these had not been thought of in the perilous journey of two miles on hands and knees, and both pairs were missing. Carson had no guide but the stars, no map but his knowledge of the country. Yet, to avoid all beaten trails, along which the enemy swarmed, and to select a circuitous route to San Diego, over rocks and through thickets, was easy work. The loss of their shoes was a terrible misfortune. The country was covered with a thick growth of the prickly pear, which, at every step, lacerated their bleeding feet with poison tipped needles. All night and all the next day, without food or rest, sustained only by mental excitement and the thought of the little body of suffering troops which was folded in the fatal coils of the Mexican serpent, they, proceeded. Another night closed in around them; yet they seemed insensible to fatigue and pain. Toward midnight, the outlines of San Diego were marked upon the horizon. Hurrying on, the poor fellows made their way at once to the bed-room of Commodore Stockton, and told him the situation of their comrades. Their condition was pitiable -- clothing in rags, feet bleeding terrible and swollen to twice their natural size, mind and body exhausted to the last extremity. Their noble mission accomplished, poor Beale, fainted away, only to wake a gibbering maniac. It was two years before reason fully re-asserted her way. Carson however, would neither eat nor sleep until the relief column was on its way. Then he, too, hardened, though he was, by exposure and frontier life, broke down, and for a month was prostrated by his fearful exertion. Kearney and his command were saved.
Carson subsequently made two trips to Washington City, bearing dispatches to the government. At this time, he was appointed Indian agent for New Mexico, as a reward for his services in the war. Not being identified with any political party, he lacked the backing, far more than merit or service to his country, was required to obtain an office. The United States Senate refused to confirm the appointment of the honest and heroic pioneer.< P>For the second time in his life Kit resolved to settle down as a farmer. This time he bought a place at Rayado. The place was beautiful; the valley rich in soil and teeming with noble game. Kit's second wife, whom he had married some years before, was a highly connected Mexican lady. He was attached to his children beyond any thing else on earth. He built himself a comfortable mansion; his farm was managed by experienced hands. In spite of all the terrible experiences, which lay like packs of wolves in the thicket of his memory, Carson was a happy man. The claims upon his skill as an Indian fighter and his kindness to every suffering heart continued to reach him in his happy valley. Thence he was frequently called to guide United State troops, or attempt a rescue of some unfortunate captive. Perhaps he felt a more tender regret at leaving home than formerly; perhaps the effect which his death might have on the happiness of his little family circle sometimes occurred to him, but he was as quick to respond as ever.
The Apaches at this time almost rendered life a burden in Northern Mexico. They are small in stature, but a marvel of symmetry in proportion, perfect in health, unequaled in athletic skill and performance. The Apache's limbs are straight, his muscles hard as iron, and his frame as elastic as rubber. Treachery glistens in his coal-black eye, and the instinct of the murderer is hidden in his heart. On one occasion word was brought of the killing of a Mr. White, and the capture of his wife and child. A detachment of troops undertook the rescue. Carson was riding some distance in advance when he sighted the redskins and their weeping captive on the opposite bank of a stream. Carson yelled for the men to advance at double quick, for he saw no time was to be lost. But for some reason the officer in command was jealous of Carson, and coolly halted his men. During that short halt Carson saw the tomahawk sink into the skull of Mrs. White and her little girl.
Carson's adventurous disposition, instead of courting physical danger, began to manifest itself in bold speculations, in which he had great success. Nor was it remarkable. The same disposition of genius, placed in different surroundings, will manifest itself in a way externally different, but really the same. It is said that Jay Gould, with his vast organizing power, would equal napoleon if placed in Napoleon's situation.
Kit's fame was a great burden to him. When in San Francisco, he was lionized, passed free to theaters, on railroads, invited to countless entertainments. This was embarrassing to the quiet mountaineer. Once at Fort Laramie a fellow, who was but a specimen from a large class, came in, eagerly seeking to have the great Kit Carson pointed out to him. The bystanders directed him to Kit. For a moment the stranger looked at the small, mild-eyed, soft-mannered man before him in dumb astonishment. He had looked for a large, fierce desperado to correspond with the great feats of Kit he had heard of. In a moment astonishment gave way to a knowing look, as he said, "See here, feller, what's this yer givin' me? Yer not Kit Carson. Mind, I'm no greenhorn. Howsumever, I'll let yer off this wunst, ef yer'll pint out the genooine Kit."
Carson, with a face as grave as a parson, and an air of mock timidity, pointed to an enormous trader, with a tremendous mustache, dressed in a hunting shirt, buckskin leggins, and an enormous slouch hat. This personage satisfied the stranger's notion. Offering a "chaw of terbac" to Kit, who quietly declined it, he watched the big trader for an hour with the greatest interest, and then took himself off, well satisfied that he had seen the "genooine Kit." He, like the majority of people, looked to a large man for great deeds, one of the greatest delusions in the world, and one which is utterly refuted by history.
The popular reverence for large men and expansive stomachs, is shown by the United States Senate, of which it is said only half dozen men fall below six feet, one inch, in height, and two hundred and twenty pounds in weight. The Chinese, we once heard a lecturer say, believe that the brains are in the abdomen, and estimate a man's ability by his waist band. When they wish to call a man an idiot they say, "Your stomach is no larger than my little finger," while their rarest compliment is, "Your stomach is three miles around!" It is possible the lecturer was only satirizing the popular worship of stomachs, which prevails in American politics.
One evening, as Kit returned to his comfortable farm at Rayado, leading his noble horse, which was laden with a black-tailed deer and some wild turkeys, a man informed him of a plot for robbery and murder, to prevent which Carson's assistance was wanted. A ruffian named Fox had been engaged at Taos in raising a band of desperadoes, who were ostensibly to serve as an escort through the Indian country of two Englishmen, Brevoort and Weatherhead, who were supposed to carry a large amount of money for investment in stock. The real object of the villain was to murder the strangers and capture the money. By some means of a hint of the plot was dropped and brought to Carson, who followed up the clue, satisfied himself of its truth, and became convinced that the crime was to be consummated in a lonely cabin near Cimaron River. One hour's separation sufficed to place him at the head of thirty finely mounted dragoons. Selecting a short route, known only to himself, Carson required of his men the highest possible speed. It was the only hope, and it was successful. The chase was overtaken. Fox was arrested before he could strike a blow. The astonished Englishmen were informed of their danger. The gang of desperadoes were ordered to leave camp. Messers. Brevoort and Weatherford afterward presented Kit with a superb pair of silver-mounted revolvers as a token of their gratitude.
The following summer Kit went to St. Louis on a trading trip. On his return he brought with him a large stock of goods. One day, as the train wended its way over the green prairies, a village of Cheyennes was discovered by the party. One of their braves had been flogged for some misdemeanor by a party of whites a few days before, and the tribe was ablaze with wrath. Carson knew nothing of the grievance, but quickly perceived that an attack was contemplated. Orders were given for each man to be on the alert, and the village was left twenty miles to the rear, when small parties of warriors of twos and threes began to come in sight. These had on their war-paint and feathers. As they approached Carson spoke to them in a friendly way, and to show them he was not afraid, went into camp, and invited the Indians to come in and have a smoke.
No sooner had the pipe gone round than the Indians began to talk vigorously among themselves. It must not be forgotten that several years before, while hunter at Bent's fort, Carson had been a great friend of the Cheyennes. His appearance had greatly changed, and he was not recognized. Every word of the visitors was understood by him. Supposing they were not understood, they were coolly perfecting a plot to massacre the whites. Suddenly Kit stepped forward, told them his name, how he had once been a friend, and had to his knowledge never wronged their tribe. Now they rewarded him with a plan to kill him. He closed by ordering them to leave the camp or they would be shot. Nonplused at the turn affairs had taken, with a threat of return, they hastily left.
The train moved on. Each man walked beside his mule, a whip in one hand and a rifle in the other. Carson plainly told the men they were in great peril, but inspired them with his own courage. He scanned the horizon incessantly, but saw nothing more dangerous than a hungry wolf or a wandering antelope. Evening came. The wagons were arranged in a circle, inside of which the mules were tethered. Grass was cut and fed to them. The men gathered some driftwood, and built their camp fire also in the guarded ring. Carson felt that the responsibility of saving his men rested with him. In the party was one of those Mexican runners, a young man who, with a message in his head, can run with little fatigue seventy miles in a day. Calling the boy outside the wagons, when the supper was over, Carson pointed out the direction of Rayado, and told him he must leave many miles behind him by sunrise. The lad bent his dark intelligent face upon his master, and resolved to make every exertion to fulfill his command. Obtaining a few rations of provisions, which he bound about his waist, he received from Kit full instructions as to the dangerous places in the journey. He was to proceed with the utmost speed to Rayado, and start out a relief party. Making his bow, he started swiftly on his errand. Kit watched the agile figure, as it sped over the prairie in the dim moonlight, until it was but a speck on the horizon.
The camp was not disturbed that night. The following morning five Indians appeared. Carson called to them, told them he had the night before dispatched a fleet messenger to Rayado, and that if his party was massacred, his friends, the soldiers, would surely inflict swift and terrible vengeance on the Cheyennes. The Indians said they would look for his moccasin tracks and see if the story was true. An hour later the whole village of Cheyennes passed in sight, evidently making for safety as fast as possible. They had found the moccasin tracks, and saw the chase had been gone too long to be overtaken. The train proceeded without interruption, until they met a body of troops, who had started at once on the arrival of the Mexican runner. Under this strong escort the remainder of the trip was happily completed.
In 1853, Kit was again appointed and this time confirmed as Indian agent, a position he graced and honored as no other living American would have done. His great knowledge of Indian character was a splendid equipment. Sometimes around their council fires he distributed the bounty of the government, and instructed them in the primary lessons of civilization. Sometimes it was at his own home that the received them as friends, and earnestly advised them to let whisky alone. Again at the head of a column of United States troops he filled the faithless hearts of the Apaches with a fear of justice if not a love of kindness. In one hand he offered the olive branch; in the other, he held his loaded rifle.
Kit at last permanently quieted the Utahs and Apaches. Thenceforward he devoted himself to the works of peace among his Indian proteges. The fierce passion for war was supplanted in their breasts by a love of comfort and domestic life; the tomahawk and the scalping knife grew rusty and forgotten, while the sinewy hand which had wielded them learned to grasp the plow and the sickle. Kit too, felt that in the remainder of his life war and adventure would have no place. He was mistaken.
The flames of the civil war were already filling the heavens with the red light of doom. Carson was destined to serve his country as a soldier. A lover of the Union, he was made Colonel of the First New Mexico Volunteers. The Indians, always ready to seize a pretext for making war on the government, cast their lot with the Confederacy. Far away on the plains and in the mountains of New Mexico, where the roar of Gettysburg was silent, and the story of bloody Chickamauga was unknown, there took place terrible struggles between combatants who knew not the ideas for which they fought. The red man fought to be fighting the whites. The brave New Mexican fought the Indian much as he had fought him all his life. The shock of the civil war hurled these ancient foes upon the frontier of civilization against each other. But while the ideas were not present with them as they were among the ranks on many a historic field of conflict, the battle was none the less bloody and the suffering none the less severe.
The campaigns conducted by Carson were splendidly managed. On the sixth day of January, 1864, he started out with a force of four hundred men, only twenty of whom were mounted, upon the famous expedition which forever crushed the power of the Navajoes. By maneuvering with a skill of which Carson alone was capable in an Indian war, he succeeded in entrapping the bulk of the Navajoe Nation in the Canon de Chelly, one of the largest on the globe. It is forty miles long, with perpendicular walls of rock, fifteen hundred feet high. Carson quickly divided his command, sending one detachment to enter at the east end, while planted himself at the mouth. Far down in the gloomy depths, the narrow bit of sky looking like a blue ribbon above them, the column cautiously picked its way. Scattering bands of Indians, who saw the doom of their companions, posted themselves along the rocks and crags to annoy the troops, but their efforts were ineffectual. Sometimes a volley was fired from below, at the pigmy warriors on the dizzy height, but generally they reserved themselves for the largest game which was in the trap. On the second day, Carson attacked the whole force of Indians as they attempted in vain to break out of the deadly chasm. They were terribly punished, and were at last forced to surrender.
By this splendid strategy, between five and ten thousand Indians surrendered to Carson, the largest capture ever made in Indian warfare; and this was achieved by four hundred soldiers, with scarcely the loss of a man. The entire war presents no finer piece of generalship. The majority of the captives were placed on a reservation in Arkansas, but were subsequently permitted to return to their old hunting-grounds, where they are living in happiness and peace.
In the official report to the War Department, is the following:
"You have, doubtless, seen the last of the Navajoe war, a war that has continued, but few intermissions, for the last one hundred and eighty years, and which during that time has been marked by every shade of atrocity, brutality, and ferocity which can be imagined. I beg to congratulate you on the prospect that this formidable band of robbers and murderers has been at last made to succumb. To Colonel Kit Carson, in command of the expedition, whose courage and perseverance excited all to great energy and inspired great resolution, the credit is mainly due."
For his gallant services, "Colonel Kit Carson," was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general.
After the close of the war, Kit, as we will continue to call him, found himself failing in health, the result of an accident in 1860. He was descending a steep mountain, leading his horse, when the animal slipped and fell on him, inflicting internal injury. In spite of sickness, he labored unceasingly to promote the welfare of the Indians. On the 27th of April, 1868, his wife died suddenly, leaving seven children. This threw him into the deepest dejection. In a few days, he found himself too weak to ride horseback, his lifelong pleasure. Then he took short walks around his yard. Then it was noticed that even this was too much for him; he no longer left his room. Silent and thoughtful, the hero would sit in his arm-chair all day long. Sometimes a smile would break over his face; again, the look would be one of intense concentration. Perhaps he was, in fancy, living over his life as a trapper, as hunter to Bent's Fort, or as guide for Fremont and rescuer of Kearney's command.
One morning, Kit Carson was too weak to leave his bed. The next, the 23d of May, 1868, he refused all nourishment. Towards evening, a film coated the kindly eye, and the hand responded more and more feebly to the will. It was evening. The great sun had thrown its last radiance upon the lowly couch, and was sinking behind the lonely Rockies, over which he had so often wandered. Suddenly he called out in a clear voice, "Doctor, Compadre, adios!" it was the end.
One of Nature's noblemen had passed away.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh
The History of Kit Carson
Created October 25, 2001
Web design and graphics by Kathy Leigh