Form and Content
In Kit Carson: Trail Blazer and Scout, Doris Shannon Garst sketches Carson’s struggle to compensate for his small stature, which resulted in his rise to national fame. Although they are not made explicit, several major divisions provide structure to Garst’s twenty-five-chapter narrative, which is often based upon accounts told by Carson himself or upon reports by the explorer John C. Fremont.
In discussing Carson’s childhood in Missouri, Garst speculates that Carson intuitively realized that he would fulfill an important destiny. Unfortunately, at fifteen, he was apprenticed to a saddle maker in the town of Franklin—a life hardly suitable for a lad dreaming of adventure. Consequently, he ran away, having a one-cent reward offered for his return. Thus began Carson’s true apprenticeship on the Santa Fe Trail and as a novice trapper and trader under the tutelage of such figures as Charles Bent and Jim Bridger. During this coming-of-age, Carson hunted buffalo, suffered thirst in the Dry Cimarron, and finally reached Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, the latter town providing him a permanent sense of home throughout his life. After an expedition against the Apaches and a sojourn in California, his self-confidence in-creased, as others found him reliable despite his unimpressive demeanor. His initiation completed, Carson became a bona fide “mountain man” capable of wintering in the wild, and he gained further military prowess in constant skirmishes with various tribes, although Garst emphasizes that he attacked only when provoked. Eventually, he married an Arapaho woman, Waa-nibe, and they had a daughter named Adaline.
By 1838, Garst notes that the fur trade was dead, silk had replaced the beaver in men’s hats, and Carson’s life accordingly took a new turn. Upon Waa-nibe’s death and Adaline’s placement in a convent school, Carson met the explorer John C. Fremont and was persuaded to become his guide. Serving on three expeditions and aiding Fremont in seizing California in 1846, he participated in the Mexican War and also remarried, this time to Maria Josepha Jaramillo, who was from a prominent Taos family.
Although Carson was embroiled in the struggle between Fremont and U.S. General Stephen Kearny over the governorship of California, Fremont’s laudatory correspondence to authorities in Washington, D.C., clinched Carson’s fame. Given a military commission and later appointed an Indian agent, Carson could never rust unburnished in the settlements. His last two decades witnessed campaigns against Native Americans and service for the Union in the Civil War, but the capstone of his career occurred in 1864 at the great battle with Kiowa and Comanche forces around Adobe Walls, Texas. Although the Native Americans won, Carson’s caution saved his command from annihilation. Following the death of his second wife, Carson died in 1868. Besides the action-filled narrative, Kit Carson also contains black-and-white illustrations, a bibliography, and an index. Perhaps the most helpful aid, however, is the glossary defining the patois of the trappers.