Kit Carson Park on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail

Kit Carson Park is located at the corner of Kansas Ave. and San Pedro Street in Trinidad, overlooking a route of the Santa Fe Trail. The park, which was dedicated in 1910, boasts a new playground as well as a historic bandstand which was restored in 2001. The Victorian Bandstand is available to rent for special events. The park also contains a cast bronze statue of Kit Carson. This heroic bronze sculpture by Augustus Lukeman and Frederic Roth (completed in 1912), is widely considered to be the finest equestrian statue in North America. The statue honors Kit Carson, who knew the Purgatory Valley well in the years before the town of Trinidad came into being.

Born on Christmas eve in 1809, Carson spent most of his early childhood in Boone's Lick, Missouri. His father died when he was only nine years old, and the need to work prevented Kit from ever receiving an education. He was apprenticed to a saddle-maker when he turned fourteen, but left home for the Santa Fe, New Mexico area in 1826. Kit Carson became known as a mountain man, rancher, scout, Indian fighter and army officer. In 1828 at age 16, he made his first trip across the plains to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He then came to Taos New Mexico, where he lived for most of his life.

"Kit Carson Fame Achieved Locally" by Richard Louden

In the winter of 1833 he and a group of companions were trapping the Arkansas River in a camp near present day Pueblo. One night at this camp, a party of about 50 Crow Indians slipped in and stole some of their horses. Early the next morning, Carson and eight men, upon discovering their loss picked up the trail of the thieves north-westward through the deep snow. Carson discovered them at twilight forted in two adjacent camps near present day Colorado Springs. As night closed in, the trappers watched the Crows celebrating their successful horse raid. The Crows were dancing and singing in the firelight. When they finally tired of the celebration and settled into slumber, the trappers moved in. Crawling through the snow, six of the men cut loose the horses and by throwing snowballs at them, were able to drive the horses to the location where the other three men were holding the horses they were riding.

While several of the little party were in favor of taking the retrieved horses and heading back, the impetuous young Kit and some of his more hot-headed companions felt the Crows should undergo some further punishment in order to discourage other horse raids. This course prevailed, and six of the men again crept through the snow while the other three stayed with the horses. Barking dogs alerted the sleeping Indians this time, and a general melee erupted. The mountain men succeeded in wounding and killing enough of the raiders that they retreated to the other part of their camp, and the attackers rejoined the horse holders. By this time the night was fading, and it was getting light enough that the regrouped Crows could see how small the party of Whites actually was and they launched an attack upon the trappers. The result was the loss of five more men by the Crows. At this point both sides were ready to cease the hostilities and the trappers left the chastened horse thieves and headed back to camp with the recaptured horses.

This same winter of 1833, Carson, along with Joe Meek, Levin Mitchell and three Delaware Indians, somewhere south of their Arkansas River camp, were surrounded by an estimated 200 Comanches. With no chance for escape, they immediately cut the throats of the mules they were riding and formed a fort with their bodies. The smell of the abundant fresh mule blood seemed to prevent the Indian horses from getting too close, and by using the proven frontier tactic of never firing at the same time so as to be able to always offer the threat of a loaded weapon, they managed to keep the Comanches at a safe distance. During the night they were able to maneuver an escape in the darkness and walked back to camp.

 

In 1841, he worked as a hunter for Bent's Fort, which was a private owned trading post about 90 miles east of Trinidad, along the Santa Fe Trail. In 1842, he served as a guide for army Lieutenant John Charles Fremont and also led an army commanded by General Stephen Watts Kearny to California. From 1846 to 1865 he scouted for the army and fought against Apaches, Navajo, Kiowas and Comanches during the Indian uprisings along the Santa Fe Trail.

During the 1830s, trapping throughout the Northwest, from Colorado to Oregon, with the Blackfeet Indians as his main adversary, Kit survived dozens of perilous episodes such as the ones in Colorado. He was miraculously wounded only once, even though many of his contemporaries had "gone under." His survival, comparatively unscathed, despite his impetuous daring and tendency to always be in the thick of things, can only be attributed to his cool, careful action unerring aim and a large measure of luck. By 1842 his Arapaho wife had died leaving him with a daughter to raise and his Cheyenne wife had promptly divorced him according to tribal customs, simply taking her belongings and moving out. He was ready to abandon the mountain man life. He joined the Catholic Church in 1842 and the following year married Josepha Jaramillo of a prominent Taos family.

That same year, with his reputation as an experienced mountain man with a vast knowledge of Western geography, he was employed by the explorer, John Charles Fremont as a guide, opening up a new career that earned him great renown and eventually propelled him into a military career and distinguished service as an Indian agent. As a military man he occupied a unique niche as a Brigadier General who could neither read nor write and could barely manage to sign a C. Carson for his name. Since the army had no provisions for providing a secretary for its officers, an "interpreter" was employed to handle his reading and writing.

His valuable qualities were early recognized and appreciated by the military. Before he began his career as an officer, he was used extensively as a guide and bearer of dispatches. One of his guiding episodes is very closely related to the local scene, happening in 1854. In a campaign to chastise the Jicarillo Apaches, who had become quite unruly during this period, Carson was employed as a guide for Major James Carleton. They pursued the Jicarillos through the Colorado mountains and down the Huerfano River where they turned south toward their old haunts in the Trinidad area. Late in the afternoon, the pursuers surprised the Apaches in a camp south of the Purgatoire river at the northern approach to Fisher's Peak. The troops killed several Jicarillos and captured about 40 horses, but the Indians quickly disappeared into the brush and rugged terrain on the east side of Fisher's Peak. The troops moved back for the night and cautiously resumed the pursuit the next morning, staying concealed as much as possible. During the morning the scouts picked up a trail and upon examining it, Kit informed Carleton that, barring an accident, they should catch up with the Indians by two o'clock. Somewhat surprised by this kind of a prediction, Carleton told Carson that should this prediction turn out to be correct he would be provided with the best hat New York had to offer. Carson's timing proved to be right on schedule and the Jicarillos were administered a great chastisement as they attempted to escape again into the rugged terrain. True to his word, the records show the major ordered a fine hat from New York, and presented it to Carson.

A quiet, modest, soft-spoken man of unquestioned courage and determination, Carson vigorously fought the Native American groups who opposed him during much of his career, but showed and expressed great compassion for them in their years of defeat and while being forced into the molds of a completely different culture. He became a perhaps unexpected sympathizer and spokesman for their rights. This remarkable American hero left his mark and his name throughout the Western United States and a fair portion of his fame was achieved in our back yard.

 

 

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