The History of Bent County

by Charles W. Bowman

Chapter IV

Kit Carson

It is not the purpose in this sketch to rewrite Kit Carson's biography, but merely to present a few facts gathered from local sources, which properly form a part of the history of the times. Carson's engagement with Bent, St. Vrain & Col. has already been alluded to. Subsequent to this, his home was at Taos, from which point he accompanied the expeditions of Fremont.
   We again hear of Carson in 1859, as Indian Agent at Taos, from which it seems probable he had continued his residence there after his return from Fremont's last expedition, in 1849. His varied experience as a guide and hunter, and his intimate acquaintance with Indian character, had fitted him in an eminent degree for the post of agent. As showing his conclusions on the policy necessary to be pursued by the Government with the Indians, the subjoined extract from a letter written by him to the Superintendent of Indian affairs at Santa Fé, is apropos:

Ute Agency, Taos, N.M.
March 31, 1859

   The Indians of this agency have always depended on the chase for a subsistence, and as game is fast disappearing, and their hunting grounds either being settled by the whites, or invaded by their hereditary foes, the Indians of the plains, it behooves the General Government to do something for them if it wishes that they be perpetuated. I only know of one mode of saving them from annihilation. It is this: Remove them as far as practicable from the settlements; settle them on a reservation; give to each family a sufficiency of ground, that by its cultivation they may be able to raise produce for their maintenance; also cattle to stock their farms; have troops stationed on the reserve, not only for the purpose of guarding from their enemies but to deter them from leaving the homes the Government chooses to assign for their habitation; with Indians arrived at the age when habits of life are permanently made, compulsion to retain them on the reserve will be required; but the benefit to be received by the rising generation will justify such a course.
   I am confident that many of these Indians can be made to support themselves; but Government must render them assistance. Give good land; have comfortable houses built, and allow no persons to remain among them excepting those employed as their instructors, and such others as the Indian Department may consider uninjurious to their welfare; and, before the expiration of twenty years, the Indian, that to the Government is now a cost, will be able to render aid, etc., as any citizen.
   Liquor is the cause of great destruction to these Indians. So long as they are permitted to visit the settlements, they can always procure it. There are disreputable men living in each settlement, who, for a blanket, or in fact, any article the Indian may have, are ready to furnish liquor.
   On the 6th of this months, at the ranches, three miles from here, arrived three Jicarilla Apaches; a Mexican of said place joined them; and, I presume, entered into the traffic of liquor. He was not long in their company, when a difficulty arose. Liquor, the main cause; the consequence being that the Mexican was shot dead by one of the Indians; Indian tried to make his escape; Mexicans, hearing of the murder, and perhaps not knowing the cause, pursued him. He was overtaken and carried here, to be turned over to civil authority; died a few minutes after his arrival; cause, maltreatment from the hands of his captors. The deceased Mexican was a man of the lowest character, and the Indian the same. I have stated the circumstances to some of the principal Jicarillas, and they consider the case properly disposed of, life for a life being justice.
   Difficulties of the above description will often occur, if the Indians continue, as heretofore, in the settlements, and perhaps never again be so easily settled. If the deceased had been a Muahuache, I am satisfied that the band would, at least, have killed four or five Mexicans, and stole a number of horses to pay the friends of deceased.
   I will do all in my power to keep them out of the towns.

I have the honor to be,
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. Carson

   During the war of 1861-65, he was commissioned a Colonel of volunteers, and empowered to raise a regiment in New Mexico, under which authority he organized what became known as the New Mexico Battalion.
   In 1864, he was in command at Fort Union, and in 1865 and 1866, in command of the post at Fort Garland, holding the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. The next year, he removed his family to Boggsville. He had obtained title, under his friend St. Vrain, to two ranches on the Purgatoire, the first about one mile south of Boggsville, since purchased by Henry Kellogg; the other at the southern extremity of Nine Mile Bottom, afterward known as Maine ranch. He made some slight improvements on these ranches, but took up his residence at Boggsville, in a house belonging to Thomas O. Boggs.
   He was in poor health at the time of his arrival at Boggsville, and, on a trip to Washington that winter, contracted a severe cold, from which he was unable to rally. The trip was taken much against his will, but at the earnest solicitation of Gov. Hunt, who wished him to accompany a visiting party of Utes. He was a sufferer from heart disease, but the immediate cause of his death does not appear. During the later months of his illness, he was a guest at the house of the Post Surgeon, Dr. Tilton, at Fort Lyon. Here he was visited for several weeks by Capt. Pfeiffer, an intimate personal friend, who had commanded a company in the New Mexico Battalion. Pfeiffer remained with Carson till the death of the latter, which, as near as can be ascertained, occurred in May, 1868. His wife preceded him only a few days, and their remains were buried side by side in the garden of C.R. Rite, at Boggsville. The following winter, their bodies were taken up and removed to Taos, N.M.
   Carson's age was probably fifty-nine, though authorities conflict as to the date of his birth and of his death. In appearance, he was under the medium height, rather stooping (probably from infirmity), his hair gray, eyes blue and small, with a merry twinkle about them. He was sociable and humorous in nature, though unassuming. Among his neighbors, he took rank with such men as Zan Hicklin, L.B. Maxwell, William Bent and Thomas Boggs. He was by no means profane or rough, but was noted for gentlemanly demeanor. One of his favorite amusements was horse-racing, which he indulged in even as late as 1868.
   Carson's wife was a Baubien; her mother, a Mexican. By her were born six children, named respectively, William, Kit, Charles, Estiphena, Rebecca and Josephita. Upon the death of their parents, Thomas O. Boggs became guardian of the Carson children, and administrator of their father's estate. The children remaining unmarried are still in Mr. Bogg's family, in New Mexico, he having removed there about the year 1875. The Carson estate was appraised at about $9,000, and consisted principally of stock.
   Carson was reputed one of the best hunters in the West. It is related of him that, on a wager, he once took five balls, and, with a rifle, killed six buffalo on one run, loading his gun while his horse was at full speed – a feat which is the more conspicuous when we remember that rifles were then loaded at the muzzle, and fixed ammunition was not known. Another incident illustrates his daring, as also that of Col. Bent. The Pawnees had come to Bent's Fort and stolen a lot of horses. Carson, Bent and a Mexican started in pursuit at 10 o'clock the next morning, and rode eighty miles before dark. In the evening, snow was falling. After dark, they discovered a light in a log hut, and the stolen horses picketed close about. Waiting till 10 or 11 o'clock, they drew near, picketed their own horses, and crawled up near enough to see, through the crevices in the hut, the Indians lying around a fire. They then crawled quietly around and cut the lariats which held the stolen horses, and, by throwing snow in their faces, caused them to stampede. Quickly mounting their own, they followed, and drove the herd into the fort next morning, having ridden over one hundred and fifty miles.

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