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Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man strikes a balance between prevailing notions about this ...
Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man strikes a balance between prevailing notions about this quintessential western figure. Whereas the dime novelists exploited Carson's popular reputation, Remley reveals that the real man was dependable, ethical, and—for his day—relatively open-minded. Sifting through the extensive scholarship about Kit, the author illuminates the key dimensions of Carson's life, including his often neglected Scots-Irish heritage. His people's dire poverty and restlessness, their clannish rural life and sternly Protestant character, committed Carson, like his Scots-Irish ancestors, to loyalty and duty and to following his leader into battle without question.
Remley also places Carson in the context of his times by exploring his controversial relations with American Indians. Although despised for the merciless warfare he led on General James H. Carleton's behalf against the Navajos, Carson lived amicably among many Indian people, including the Utes, whom he served as U.S. government agent. Happily married to Waa-Nibe, an Arapaho woman, until her death, he formed a lasting friendship with their daughter, Adaline.
Remley sees Carson as a complicated man struggling to master life on America's borders, those highly unstable areas where people of different races, cultures, and languages met, mixed, and fought, sometimes against each other, sometimes together, for the possession of home, hunting rights, and honor.
A fair-minded, sympathetic reappraisal of the Kentucky-born mountain man who was more of a guide and trapper than killer of Indians.
Legends of wild frontiersman Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson (1809–1868) sprang up by the mid-1850s. Remley demonstrates (Bell Ranch: Cattle Ranching in the Southwest, 1824–1947, 1993, etc.) that most of these legends had little grounding in fact. From the time he ran off from his apprenticeship at a saddle shop in Franklin, Mo., to his death at his last home in Fort Lyon, Colo., Carson was a man of action, making his livelihood as a trapper, guide, government scout and Indian agent. He was also illiterate, and dictated his early exploits in 1856 while living in Taos, N.M., with his third wife and numerous children. Later, his tales were imaginatively exploited in dime-store potboilers feeding Eastern readers' taste for the lurid. Remley attempts to shade in a more complex portrait of this anti-hero, less as a "simpleminded rascal with a rifle" who had helped lead the Navajo removal in Arizona and New Mexico, and more as a conduit between the whites and Indians, a man who learned Indian languages and had Indian wives. The author depicts Carson as very much a product of his Scots-Irish upbringing—from a large family of hardscrabble migrant farmers, clannish, fierce under attack, loyal to strong leaders. Having moved with his family from Kentucky to Missouri, Carson lost his father when the boy was eight, and he grew rebellious and independent. Traders to the saddle shop at Franklin, located at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, fueled his imagination, and he soon ran away to join a scouting party headed into the Rocky Mountains. Trading beaver skins was more profitable than gold, and his sure-shot survival skills attracted the likes of Lt. John C. Frémont, and later Gen. James H. Carleton, on government expeditions out West. Remley is a skillful narrator of this true-grit life.
With a biographical essay and index, this proves a solid, clear-eyed history lesson in the making of the Wild West.
List of Illustrations xi
Series Editor's Preface xiii
1 A Young Boy in the Schoolhouse 3
2 The Only Use for a Saddle 25
3 Better Exchanges Than Gold 44
4 "Shuch Thing Never Has Been Known until Late" 66
5 A Clear Steady Blue Eye 88
6 "Life Yet, Life Yet" 111
7 "I Done So" 147
8 "Burn the Damn Thing" 173
9 "I Do Not Wish to Incur Any Debts" 194
10 "My Duty as Well as Happiness" 218
11 Just Another Call to Duty 240
Bibliographical Essay 263