Kit Carson Home/Museum?
Oh, say can you see . . .
There is no sight more stirring to a real red-blooded American than Old Glory snapping in the breeze, with its thirteen broad stripes and fifty bright stars . . . Wait a minute! That flag, the one flying day and night over the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos, NM, it only has thirty-four stars! What's going on here?
Relax -you haven't been caught up in a time warp. That really is a thirty-four star flag you see, and there's good reason for it's flying there.
The United States National 34-Star flag was adopted with the admission of Kansas, the 34th state, in January of 1861. This flag was used until 1863 when West Virginia became a state. Since the United States believed that secession from the Union was illegal, the flag continued to bear the stars of all the states of the union, even the 'rebellious' Southern states.
Serving under that flag was an illiterate 54-year old mountain man, trapper, army scout, Indian agent and explorer who, before the 'unpleasantness' between the Union and the South came to an end, rose to wear the star of a brigadier-general on his shoulder boards. And with that, you have received a somewhat rude introduction to Christopher Houston Carson.
Later to be called 'Kit' by his father, Carson was born in Madison County, Kentucky, on December 24 1809 to Lindsey, a veteran of the War of Independence, and Rebecca (Robinson) Carson. Some records list him as the sixth of ten children, while others show him as the ninth of fourteen.
When he was nine years old, Kit Carson's father died. Depending again on which record you read, Lindsey's death was either caused by a falling tree limb or occurred during an Indian raid on their then home in Boone's Lick, Howard County, Missouri.
Some five years later, Carson was apprenticed to a saddle- and harness-maker in Franklin, Missouri, at the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail. This employment proved to be too tame for his adventurous spirit and about 1826 he hired on to tend the horses, mules and oxen with a wagon train heading west on the Trail. In the then capital of the fur trade in the Southwest in Taos, New Mexico Territory, during the winter of 1826-1827, Kit Carson began learning the skills of a trapper while staying with a friend of his father's, the trapper and explorer Matthew Kinkead. At this time, although unable to read or write English, he learned and became fluent in Spanish. During the next ten years Carson also gained a working knowledge of Navajo, Apache, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute.
In the spring of 1829 Carson
signed on with Ewing Young, along with forty others, for his
first fur trapping expedition. The group travelled into unexplored
Apache country along the Gila River where it was attacked by
the Indians. During this encounter Carson, for the first time
in his life, shot and killed an attacker -he was then just twenty
years old. Young's party continued on to California, trapping
and trading from Sacramento to Los Angeles. The group returned
to Taos in April, 1830, after trapping along the Colorado River.
The success of the first expedition lead to a second expedition, in the summer of 1843, which proposed to map and describe the second half of the Oregon Trail, from South Pass to the Columbia River. Carson's services were again engaged for a journey that took them along the Great Salt Lake into Oregon, and brought them within sight of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Hood.
This second expedition,
while ultimately also a success, nearly ended in tragedy when
it became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Range that winter. It
was only through Carson's expertise that the group survived.
The expedition then moved south into the Mojave Desert, fending
off several Indian attacks
In 1854 Carson was appointed Indian agent for the Moache Ute, Jicarilla Apache and Taos Pueblo at Taos, New Mexico, a post he held until 1861 when the Civil War imposed new duties on him including assisting Ceran St. Vrain to organize the New Mexican infantry volunteers, with which organization, in 1862, he was in battle at Valverde against Confederate forces.
This same year, 1862, saw Carson in an action surrounded by controversial and conflicting reports that exist to this day, the roots of which grew from a Navajo raid on Socorro, New Mexico Territory, near the end of September, 1846.
Raiding continued sporadically through 1862, and New Mexicans were beginning to demand that something be done. The commander of the Federal District of New Mexico, Brigadier General James H. Carleton, believed that the Navajo conflict was the reason for New Mexico's "depressing backwardness." He called upon Kit Carson, by then nationally known, to help him fulfill his plans of upgrading the District.
Declaring a state of martial law, with curfews and mandatory passports for travel, Carleton then brought his authority to bear on the Navajo.
As a prelude to this campaign, Carleton decided to force the Mescalero Apache to Bosque Redondo and ordered Carson to kill all the men of that tribe.
Appalled by this brutal attitude, Carson refused to obey the order. Instead, after a campaign that lasted less than a month, he took the surrender of more than a hundred Mescalero warriors.
Learning that Carleton
was going to order him to pursue the Navajo, on February 3, 1863,
Carson tendered a letter of resignation that Carleton refused
to accept. He then issued the order for Carson to lead an expedition
against the Navajo.
No pitched battles were fought, just a few skirmishes. In January, 1864, Carson ordered troops under his command to attack the last Navajo stronghold, under the leadership of Manuelito, in Canyon de Chelly. Forced to surrender because of the destruction of their livestock and food supplies, 8,000 Navajo men, women and children began the 300-mile march to Fort Sumner and many died en route.
Despite subsequent books written and stories told by contemporary Navajo, there is ample evidence that on more than three occasions Kit Carson not only refused orders to destroy the tribe but also tendered his resignation, which was consistently set aside by his superior officers.
Rightfully proud as he was of his service to his country, Kit Carson was also very proud to be an active member of the ancient and worldwide Masonic order.
Carson was initiated in the First Degree, as an Entered Apprentice, on April 22, 1854; passed to the Second Degree, that of Fellowcraft, on June 17, 1854. He was raised to the sublime Third Degree, Master Mason, on December 26, 1854 -just two days after his 45th birthday- all in Montezuma Lodge #101, located in the city of Santa Fe, Santa Fe Territory.
By 1859, some seventeen years after Carson first established himself in the New Mexico Territory community of Taos, there were at least ten other Masons living there or nearby. On November 16, 1859, these men, including Carson, after applying for and receiving a dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Missouri, became the Charter Members of Bent Lodge #204 Ancient Free & Accepted Masons. Kit Carson was the new Lodge's first Junior Warden, the third-ranking elected officer, and the following year was moved up to Senior Warden. Due to his service in the US Army during both the Mexican and the Civil Wars, Brother Carson was never able to sit as Master of the Lodge.
Upon the surrender of the Bent Lodge charter in 1864 -most of the members then being involved with the Civil War- Brother Carson re-affiliated with Montezuma Lodge. (In 1909 the Grand Lodge of New Mexico Territory issued a charter for Bent Lodge #42 AF&AM. The Lodge is still open and active in Taos, NM and owns the home of Kit and Josefa Carson, now operated as the Kit Carson Home and Museum by an independent 501(c)(3) corporation.)
In 1865, cited for gallantry and distinguished service, Carson was promoted to Brigadier General. In the summer of 1866, he took command of Fort Garland, Colorado. Ill health, however, forced him to resign the following year and, in 1868 he and his family moved to Boggsville, near present-day La Junta, Colorado.
On May 23, 1868, at 4:25
of the afternoon, while in the Fort Lyon quarters of Assistant
US Surgeon H. K. Tilden, Kit Carson suffered the rupture of an
aneurysm in his trachea. As blood gushed from his mouth, Carson
said, "Doctor, compadre, adios." A few minutes after
these words, the flag at the southern Colorado Territory fort
was lowered to half-staff -Christopher Houston Carson was dead.
© 2012 (with all rights
reserved) by Kit Carson Home and Museum