Kit Carson Critical Context - Essay

Doris Shannon Garst

Critical Context

Based upon more modern standards for biography, Garst’s work may be less than acceptable. Besides the excessive praise for its subject and the inadequate treatment of the viewpoint of Native Americans, Kit Carson may also be charged with stereotyping. Words used in reference to Native Americans include “redskins,” “red varmints,” “Injuns,” “wily,” “cowardly,” and “slink.” Such terms are understandable when contained in the dialogue of trappers or soldiers, but Garst frequently uses these expressions in the descriptive portions of her narrative.

A defense of the book, however, is that it is written from the perspective of frontiersmen, not Native Americans. In addition, some of Garst’s other biographies do present Native Americans sympathetically. For example, Sitting Bull: Champion of His People (1946) depicts a Native American leader’s heroic attempts to check the encroachments of whites, and Crazy Horse: A Great Warrior of the Sioux (1950) describes the whites’ broken treaties and inhumanity. Concerning her own motivation for writing about the West, Garst found it a fertile and virtually inexhaustible source of material. With its ironic portrayal of the frontier explorer as the agent of his own doom, her biography of Carson fits into the tradition of classic American literature about the Old West.