THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF KIT CARSON, THE NESTOR OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, FROM FACTS NARRATED BY HIMSELF
DE WITT C. PETERS, M.D., Late Assistant Surgeon U.S.A.
With Original Illustrations, Drawn by Lumley, Engraved by N. Orr & Co.
New York: W.R.C. Clark & Co., 348 Broadway. W.H. Tinson, Stereotyper and Printer, Rear of 43 & 45 Centre Street, N.Y.
"All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body nature is, and God the soul."
COL. CERAN ST. VRAIN,
OF NEW MEXICO.
You were first among the brave mountaineers to discover and direct the manly energy, extraordinary natural ability, and unyielding courage which have attached to the subject of this volume; and, as among the first Americans who put foot on the Rocky Mountains, you are perhaps best acquainted with the history of the men, who, for fifty years, have lived there. CHRISTOPHER CARSON, after a long life, now crowned with successful and honorable achievements, still looks upon you, sir, as his earliest patron, and places your name on the list of his warmest friends. Through a life of unusual activity and duration, which, reflecting honor and renown upon your name, has given you a distinguished position among your countrymen, you have never been known to forget a duty to your fellow man.
For these considerations, the dedication of this volume to you cannot but appear appropriate. That he may continue to merit a place in your confidence and esteem is the earnest desire of
* * * * *
FERNANDEZ DE TAOS, NEW MEXICO.
We, the undersigned citizens of the Territory of New Mexico, have been acquainted with Mr. CHRISTOPHER CARSON for a number of years, indeed almost from the time of his first arrival in the country. We have been his companions both in the mountains and as a private citizen. We are also acquainted with the fact that for the past few months, during his leisure hours, he has been engaged dictating his life. This is, to our certain knowledge, the only authentic biography of himself and his travels that has ever been written. We heartily recommend THIS BOOK to the reading community for perusal, as it presents a life out of the usual routine of business, and is checkered with adventures which have tried this bold and daring man. We are cognizant of most of the details of the book, and vouch for their accuracy.
CERAN ST. VRAIN, LIEUT. COL. N.M. VOLUNTEERS.
CHARLES BEAUBIEN, LATE CIRCUIT JUDGE.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
The pages here presented to the public form a book of facts. They unfold for the student, as does no other work yet extant, the great interior wilderness of the territories belonging to the United States. The scenic views, though plainly colored and wrought by the hand of an unpretending artist, inasmuch as they portray a part of the North American continent which is unsurpassed by any other country on the face of the earth, will not fail to interest the American public. In addition to this, the reader is introduced to an intimate acquaintance with the Indian races of the countries which He east and west of the Rocky Mountains. The savage warrior and hunter is presented, stripped of all the decorations with which writers of fiction have dressed him. He is seen in his ferocity and gentleness, in his rascality and nobility, in his boyhood, manhood, and old age, and in his wisdom and ignorance. The attentive reader will learn of his approximations to truth, his bundle of superstitions, his acts at home and on the war path, his success while following the buffalo and engaging the wild Rocky Mountain bear, that terror of the western wilderness. He will also behold him carrying devastation to the homes of the New Mexican settlers, and freely spilling their best blood to satiate a savage revenge. He will see him attacking and massacring parties of the white men traveling across the prairies, and trace him in his savage wars with the early settlers and frontiersmen.
In order to acquire these important data that they might be added to the pages of American history and form a reliable record, it was necessary that some brave, bold and determined man should become an actor on the scenes and among the races described. Such an actor has been, and yet is, Christopher Carson, the Nestor of the Rocky Mountains; and, it is the experience, as well as the acts, of his stirring life, which the following pages present.
In olden times there existed, in the Rocky Mountains, a race familiarly known by the name of "Trappers and Hunters." They are now almost extinct. Their history has not yet been written. Pen paintings, drawn from the imagination, founded upon distant views of their exploits and adventures, have occasionally served, as do legends, to "adorn a tale." The volume now offered to the public, gives their history as related by one whose name as a trapper and hunter of the "Far West," stands second to none; by a man, who, for fifteen years, saw not the face of a white woman, or slept under a roof; who, during those long years, with his rifle alone, killed over two thousand buffalo, between four and five thousand deer, antelope and elk, besides wild game, such as bears, wild turkeys, prairie chickens, etc., etc. in numbers beyond calculation. On account of their originality, daring and interest, the real facts, concerning this race of trappers and hunters, will be handed down to posterity as matters belonging to history.
As is the case with the Indian, the race of the "Simon Pure Trapper" is nearly run. The advance of civilization, keeping up its untiring march to the westward, is daily encroaching upon their wild haunts and bringing the day close at hand when warrior and trapper will depart forever to their "Happy Hunting Grounds."
With the extinction of the great fur companies, the trappers of "Olden Time" disbanded and separated.
The greatest number of these men, to be found at the present day, reside in the Territory of New Mexico; which, in the time of their prosperity, was the country where they located their head quarters. In this Territory, Christopher Carson now resides. His name, in the Rocky Mountains, has been familiarly known for more than a quarter of a century; and, from its association with the names of great explorers and military men, is now spread throughout the civilized world. It has been generally conceded, and the concession has become strengthened by time, that no small share of the benefits derived from these explorations and campaigns, as well as the safety of the commands themselves, was and is due to the sagacity, skill, experience, advice and labor of Christopher Carson. The exploring parties, and expeditions here referred to, are those which he accompanied in the capacity of chief guide and adviser.
His sober habits, strict honor, and great regard for truth, have endeared him to all who can call him friend; and, among such may be enumerated names belonging to some of the most distinguished men whose deeds are recorded on the pages of American history. His past life has been a mystery which this book will unveil. Instead of Kit Carson as by imagination—a bold braggart and reckless, improvident hero of the rifle—he will appear a retired man, and one who is very reserved in his intercourse with others. This fact, alone, will account for the difficulty which has hitherto attended presenting the public with an accurate history of his life.
A few years since, the writer of this work first met Christopher Carson. It needed neither a second introduction, nor the assistance of a friendly panegyric, to enable him to discover in Christopher Carson those traits of manhood, which are esteemed by the great and good to be distinguishing ornaments of character. This acquaintance ripened into a friendship of the purest stamp. Since then, the writer has been the intimate friend and, companion of Christopher Carson, at his home, in the wild scenes of the chase, on the war trail, and upon the field of battle. For a long period, in common with hundreds—and, we might with truth add, thousands, the writer has desired to see Christopher Carson's wonderful career made public for the world of readers; but, while this idea was germinating in his brain, he did not, for an instant, flatter himself that the pleasant task would ever be assigned to him. Finally, however, at the urgent solicitation of many personal friends, Christopher Carson dictated the facts upon which this book is written. They were then placed in the writer's hands, with instructions to add to them such information as had fallen under his observation, during quite extensive travels over a large part of the wide expanse of country, which has been Christopher Carson's theatre for action.
The book is a book of solid truth; therefore, the faults in the style, arrangement and composition, become affairs of minor consideration. For this reason, the writer makes no apologies to embarrass the critics.
Christopher Carson, physically, is small in stature, but of compact frame-work. He has a large and finely developed head, a twinkling grey eye, and hair of a sandy color, which he wears combed back a la Franklin mode. His education having been much neglected in his youth, he is deficient in theoretical learning. By natural abilities, however, he has greatly compensated for this defect. He speaks the French and Spanish languages fluently, besides being a perfect master of several Indian dialects. In Indian customs, their manners, habits and the groundwork of their conduct, no man on the American continent is better skilled.
The writer, while on a foreign tour, once had the opportunity and pleasure of hearing Gordon Cumming and other hunters of less note, discourse on their hunting exploits; furthermore, in our own country, while seated around camp-fires and in log houses, he has listened to the adventures of ancient and modern Nimrods in the chase; besides these facts, he has both seen and read much of hunting exploits; but, no hunter ever filled his fancy so perfectly, as does Christopher Carson, a man who acts and never boasts.
Without further comment, the reader is presented with the work, while the writer cherishes the hope, that the facts, which for the first time are given to the world, will prove to be both interesting and important as jottings of history.
The author begs leave to return to his friend, C. HATCH SMITH, A.M., of Brooklyn, New York, his acknowledgment for valuable assistance in revising, correcting and arranging his manuscript.
196 Twenty-third street, New York.
Carson's Birthplace—His Emigration to Missouri—Early Prospects—Is an Apprentice—Stories of the Rocky Mountains—He Enlists to go there—Adventures on the Prairies—Broaders is Wounded—Carson's Nerve put to the Test—Rude Amputation—Safe Arrival at Santa Fe—Goes to Taos and learns the Spanish Language—Early Vicissitudes—Disappointment and Attempt to return to Missouri—Is employed as an Interpreter, Teamster, etc., 13
The news of the Defeat of Mr. Young's Trapping Party by the Indians reaches Taos—Young raises a Party to chastise the Indians—Kit Carson becomes a Conspicuous Member of the Expedition—The Indians are found on Salt River—The Fight—Trapping Exploits—A new Country—Trials and Vicissitudes—Sacramento Valley—California and its Roman Catholic Missions in 1829—Another Indian Fight—Sale of Furs—Indian Depredations—Kit Carson and Twelve Trappers engage with the Indians in a Battle—Return to the Camp with recovered Property, 30
The Return from California to New Mexico—San Fernando and the Peublo of Los Angelos—Description of these Peublos—Passports demanded at Los Angelos—Trouble with the Mexican Authorities—Kit Carson sent on with the Pack Animals—One Trapper shoots another—The Mexicans become frightened—Indians come into Camp with their Weapons concealed—Cool Reception, by Kit Carson—Arrival at Santa Fe and Taos—Money realized soon parted with—Carson joins another Expedition—The Rivers trapped on—Four Men Killed by Blackfeet Indians—Kit Carson joins Gaunt's Party—The Parks—Winter Quarters—Crow Indian Depredations—Kit Carson and his Party in Pursuit—the Fight—Winter on the Arkansas—Another Expedition—Two Deserters—Kit Carson sent in Pursuit—The Fate of the Runaways—Adventures with Indians—Hair-breadth Escape made by Kit Carson, 42
Kit Carson and two Companions plan a Hunt for themselves—The Great Success met with—Return to Taos—Sale of the Beaver Fur—Kit Carson joins Captain Lee and goes on a Trading Expedition—Winter Quarters—Kit Carson is sent in Pursuit of a Thief—Overtakes and is obliged to shoot the Runaway—Property recovered—The Return to Camp—The Sale of Goods—Kit Carson joins Fitzpatrick and Party—Kit Carson organizes a Hunting Party—His Encounter with two Grizzly Bears—The Summer Rendezvous—Kit Carson joins fifty Trappers and goes to the Country of the Blackfeet Indians—Annoyances received from these Indians—Winter Quarters in 1832—Horses Stolen—Kit Carson and eleven Men in Pursuit—A Parley—A Fight—Kit Carson severely wounded—His great Sufferings and Fortitude—His Convalescence—The Retreat—A New Expedition—A Braggadocio—Kit Carson Fights a Duel and Wounds his man—Duels in the Rocky Mountains in Olden Times, 68
The Fall Hunt—McCoy of the Hudson's Bay Company organizes a Trapping Party which Kit Carson joins—The Hunt—Scarcity of Beaver on Humboldt River—The Party is divided—Kit Carson with a majority of the Men goes to Fort Hall—Hardships and Privations met with—Buffalo Hunt—All their Animals stolen in the Night by a Party of Blackfeet Indians—Arrival of McCoy from Fort Walla Walla—The Rendezvous—Kit Carson joins a strong Band—The Small Pox among the Blackfeet Indians—The Crow Indians on good terms with the Whites—Intense Cold—Immense Herds of Buffalo—Danger of their goring to death the Horses—The Spring Hunt—The Blackfeet Indian Village overtaken—A desperate Fight with these Indians—The Rendezvous—Sir William Stuart and a favorite Missionary—Kit Carson goes on a Trading Expedition to the Navajoe Indians—The Return—He accepts the post of Hunter of the Trading Post at Brown's Hole, 106
Bridger and Carson trapping on the Black Hills—The Main Camp—The Rendezvous—Winter Quarters on the Yellow Stone—Carson with forty men in a desperate fight with the Blackfeet Indians—A Council—Sentinel posted—One Thousand Warriors come to punish the Trappers—The War Dance—The Courage of the Savages deserts them—Winter Quarters—The Spring Hunt—Another Fight with the Blackfeet—Continued Annoyances—The Trappers abandon the Country—The Rocky Mountains and Alps compared—Other Trapping Expeditions—Beaver becoming scarce—Prices of Fur reduced—Kit Carson and the Trappers give up their Vocation—The Journey to Bent's Fort—Mitchell the Mountaineer—His Eccentricities, 127
Kit Carson is employed as Hunter to Bent's Fort—His Career for Eight Years—Messrs. Bent and St. Vrain—The commencement of his Acquaintance with John C. Fremont on a Steamboat—Is employed as a Guide by the Great Explorer—The Journey—Arrival at Fort Laramie—Indian Difficulties—The business of the Expedition completed—Return to Fort Laramie—Kit Carson goes to Taos and is married—He is employed as Hunter to a Train of Wagons bound for the States—Meeting with Captain Cook and four companies of U.S. Dragoons on Walnut Creek—Mexicans in Trouble—Kit Carson carries a Letter for them to Santa Fe—Indians on the Route—His safe Arrival—Amijos' advance Guard massacred by the Texians—The one Survivor—The Retreat—Kit Carson returns to Bent's Fort—His Adventures with the Utahs and narrow escape from Death—The Texians disarmed—The Express Ride performed, 147
Kit Carson visits Fremont's Camp—Goes on the Second Exploring Expedition—The Necessary Arrangements—Trip to Salt Lake—Explorations there—Carson is dispatched to Fort Hall for Supplies—Their Operations at Salt Lake—The Great Island—The Journey to the Columbia River in Oregon—Incidents on the Route—Tlamath Lake—The Journey to California—The Trials and Privations met with while crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains—Mr. Preuss is lost but finds the Party again—Arrival at Sutter's Fort in a Destitute Condition—Two of the Party become deranged—The Route on the Return Trip—Mexicans come into their Camp asking Aid and Protection—Indian Depredations—Carson and Godey start on a Daring Adventure—The Pursuit—The Thieves overtaken—These Two White Men attack Thirty Indians—The Victory—Horses retaken—The Return to Camp—One of their Companions killed—The Journey continued—Arrival at Bent's Fort—The "Fourth of July" Dinner, 178
Kit Carson concludes to become a Farmer—He is joined in the Enterprise by a Friend—They build a Ranche on the Cimeron River—Descriptions of Mexican Customs and Country—Fremont once more at Bent's Fort—Express sent for Kit Carson to join the Expedition as Guide—The Ranche Sold, and the Departure—The Third Expedition and its Explorations—Difficulties with the Mexican-Californians—General Castro's Orders to leave the Country—Determination to Fight—Fremont goes to Lawson's Fort—Fremont and his Men encounter a Thousand Indians—The Battle and the Victory—The news that War had been declared between the United States and Mexico reaches Fremont—Lieutenant Gillespie rescued from the Indians—Three of the party killed in the Night by Indians—The Savages repulsed—The Burial of Comrades, 232
Fremont en route for California—His men are anxious to punish the Tlamath Indians—Kit Carson, in command of ten Men, is sent on ahead to reconnoitre—He discovers the main Village of these Indians—The Attack and the Victory—Beautiful Lodges—The Trophies mostly destroyed—Fremont saves Kit Carson's Life—The Journey resumed—The Sacramento Valley—An Indian Ambuscade—One Savage defies the Party—Kit Carson shoots him—The Tlamath Indians still on the War Path—Another Lesson given to them—A Thief is shot—Arrival at Lawson's Trading Post—A period of Inactivity—A Detachment sent to capture Sonoma—Prisoners taken—The Mexicans come to punish the Americans—Their Courage deserts them—The Retreat—The Pursuit—Fremont goes to Sutter's Fort and establishes a Military Post—Monterey is taken by the American Squadron—Fremont marches there—Further Operations—The taking of Los Angelos, 261
Kit Carson is sent Overland as Bearer of Dispatches to Washington—The Preparation and the Start—The Journey—Privations and Sufferings—Meeting with General Kearney—The General takes Carson as his Guide and sends on the Dispatches by Fitzpatrick—The March—Arrival at Warner's Ranche—Mexicans on the Road—Preparations for a Battle—The Battle—Disastrous Consequences—Kit Carson and Lieutenant Beale offer to run the lines of the Mexican Sentinels and carry Information to San Diego of Kearney's critical position—The Daring Undertaking—The Sufferings they encountered—Their Arrival—Reinforcements sent out—Lieutenant Beale is Delirious from the Privations he has undergone—Gen. Kearney and his Command finally reach and join the other American Forces in California, 274
A Command of Six Hundred Men is sent against Los Angelos—The Mexican Army evacuates the Town—Its Capture—Rumors of an Attack to be made on Fremont's Command—The Mexicans surrender—The Winter Quarters—Kit Carson is ordered to carry Dispatches overland to Washington—Lieutenant Beale accompanies him—A Night Attack made by the Indians—Arrival in the United States—Kit Carson's Introduction to Col. Benton and Mrs. Fremont—Hospitality offered to him at Washington—Kit Carson receives the Appointment of Lieutenant in the Rifle Corps of the U.S. Army from President Polk—He is ordered to carry Dispatches to California—The Journey—A Brush with the Camanche Indians—Arrival at Santa Fe—More trouble with hostile Indians—Arrival at Los Angelos—Dispatches delivered—Kit Carson is assigned to do Duty with the Dragoons—Is ordered to Guard Tajon Pass—The Winter spent there—Is ordered again to carry Dispatches to Washington—The Journey and its Adventures—The return to New Mexico, 297
Kit Carson at his Home—The Apache Indians become hostile—An Expedition sent against them—It is not successful—Another is organized, with which, Kit Carson goes as Guide—Two Indian Chiefs captured—Other Incidents of the Trip—Colonel Beall attempts to force the Indians to give up Mexican Captives—Two thousand Savages on the Arkansas River—The Visit to them—Kit Carson emigrates and builds a Ranche at Rayado—Description of the Valley—The Massacre of a Santa Fe Merchant—His Wife is made Prisoner—The Expedition sent to rescue her—The Indians overtaken—Bad Counsel and Management—The commanding Officer wounded—Mrs. White's Body found—Severe Snow-storm on the Plains—One Man frozen to Death—Kit Carson returns to Rayado—The occupation of a Farmer resumed—The Apaches steal from the Settlers nearly all their Animals—Kit Carson with thirteen others in the Pursuit—The Surprise—A running Fight—The Animals recovered—A gallant Sergeant and his Fate—Kit Carson and Goodel go on a Trading Expedition to meet California Emigrants at Fort Laramie—Humorous Adventures—The Dangers that beset the Road to New Mexico—Hair-breadth Escape—Arrival at Taos, 322
Kit Carson reaches Home—Himself and Neighbors robbed by the Apaches—Major Grier goes in Pursuit of, and recaptures the stolen Stock—A Plot organized by White Men to murder two Santa Fe Traders for their Money—The Disclosure—Kit Carson goes to the Rescue of the Traders—The Camp of United States Recruits—Captain Snell with twenty Men joins Kit Carson and they two make the Arrest of Fox—Gratitude expressed by the Traders—Money offered but refused—The Prisoner taken to Taos and incarcerated—Kit Carson receives a magnificent Pair of Revolvers as a Present from the grateful Traders—The return to Rayado—A Trading Expedition to the United States—The return Journey—An Encounter with the Cheyenne Indians—A State of Suspense—The Deliverance from Danger by a Message sent by a Mexican Runner—The arrival at Rayado, 361
Kit Carson's last Trapping Expedition—He embarks in a Speculation—His Trip to California with a large Flock of Sheep—The Method employed by Mexicans in driving Herds and their Dexterity—Kit Carson goes to San Francisco—Its wonderful Growth—Maxwell joins Kit Carson at Sacramento City—The Lucky Speculation—The Return Trip to New Mexico and its Adventures—The Mormon Delegate to Congress informs Kit Carson of his Appointment as Indian Agent—Kit Carson enters upon the Duties of his Office—Bell's Fight with the Apaches on Red River—Kit Carson's Interview with the same Indian—High-handed Measures on the Part of the Apaches—Davidson's desperate Fight with them—The Soldiers defeated with severe loss—Davidson's Bravery is unjustly questioned—Kit Carson's Opinion of it—The Apaches elated by their Victory—Their Imitations of the Actions of Military Men, 389
A fresh Campaign set on foot—Col. Cook in Command—Kit Carson goes as Guide—The Apaches and Utahs leagued together—The Roughness of the Country and the Privations to which the Command was exposed—The Indians overhauled—A running Fight—The Advantages gained—The Chase resumed—The Apaches resort to their old Tricks—Col. Cook is obliged to return to Abiquiu—A Utah taken Prisoner through Mistake—Kit Carson goes to Taos and has a Conference with the Chiefs of the Utah Nation—Cook's second Scout—He is caught in a furious Snow-storm and obliged to return to Rio Colorado—Major Brooks and Reinforcements come to the Rescue—Major Brooks on the Lookout, but fails to find the Indians—Carleton's Expedition—Kit Carson goes with it as Guide—The Adventures met with—Kit Carson's Prophecy comes true—The Muache Band of Utahs summoned by Kit Carson to a Grand Council—Troubles brewing among these Indians—The Small Pox carries off their Head Men, 434
The Commencement of a formidable Indian War—High-handed Measures on the Part of the Indians—The Governor of New Mexico raises five hundred Mexican Volunteers and places them under the Command of Colonel St. Vrain—Colonel Fauntleroy placed in Command of all the Forces—Kit Carson is chosen as Chief Guide—The Campaign commenced—The Trail found—The Indians are met and the first Fight and its Consequences—An Excitement in Camp—The Indians again overtaken—The return to Fort Massachusetts—Intense Cold Weather experienced—The Second Campaign—Colonel Fauntleroy surprises the Main Camp of the Enemy—The War and Scalp Dance broken up—Terrible Slaughter of the Indians—The Great Amount of Plunder taken and destroyed—Another small Party of Indians surprised and routed—St. Vrain equally fortunate in his Campaign—The Indians sue for Peace—The Council held and Treaties signed—Kit Carson opposes the making of them—The poor Protection Indian Treaties usually afford to Settlers—Kit Carson's House at Taos and his Indian Friends—His Attachment for his Family put to the test—Cowardice of a Mexican—Kit Carson's Friends as they look upon him—His influence over Indians—General remarks—Conclusion, 466
LIFE OF KIT CARSON.
Carson's Birthplace—His Emigration to Missouri—Early Prospects—Is an Apprentice—Stories of the Rocky Mountains—He Enlists to go there—Adventures on the Prairies—Broaders is Wounded—Carson's Nerve put to the Test—Rude Amputation—Safe Arrival at Santa Fe—Goes to Taos and learns the Spanish Language—Early Vicissitudes—Disappointment and Attempt to return to Missouri—Is employed as an Interpreter, Teamster, etc.
It is now a well-established fact, that no State in the American Union has given birth to so many distinguished pioneers and explorers of its boundless Territories, as the commonwealth of Kentucky. An Author, whose task is to tell of a Hero, his bravery, endurance, privations, integrity, self-denial and deeds of daring, carries the morale with which to gain at once for these characteristics the assent of the reader, by the simple assertion, "My Hero was born a Kentuckian." Indeed, in America, to be a native of the State of Kentucky, is to inherit all the attributes of a brave man, a safe counsellor and a true friend. It is, at least, certain that this State, whether the fact is due to its inland and salubrious climate, or to its habits of physical training, has added many a Hero unto humanity.
Christopher Carson, by his countrymen familiarly called "Kit Carson," was born in the County of Madison, State of Kentucky, on the 24th day of December, 1809. The Carson family were among the first settlers of Kentucky, and became owners of fine farms. Besides being an industrious and skillful farmer, the father of Kit Carson was a celebrated hunter. When the Indians of Kentucky became quieted down, putting an end to the calls upon his courage and skill as a woodsman, he settled into a simple, respectable farmer. This monotonous life did not suit his disposition; and, as the tide of emigration into the wilds of Missouri was then commencing, where both game and the red man still roamed, he resolved to migrate in that direction. It was only one year after the birth of his son Christopher, that Mr. Carson sold his estate in Kentucky and established himself, with his large family, in that part of the State of Missouri now known as Howard County. At this time Howard County, Missouri, was a wilderness, on the remote American frontier. At his new home, the father was in his element. His reputation of carrying an unerring rifle and always enacting the deeds of a brave man, was not long in following him into this wilderness. Mr. Carson's only assistant, on his first arrival in Howard County, was his eldest son, Moses Carson, who was afterwards settled in the State of California, where he resided twenty-five years before the great California gold discovery was made.
For two or three years after arriving at their new home, the Carson family, with a few neighbors, lived in a picketed log fort; and when they were engaged in agricultural pursuits, working their farms, and so forth, it was necessary to plough, sow and reap under guard, men being stationed at the sides and extremities of their fields to prevent the working party from being surprised and massacred by wild and hostile savages who infested the country. At this time the small pox, that disease which has proved such a terrible scourge to the Indian, had but seldom visited him.
[Footnote 1: This disease has probably been the worst enemy with which the red man of America has had to contend. By terrible experience he has become familiarized with its ravages, and has resorted to the most desperate remedies for its cure. Among many tribes, the afflicted are obliged to form camps by themselves; and, thus left alone, they die by scores. One of their favorite remedies, when the scourge first makes its appearance, is to plunge into the nearest river, by which they think to purify themselves. This course, however, in reality, tends to shorten their existence. When the small pox rages among the Aborigines, a most unenviable position is held by their "Medicine Man." He is obliged to give a strict account of himself; and, if so unfortunate as to lose a chief, or other great personage, is sure to pay the penalty by parting with his own life. The duties of the "Medicine Man" among the Indians are so mixed up with witchcraft and jugglery, so filled with the pretence of savage quackery, so completely rude and unfounded as to principle, that it is impossible to define the practice for any useful end. About five years since, a young gentleman of scientific habits, who was attached to an exploring party, accidentally became separated from his companions. In his wanderings, he fell in with a band of hostile Sioux Indians, who would quickly have dispatched him, had he not succeeded immediately in convincing them of his wonderful powers. It so happened that this gentleman was well informed in the theory of vaccination, and it struck him that by impressing on the savages his skill, he might extricate himself. By the aid of signs, a lancet and some virus, he set himself to work, and soon saw that he had gained a reputation which saved him his scalp. He first vaccinated his own arm, after which all of the Indians present solicited his magic touch, to save them from the loathsome disease. The result was, that he found he had enlisted himself in an active practice. After a few days, the Indians were delighted with the results, and began to look upon their prisoner as possessed of superhuman knowledge. They feared to do him injury, and finally resolved to let him go; of which privilege, it is almost unnecessary to say, he was delighted to avail himself, and was not long in finding his friends.]
The incidents which enliven and add interest to the historic page, have proved of spontaneous and vigorous growth in the new settlements of America. Nearly every book which deals with the early planting and progress of the American colonists and pioneers, contains full, and frequently glowing, descriptions of exploits in the forest; strifes of the hunter; fights with the savages; fearful and terrible surprises of lurking warriors, as they arouse the brave settler and his family from their midnight dreams by the wild, death-announcing war-whoop; hair-breadth escapes from the larger kinds of game, boldly bearded in their lair; the manly courage which never yields, but surmounts every obstacle presented by the unbroken and boundless forest; all these are subjects and facts which have already so many counterparts in book-thought, accessible to the general reader, that their details may be safely omitted during the boyhood days of young Carson. It is better, therefore, to pass over the youthful period of his eventful life, until he began to ripen into manhood.
Kit Carson, at fifteen years of age, was no ordinary person. He had at this early age earned, and well earned, a reputation, on the basis of which the prediction was ventured in his behalf, that he would not fail to make and leave a mark upon the hearts of his countrymen. Those who knew him at the age of fifteen, hesitated not to say, "Kit Carson is the boy who will grow into a man of influence and renown."
The chief points of his character which elicited this prediction were thus early clearly marked. Some of his traits were kindness and good qualities of heart, determined perseverance, indomitable will, unflinching courage, great quickness and shrewdness of perception, and promptitude in execution. The predictions uttered by the hardy rangers of the forest concerning a boy like Carson are seldom at fault; and Kit was one who, by many a youthful feat worthy the muscle of riper years, had endeared himself to their honest love. It was among such men and for such reason, that Kit Carson thus early in life had won the influence and rewards of a general favorite.
His frame was slight, below the medium stature, closely knit together, and endowed with extraordinary elasticity. He had, even then, stood the test of much hard usage. What the body lacked in strength was more than compensated for by his indomitable will; consequently, at this early age, he was considered capable of performing a frontier man's work, both in tilling the soil and handling the rifle.
It was at this period of his eventful life that his father, acting partially under the advice of friends, determined that his son Kit should learn a trade. A few miles from Kit's forest home, there lived a Mr. David Workman, a saddler. To him he was apprenticed. With Mr. Workman young Carson remained two years, enjoying both the confidence and respect of his employer; but, mourning over the awl, the hide of new leather, the buckle and strap; for, the glorious shade of the mighty forest; the wild battle with buffalo and bear; the crack of the unerring rifle, pointed at the trembling deer. Saddlery is an honorable employment; but saddlery never made a greater mistake than when it strove to hitch to its traces the bold impulse, the wild yearning, the sinewy muscle of Kit Carson. Harness-making was so irksome to his ardent temperament and brave heart, that he resolved to take advantage of the first favorable opportunity and quit it forever. With him, to resolve has ever been followed by action. During the latter part of his stay with Mr. Workman, many stories of adventures in the Rocky Mountains reached the ear of the youthful Kentuckian in his Missouri home. The almost miraculous hyperbole which flavored the narratives were not long in awakening in his breast a strong desire to share in such stirring events. The venturesome mind at last became inspired. He determined to go; and, giving his restless spirit full sway, in 1826, joined a party bound for his boyish fancy-pictures of the Elysian Fields. The leader of this expedition required no second request from young Carson before enrolling his name on the company-list. The hardy woodsman saw stamped upon the frank and open countenance of the boy who stood before him those sterling qualities which have since made his name a household word. These formed a passport which, on the spot, awakened the respect and unlocked the hearts of those whose companionship he sought.
The work of preparation was now commenced by the different parties to the expedition. All of the arrangements having been finally completed, the bold and hardy band soon started upon their journey. Their route lay over the vast, and then unexplored territory, bounded by the Rocky Mountains on the one side, and the Missouri River on the other. Before them lay, stretched out in almost never-ending space, those great prairies, the half of which are still unknown to the white man. Crossing the plains in 1826 was an entirely different feat from what it is at this day. Where, then, were the published guides? Where were the charts indicating the eligible camping grounds with their springs of pure water? These oases of the American Sahara were not yet acquainted with the white man's foot. The herds of buffaloes, the droves of wild horses, knew not the crack of the white man's rifle. They had fled only at the approach of the native Indian warrior and the yearly fires of the prairie. It was a difficult task to find a man who had gazed on the lofty peaks of the mountain ranges which formed a serpentine division of the vast American Territories, or who had drank the waters at the camping places on the prairies. The traveller at that day was, in every force of meaning which the word extends, literally, an explorer, whose chosen object was the task of a hero. The Indians themselves could give no information of the route beyond the confined limits of their hunting ranges. The path which this pioneer party entered was existent only in the imagination of the book-making geographer, about as accurate and useful from its detail, as the route of Baron Munchausen to the icelands of the North Pole on the back of his eagle. The whole expanse of the rolling prairie, to those brave hearts, was one boundless uncertainty. This language may possibly be pronounced redundant. It may be in phrase; it is not in fact. The carpet-knight, the holiday ranger, the book-worm explorer, knows but little of the herculean work which has furnished for the world a practical knowledge of the western half of the North American continent. We shall see in the progress of this work whether the adventures of Kit Carson entitle him to a place in the heart of the American nation on the same shelf with his compeers.
In that day, the fierce red-man chief scoured the broad prairies, a petty king in his tribe, a ruler of his wild domain. Bold, haughty, cautious, wily, unrelenting, revengeful, he led his impassioned warriors in the chase and to battle. Even to-day, the lurking Indian foeman is no mean adversary to be laughed and brushed out of the way, notwithstanding disease, war, assassination and necessary chastisement have united rapidly to decimate his race, thereby gradually lessening its power. Thirty years ago the rolling plains were alive with them, and their numbers alone made them formidable. It is not strange that the untutored savages of the prairie, like those of their race who hailed with ungovernable curiosity the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock, should have been attracted by the wonderful inventions of the white-man intruder. A very short period of time served to turn this ungovernable curiosity into troublesome thieving. Knowing no law but their wild traditionary rules, they wrested from the adventurous pioneer, his rifle, knife, axe, wagon, harness, horse, powder, ball, flint, watch, compass, cooking utensils, and so forth. The result was, sanguinary engagements ensued, which led to bitter hostility between the two races. Doubtless the opinion may be controverted, but it nevertheless shall be hazarded, that, until the weaker party shall be exterminated by the stronger, the wild war-whoop, with its keen-edged knife and death-dealing rifle accompaniments, will continue, from time to time, to palsy the nerve, and arouse the courage of the pioneer white man. The Indian, in his attack, no longer showers cloth-yard arrows upon his foe. He has learned to kill his adversary with the voice of thunder and the unseen bullet.
The bold traveller, whose pathway lies over those great highroads which lead to the Pacific, must still watch for the red man's ambush by day; and, by night, sleep under the protecting vigilance of the faithful, quick-sighted sentinel. The savage never forgives his own or his ancestor's foe. Every generation of them learns from tradition the trials and exploits of its tribe. From earliest boyhood these form the burden of their education in history; and, on performing the feat of courage or strength which admits them to the councils of the braves, their nation's wrongs are uppermost in their thoughts, causing them to thirst for a revenge which sooner or later gives them a grave, making themselves, in turn, an object of revenge.
It has already appeared that when Kit Carson entered upon his first expedition, game was to be had in abundance. His route lay across the western wilds to Santa Fe. All this distance the bulk of provisions, consisting of a small quantity of flour and bacon, had to be transported by himself and his companions. These articles were kept as a reserve, and were looked upon as luxuries; for, that man was estimated to be a very poor shot who could not obtain, with his rifle, all the animal food he required for his individual sustenance. These hunters, however, well understood the laws which govern and the advantages which follow division of labor. Everything was so arranged, both for this and subsequent expeditions, by which a regular hunter was appointed, and each man assigned some particular duty according to his capacity. These appointments were usually made by the leader of the party, whose supervision was acknowledged by general consent on account of his known experience and capability. This plan was the more necessary in order to avoid confusion.
The caravan had hardly launched out on its long and tedious tramp, when an accident occurred which came very near proving serious in its results. For several days the men had been greatly annoyed by wolves who appeared more than usually ravenous and bold.
[Footnote 2: There are two species of these animals found on the western prairie. One is small, called the Jackal; the other much larger. The latter, or larger species, are found of various, colors, but more frequently grey. The color, however, varies with the season and often from other causes. Many of their habits are strikingly similar to those of the domestic dog, with the simple difference that the wolf is unreclaimed from his wild state. The connecting link between the prairie wolf and the domestic dog is the cur found among the Indians. The Indian cur, by a casual observer, could be easily mistaken for a prairie wolf. Near the Rocky Mountains, and in them, these animals are found of immense size; but, being cowardly, they are not dangerous. The first night a person sleeps on a prairie is ever afterwards vividly impressed upon his memory. The serenade of the wolves with which he is honored, is apt to be distinctly remembered. It is far from agreeable, and seldom fails to awaken unpleasant forebodings concerning the future; and, the idea that these fellows may be soon clearing his bones, is not very genial to the fancy. To the wolf the graveyard is anything but consecrated ground; and, if a person is very chary of his cadaver, he had better not leave it on the Western Plains. The wolf is quite choice in his viands whenever the opportunity offers, and will, at any time, leave the carcass of an Indian for that of a white man. Old frontiersmen, speaking of the wolves, usually style them as "their dogs;" and, after a night when these animals have kept up an incessant barking, they will express wonder by asking what has been disturbing "their hounds." The flesh of the mountain wolf, when cooked, has something of the smell and taste of mutton, but it is very rank.]
In order to frighten the wolves, the teamsters would occasionally shoot them. One of the members of the expedition was obliged to take a fresh rifle from a wagon. In taking the gun out, the hammer of the lock caught against some projecting object, which caused it to be partially set. Having become freed, however, before it was fully set, it came down and fired the gun. The contents of the barrel were sent through the man's arm. No member of the expedition was conversant with surgical knowledge. Here was an occasion to shake the nerves of any feeling man; and, beneath the rough exterior of the western ranger, there runs as deep a stream of true humanity as can be found anywhere on the American continent. Every suggestion was offered and every effort was put forth which heart feeling chained to anxiety and the terrible necessity, could offer. Every remedy which promised a good result was duly weighed; and, if pronounced worthy of trial, it was adopted. The sufferer had kind, though rough nurses; but, the absence of scientific skill, under such emergency, proved a sad want for the unfortunate man. Notwithstanding their united efforts, Broader's arm grew alarmingly worse. It soon became manifest to all that he must part with his arm, or lose his life; perhaps both. At this critical period, a consultation was held, in which the suffering patient joined. Due deliberation was extended to all the symptoms. The giving of advice in such a council by men who could only give judgment from an imaginary stand-point, must strike the heart of true sympathy as having been painful in no ordinary degree. After every possible argument had been offered in favor of saving the arm, the final decision of the council was that it must come off. The next difficulty which presented itself was quite as formidable as the expression of a correct judgment. Who should perform the office of surgeon, was the knotty question? Again the consultations became exciting and intensely painful. The members of the council, however, took it upon themselves to designate the persons, and chose Carson with two others. These immediately set at work to execute their sad but necessary task. The arrangements were all hastily, but carefully made, and the cutting begun. The instruments used were a razor, an old saw; and, to arrest the hemorrhage, the king bolt taken from one of the wagons was heated and applied to serve as an actual cautery. The operation, rudely performed, with rude instruments, by unpractised hands, excited to action only by the spur of absolute necessity, proved, nevertheless, entirely successful. Before the caravan arrived at Santa Fe the patient had so far recovered that he was able to take care of himself.
Besides this unfortunate affair, nothing worthy of note transpired, beyond the general record of their route, during the remainder of their journey. The latter would be too voluminous for the general reader, and has already served its purpose as an assistant to other exploring parties, both from published account and conversational directions. The party entered Santa Fe in the month of November. Very soon after, Kit Carson left his companions and proceeded to Fernandez de Taos, a Mexican town, which lies about eighty miles to the northeast of the capital of New Mexico. During the winter that followed his arrival in the territory of New Mexico, Kit lived with an old mountaineer by the name of Kin Cade, who very kindly offered him a home. It was at this period of his life that he commenced studying the Spanish language. His friend Kin Cade became his assistant in this task. At the same time Kit neglected no opportunity to learn all he could about the Rocky Mountains. He little thought, then, that these earth-formed giants were to become his future home, and so gloriously to herald his name throughout the entire civilized globe.
The pinching effects of want now attacked poor Kit. He could obtain no employment. His expectations in this respect, as well as his earnest efforts, received so little encouragement that he began, finally, to despond. Extreme poverty is a wet damper on the fires of the best genius; but, as was the case with Kit, it does not effectually put it out. Kit saw with sorrow that he must retrace his steps. To obtain means to carry out his ardent desires, in the spring of 1827 he started on a backward trip to Missouri. Every step he took in this direction was accompanied with such displeasure, that had it not been his best and surest policy, he would have mastered any difficulties of another and better course, had such offered. Four hundred and fifty miles from Santa Fe, being about one half the distance across the prairies, had been accomplished by the party Kit had joined for this homeward trip. The fording of the Arkansas River had been reached. Here Kit's party met with some traders bound for New Mexico. They offered him employment, which he gladly accepted; and, in their company, retraced his steps back to Santa Fe But when arrived at Santa Fe, Kit found himself again without money. He was afforded an opportunity to obtain a wardrobe, but to the mountaineer, such property would be entirely a superfluity. He feels nearly independent on the score of clothing, as he considers that he needs but little raiment, and that little he is always proud to owe to his beloved rifle. This brings to his hand buckskins in plenty, and his own ingenuity is the fashion-plate by which they are manufactured into wearable and comfortable vesture. There is one article of clothing, however, for which the frontiersman feels an ardent predilection. It is a woollen shirt. This article, Kit really needed; and, in equal pace with his necessity, ran his anxiety that something should offer by which to obtain one. The reader may smile at this; and, so does Kit at this day, as he recounts the fact in his own inimitable style. But Kit says that to obtain a woollen shirt then, was, to him, no laughing matter. At a moment when he almost despaired of gaining employment, he received an offer to go as a teamster with an expedition bound to El Paso. This opportunity was a chance for success not to be lost, and he closed with the proposition. After faithfully performing his engagement, he, however, returned to Santa Fe, where he made a short stay, and then proceeded to Taos. In this town Kit entered into the service of Mr. Ewing Young, who was a trader and trapper. The reader may prepare again for a smile, as he will now learn that Kit became a cook. Mr. Ewing Young has the satisfaction of boasting that the renowned Kit Carson once performed the responsible and arduous duties of a master cook in the culinary department of his establishment; and that, for these valuable services, labor, care and diligence, he gave to Kit, as a quid pro quo, his board. In this way Kit supported himself in his straitened circumstances until the following spring.
What was the bright thought which made the bold, the ardent, the energetic Kit Carson accept this menial office? Surely the brain metal which was so brightly polished when he set out from Howard county, Missouri, must have been sadly rusted. Not so! The hope which buoyed up his spirits while he attempted to rival French pastry and English beef with American venison and Buffalo meat on the table of Mr. Ewing Young, was that some trapper, or hunter, would come into Taos, their favorite place of resort; and, by being ready for an emergency, he would obtain an opportunity for gaining a permission to join them. His intention was certainly good, but it lacked the bright crown of good intention—success. In the spring of 1828, much chagrined with his, so far, continued bad luck, and no prospect of gaining his object appearing, he again joined a homeward-bound party and with it, sorrowfully, started for Missouri. But, as on the former trip homeward, he met on the route a party bound for Santa Fe. That indomitable ingredient in his composition, an iron will, caused him once more to turn his face westward. He joined this party and returned to Santa Fe, in order again to tempt fortune for an opportunity to reach the Rocky Mountains. But during all these changes and counterchanges Kit had not been idle. He had picked up considerable knowledge, and, to his other stock of accomplishments, had added the ability to speak the Spanish language.
On arriving once more at Santa Fe, he fell in with Col. Tramell, who was at that time a well-known trader. Col Tramell needed a Spanish interpreter. Kit obtained the post, and set out with him for Chihuahua, one of the Mexican States. Here again Kit made a change in his employment. In Chihuahua he fell in with Mr. Robert McKnight. To him he hired out as a teamster, and in this capacity went to the copper mines which are found near to the Rio Gila. Amid the weary necessities of this humble but honorable calling, Kit's heart was constantly alive with ambition to become a hunter and trapper. He knew that he was expert with the rifle, which had been his boyish toy, and felt confident that he could rely upon it as an assistant to gain an honest living. His constant thought at this time was, let him now be engaged in whatever calling chance offered and necessity caused him to accept, the final pursuit of his life would be as a hunter and trapper. Here, then, is presented a fair example of the strife, both inward and outward, through which a young man of courage and ambition must expect to pass before he can win position, influence, and the comforts of life, whatever the scene of his action, or whatever the choice of employment suitable to his talent and genius. Kit Carson was determined, no matter what might be the obstacles which presented themselves, to be a hunter and trapper.
The reader will have made a sad mistake if he has concluded, that during the time which has intervened since Kit started from Missouri, he has been roaming in a country where there was less danger than when he was in the picketed fort with his father. Such a supposition would be greatly at fault. The towns in New Mexico, at this early period, were almost entirely at the mercy of the Indians. The Mexicans were nearly destitute of means to defend themselves. Very few of the Anglo-Saxon race had entered this territory, and those who had were, in turn, exposed to the vacillating wills of the proverbially treacherous Mexicans. A man like Kit Carson, however, born and bred in danger, cared but little about this state of affairs. The dangers did not enter into his calculations of chance to overcome the difficulties which beset the pathway which the alluring hopes of his ambition had marked out. Not long afterward, he left the copper mines, and once more bent his steps to Taos, in company with a small party. At Taos, he found a band of trappers which had been sent out by Mr. Ewing Young. While en route for the river Colorado of the west, in pursuit of game, they had been attacked by a band of Indians. After fighting an entire day, they had been compelled to retreat, and returned to New Mexico.
The news of the Defeat of Mr. Young's Trapping Party by the Indians reaches Taos—Young raises a Party to chastise the Indians—Kit Carson becomes a Conspicuous Member of the Expedition—The Indians are found on Salt River—The Fight—Trapping Exploits—A new Country—Trials and Vicissitudes—Sacramento Valley—California and its Roman Catholic Missions in 1829—Another Indian Fight—Sale of Furs—Indian Depredations—Kit Carson and Twelve Trappers engage with the Indians in a Battle—Return to the Camp with recovered Property.
The news of the attack and defeat of his men by the Indians, was brought to Mr. Ewing Young at Taos by a member of the unfortunate expedition. On learning the causes which brought this unpleasant termination to his enterprise, Mr. Young raised a party of forty men, consisting of Americans, Canadians and Frenchmen, and put himself at its head. Kit Carson was received into the party, and soon became one of its most prominent and efficient aids. Mr. Young's object was two-fold: first, to chastise the Indians; and, second, to make all he could out of the expedition by employing the men in their calling as trappers. Under the Mexican laws, licenses were required from the government to all Mexicans who set out on trapping expeditions. These were not granted to citizens of the United States. This was not the mere will of governmental officials; the Mexican statutory law prohibited the granting of licenses to citizens of the United States. This law was, however, often made a dead letter by Americans; for, they frequently, but stealthily evaded it. In order, therefore, to hoodwink the Mexican authorities, Mr. Young had to resort to various expedients. His preparations were so carefully and secretly made, that the real business he had in contemplation did not transpire, or even a suspicion gain currency as to his intended whereabouts.
In April, 1829, the party set out, eager to bring about results equal to their anticipations. At first, to avoid the curiosity and inquiring disposition of the Mexicans, they traveled northward, as if their destination was into the territory of the United States. Hints had been sufficiently freely bestowed upon the Mexicans to lead them to believe that such was the destination of the party. After journeying fifty miles in this direction, and feeling themselves free from the scrutiny of the Mexican authorities, they changed their course to the southwest, and travelled through the country occupied by the Navajoes, who are an interesting and dangerous race of Indians, even to the trader of this day. On their route, the company passed through Zuni, a Peublo town; thence they traveled to the head of Salt River, one of the tributaries of the Rio Gila. Here they discovered the band of Indians who had attacked and defeated the former party. As soon as the Indians discovered the party of trappers, they became eager for the affray. The usual preliminaries for such fights were, therefore, quickly made on both sides. Young directed the greater part of his men to lie in ambush, for he felt confident that the Indians did not know his strength. The bands of savages who covered the hills round about mistook the halt necessary to complete the ambush for cowardice and fear on the part of the whites. At this their courage arose, to such a degree, that they made a bold charge against, as they supposed, the small party of white men who were visible. They were allowed to advance well into the trap, until, by the position of the trappers in ambush, they came under a cross fire. At the word of command, a general volley was fired into the advance column. Fifteen warriors fell dead, and many others were wounded. The Indians became panic-stricken, and the trappers immediately following up their advantage, advanced from cover. The warriors did not rally for a second attack, but fled in every direction, leaving Young, with his party, masters of the field. Strange as it has ever seemed, to the inquiring mind, in those days and for many succeeding years, companies of white men from fifty to sixty in number could wage successful war against whole tribes of Indians, who could easily muster a thousand fighting men. A reason often given for this is, that the trappers of the western wilds are invariably "dead shots" with the rifle and well versed in Indian strategy. On the other hand, the red men were, comparatively speaking, poorly armed, and could not travel together for any length of time in large parties, because they depended for food chiefly upon hunting. Had there existed no other cause, the means of obtaining provision being limited, must have compelled them to separate. Very frequently whole tribes are reduced to depend upon daily hunts. The bravery of the Indians is of a different stamp from that which is exhibited by the whites, especially where the white man is a Simon-pure western trapper. The white man on the prairie or in the mountains, knows but too well that if attacked by Indians he must conquer or die. It was, and is, seldom that a company out on an expedition has any place of refuge to which it may retreat. Here is the principal reason why the trapper is so seldom defeated. He cannot afford to lose his life to a certainty, and consequently will not allow a defeat.
After this fight, Young's party trapped down the Salt River to San Francisco River, and thence on up to the head of the latter stream. The Indians failed not to hover on their pathway, and to make nightly attacks upon their party. Frequently they would crawl into camp and steal a trap, or kill a mule or a horse, and do whatever other damage they could secretly. At the head of the San Francisco River the company was divided. It was so arranged, that one party was to proceed to the valley of the Sacramento in California. Of this detachment Kit Carson was a member. The other party had orders to return to New Mexico for the purpose of procuring traps to replace those stolen. This latter party was also commissioned to take and dispose of the stock of beaver already on hand. The party bound for California was eighteen in number. Of this party Mr. Young took command. Previous to setting out, a few days were devoted to hunting. They only succeeded, however, in killing three deer. The meat of these animals they prepared to take with them, as they were about to journey into a country never before explored. The skins of the three deer were converted into tanks for carrying water. They had learned from some friendly Indians that the country over which they had to pass en route was destitute of water. The red men told them additionally that the valley (meaning the Sacramento) was beautiful, and that the streams were full of beaver. All of this information the trappers found was true. For four days they travelled over a barren country, where not one drop of water could be found. At each night's camping-place, small allowances of water from the tanks was distributed by the commander to each man and animal. A guard was then stationed over the remainder to prevent any accident from depriving the company of this now precious article of sustenance. At the close of the fourth day, however, they again found water. The instinct exhibited by the pack mules on this occasion was truly remarkable. Long before any member of the party thought that water was so near, the mules, with unerring certainty, had smelt it, and each one, according to his remaining strength, had hurried on to partake of it. The result was, that when the first mule had reached the water, the remainder were scattered along upon the trail for a great distance. The company encamped here, and remained two days to recruit.
The journey was renewed on the third day, the route being still over a similar kind of country, necessitating both man and beast to submit to similar privations as to water. In four days more they came in sight of the great Canon of the Colorado, which failed not to awaken a thrill of delight in every member of the party. Just before reaching the Canon they met a party of Mohave Indians, of whom they purchased an old mare. She was killed and eaten by the party with great gusto. The party remained three days on the banks of the Colorado recruiting their strength. While remaining here, another party of Mohave Indians visited them, from whom they procured a small quantity of corn and beans. Leaving the Colorado they recommenced their journey and travelled southwest. In three days they arrived at a stream which rises in the coast range, runs northeast and is lost in the sands of the Great Basin. About two years previous to their arrival here, three trappers by the names of Smith, Sublett, and Jackson, with a large party of men, had a desperate fight in this neighborhood with hostile Indians. They, also, had learned from friendly Indians of the wonders of the Sacramento Valley, and were en route to explore it when attacked. Four only out of their entire company escaped with their lives. These succeeded in making their way to the nearest Mexican settlements, which they reached in a state of complete destitution, after many hardships. Young and his party followed the dry bed of this river for several days before they came to any visible water. It may be interesting to some of our readers to know that there are many of these curious rivers in western America, which, for miles disappear from the surface of the earth, and, probably, run through the quicksand beneath, as they reappear again. The outline of the river usually exists between the place of its disappearance and the place where the water again comes to the surface of the earth. By digging a few feet into the sand within the outline, the water is generally obtained. It takes but a short time, however, for the hole thus made to fill up again. On quitting this river, the party journeyed to the westward, and, in four days, came to the Mission of San Gabriel. Here they found one Roman Catholic priest, fifteen Mexican soldiers, and about one thousand Indians. Belonging to this little colony were eighty thousand head of cattle, fine fields and vineyards. Literally the work and life of the Jewish patriarchs were here being reenacted.
"A shepherd on the mighty plain he watched his roving store."
To the half-starved followers of Mr. Young, this Mission appeared to be a "Paradise of Earth." They remained here, however, but one day. Having nothing else to trade, they parted with their butcher knives, receiving for four of them one fat ox. It would all appear a fabulous tale, were we to incorporate into this narrative a history, or even a slight description of the immensity of the herds of horses and cattle which once roamed over the plains and valleys of California and New Mexico. It is but a few years since, that some wealthy Mexicans owned herds in these parts of America which they numbered by tens of thousands. They were, however, almost valueless for want of a market; and, until the tide of emigration poured in, developing the resources of the country by its demand for provisions and labor, horses and cattle were sold for a mere trifle. In one day's march from San Gabriel, Young and his party arrived at another Roman Catholic Mission, called San Fernando. This establishment was on a much smaller scale than the first. Young and his hardy followers, however, stopping only for a few hours, pushed on for the Sacramento River, which proved to be distant only a few days' march. Their course from San Fernando was northeast. The last part of their journey led through a delightful tract of country, where water, grass and game existed in abundance, seemingly a foretaste of the success which awaited their further advance. Selecting an eligible camping site, Young here rested his party for some time. When they were fully recruited, the party started for the San Joaquin, and commenced trapping down the river. What gave the men great surprise, they discovered unmistakable signs of another trapping party. In a short time it appeared that they were close to a party belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, commanded by Peter Ogden. Young's men, however, continued setting their traps on the San Joaquin and its tributaries. The two parties were near each other for some time, and as deer, elk, and antelope existed by thousands around them, which it was no trouble to kill in any numbers desirable, they fared well. On again reaching the Sacramento River, the two parties separated. Mr. Ogden, with his party, set out for the Columbia River, while Mr. Young's party encamped where they were, for the remainder of the summer. As the season for trapping had passed, they employed their time in hunting and preparing meat for future necessity.
It was here that Kit Carson soon distinguished himself as a superior hunter, which reputation he has maintained ever since, no matter who have been his antagonists. Not but that Kit may have had his equals; but that it is next to an impossibility to find his superior. At all events, the world has given Kit Carson the title of "Nestor of the Rocky Mountains," for his reputation as a hunter alone; and as his biographer, we take pleasure in recording the facts by which the title has been earned and maintained. Let the reader possess himself of the facts, as they shall appear divested of any and every picture which fancy or partiality may accidentally cause us to paint, and even then Kit Carson will not lose the title. On the contrary, it will become the more indelibly stamped upon his brow.
During the sojourn of the trappers on the Sacramento, an event occurred which exhibited the readiness with which these men responded to calls upon them for aid in a just cause. A few of the Indians belonging to the Mission of the San Rafael, after committing some excesses, deserted from those to whom they had pretended friendship. The priest having charge of the Mission sent a strong force to search for the fugitives. They were found secreted in an Indian village, the inhabitants of which were not on friendly terms with the priest's party. A demand was made that the deserters should be given up, which being refused, a fight ensued, and the priest's party was defeated. Assistance was now asked from the trappers. The request was complied with by Carson and eleven of his companions, who volunteered for the occasion. Thus reinforced, the vanquished party returned and resumed the fight, but with a far different result. The Indian village was captured and one third of its inhabitants killed. The day following a second demand to deliver up the deserters was complied with. Carson and his companions then left the priest's party and rejoined their camp. A short time after this affair had happened, Mr. Young carried the furs he had on hand to the Mission of San Rafael, where he was so fortunate as to find a captain of a trading schooner to whom he succeeded in disposing of the entire stock. With the money accruing from the sale, he purchased horses and then rejoined his company.
A circumstance occurred a few days after Mr. Young's return, which proved to be a good warning to the party for their future vigilance. During one dark night, some Indians, eluding the watch of the sentinels, succeeded in entering the camp and moving off sixty horses. As soon as the robbery was discovered, which had been the more easily accomplished because the trappers, not apprehending danger, had allowed the animals to take care of themselves, Mr. Young directed Kit Carson to take twelve men with the remaining horses, fourteen in number, and pursue the thieves. Carson, in obedience to his orders, immediately started for the Sierra Nevada Mountains, following the trail of the Indians. After travelling one hundred miles he came up with the robbers, and discovered them in the act of feasting upon horse-flesh, six of their own animals having been killed to supply the viands. Doubtless stolen fruit made the feast all the sweeter to the savages, but Kit determined to mingle a little of the bitter as a condiment to the roasted flesh. Gathering his men well together, and approaching very close to the foe without being discovered, he gave the order to charge. His men needed no second command. They fell upon the feasting savages like a thunderbolt, scattering them right and left without mercy. Eight of the warriors were killed in the short conflict which ensued. The remainder were allowed to escape. With some difficulty they next succeeded in recovering all their horses, except the six which had been killed. With their horses, and three children taken prisoners, they returned to camp. It is unnecessary to add that, to men thus isolated in the wilderness, Kit and his party were hailed with joyful greetings when their complete success became known. To them their horses were like the good ship to the hardy sailors on the mighty ocean. The joyful reaction which followed such complete success was in ratio to the fears which the continuing suspense had excited.
Kit Carson, though at that day a youth in years and experience when compared with the other members of the party of which he was then an associate, had risen rapidly in the estimation of all, and had excited the admiration and enlisted in his behalf the confidence of the entire band. When called upon to add his counsel and advice to the general fund of knowledge offered by the trappers concerning any doubtful or difficult enterprise, his masterly foresight and shrewdness, as well as clearness in attending to details, alone gave him willing auditors. But it was the retired manner and modest deportment, which he invariably wore, that won for him the love of his associates. Such characteristics failed not to surprise, in no ordinary degree, those who could boast a long lifetime of experience in Indian countries. Kit Carson's powers of quickly conceiving thoughts, on difficult emergencies, which pointed out the safest and best plans of action, "just the things that ought to be done," and his bravery, which, in his youth, sometimes amounted to rashness, were the component parts of his ability which thus caused his companions to follow his leadership. His courage, promptitude, willingness, self-reliance, caution, sympathy, and care for the wounded, marked him at once as the master-mind and safest counsellor. His first trapping expedition gained him so much credit, that from the time it was concluded, he found no difficulty in joining any band of trappers, no matter how select the party. In this respect the mountaineers resemble sea-faring men, who invariably dislike new and untried hands, because such are so apt to give more trouble than assistance. Green hands, therefore, are treated with indifference when they apply to be admitted as members on a contemplated hunt. The reader will here see one difficulty which had to be overcome by Carson, and which kept him so long in want of employment. From this time Kit carried a rifle and worked from an experience which commanded admiration, respect, and esteem wherever he went, and with whatever party he became connected. Like the great Napoleon, when he joined the army for his first campaign, he was a hero in spite of his youth among men grown grey with experience.
The Return from California to New Mexico—San Fernando and the Peublo of Los Angelos—Description of these Peublos—Passports demanded at Los Angelos—Trouble with the Mexican Authorities—Kit Carson sent on with the Pack Animals One Trapper shoots another—The Mexicans become frightened—Indians come into Camp with their Weapons concealed—Cool Reception by Kit Carson—Arrival at Santa Fe and Taos—Money realized soon parted with—Carson joins another Expedition—The Rivers trapped on—Four Men Killed by Blackfeet Indians—Kit Carson joins Gaunt's Party—The Parks—Winter Quarters—Crow Indian Depredations—Kit Carson and his Party in Pursuit—the Fight—Winter on the Arkansas—Another Expedition—Two Deserters—Kit Carson sent in Pursuit—The Fate of the Runaways—Adventures with Indians—Hair-breadth Escape made by Kit Carson.
In September, Mr. Young, having accomplished all that he had intended, informed his men that he was going to New Mexico. The homeward route was through most of the country over which they had previously traveled. The preparations for the journey having been completed, the party started, touching on the way at the Mission of San Fernando, and thence through to the Peublo of Los Angelos. Scattered over various parts of the dominion of Old Mexico are these Peublos, or Indian villages, called so because they are inhabited by Indians who bear that name. These are the true descendants of the ancient Aztecs, who were once the subjects of the Montezumas. They are usually a quiet and industrious race, and are most devout in their religious worship, according to the principles, forms, and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church. They have not failed to inherit the superstition of their forefathers. Not withstanding the changes which time, with its cohorts of emigration, books, religious teachings, association with other races, mechanics, science and art, in greater or less degree, has introduced into their country, and accomplished under their eyes, they still believe that some day their great chief will return to them; accordingly, in each and every one of their towns, they keep a watch-fire burning, in order, on his advent, to let him know where his children live.
At Los Angelos the Mexican authorities came to the trappers and demanded their passports. On finding that such articles of paper authority did not form any part of a trapper's outfit, they determined to arrest them. Fear, however, prevented their determination from assuming any very formidable action. Former experience in a similar matter of official duty had taught those Mexicans that the American trappers were men of a peculiarly resolute nature. Fair and legitimate means were therefore laid aside, and a foul policy adopted. They commenced supplying them with "firewater," thus attacking them in a weak point. When they should become fully inebriated they considered the matter of their arrest both easy and certain.
Mr. Young, seeing the intentions of the authorities, and their underhanded method of carrying them out, determined to thwart them. He directed Carson to take three men, the loose animals and the camp equipage, and move on, with the instructions, that if he did not soon join him, to push on; that if he did not eventually overtake him, to report in New Mexico that the main party had been massacred. Young succeeded in collecting his men as best he could, for they were yet sufficiently sober to retain a little of their reason. The treacherous Mexicans, however, continued annoying the commander of the trappers by gratuitously offering the men all the liquor they desired. One by one, the trappers were allowing themselves to be easily conquered, as the effects of the liquor began to be more active. They would soon have fallen a complete prey to their enemies, had not a most singular circumstance put the Mexicans to flight. One of the trappers, named James Higgins, without any provocation and without any excuse, except that he was intoxicated, shot a man named James Lawrence, inflicting a slight wound. Such conduct so terrified the Mexicans that they took sudden and precipitous leave. This happened, very fortunately, before the party arrived at the mission of San Gabriel, where they would all have been arrested, and perhaps killed, by the Mexicans, aided by parties and reinforcements at the mission.
About dark, Young, by urging his half-drunken men into a forced march, succeeded in overtaking Carson. At the first supply of water, they went into camp. A night of sleep soon set the brains of Young's trappers once more to rights. The next day the party, most of them sufficiently ashamed of their drunken debauch, commenced with vigor the homeward march. They continued nine days almost upon their former track, when outward bound. On the ninth day, they once more stood on the banks of the Colorado River.
While encamped on this stream, a band of five hundred Indians made their appearance and entered the camp. The rascals professed the greatest friendship for the trappers, but their actions not fully measuring their words, the white men looked to Carson for advice. He had discovered that beneath their articles of dress their weapons were very carefully concealed; and from this circumstance it became quite clearly apparent the Indians intended to massacre the entire party. Here Carson's boldness proved, as it had before, and did many a time afterwards, the safety of himself and friends or associates. At the time the Indians entered the camp, Carson, with only a few of the party, occupied it; the rest were out visiting their traps, which it was their general custom to set whenever they arrived at a suitable stream. Kit having thus become satisfied concerning the design of the savages, and feeling that the salvation of the entire party rested upon his courage and wisdom, made up his mind that boldness was the wisest policy he could adopt. He found present among the warriors one who could speak the Spanish language. Through him he ordered the red men "to leave the camp. In the event of their not doing so immediately, he and his friends would, without further parley, commence hostilities, and would be sure each in killing his man, although they might all in the end lose their own lives."
The Indians had been accustomed to act about as they chose with such small parties of Mexicans as they chanced to meet, and consequently were taken completely by surprise at Kit's unusual boldness. Seeing that they would inevitably lose several of their braves if they made any hostile demonstration, they chose the discreet part of best policy, and departed. As a general rule, no matter what the profit or urgent necessity which chance offers, these Indians will not hazard a contest when, to a certainty, they must expect their own killed will equal the number of scalps which they can obtain. This rule, and doubtless some fearfulness on the part of the Indians, saved the lives of the entire band.
As has already appeared, the trappers were on the banks of the Colorado at the time this affair happened. They continued their work on it, descending the south side until they reached tide water, when they changed their camp on to the Gila, and continued trapping up this river as far as the mouth of the San Pedro. Near the outlet of this river, they discovered a large herd of horses and mules; on a closer examination, they found that they were in the possession of a band of Indians who had formerly given them some of their gratuitous hostilities. Not having forgotten their former troubles with these people, they determined to pay them off in their own coin by depriving them of the herd. A short search sufficed to discover the Indian camp. Without waiting an instant, they put their horses to their speed and charged in among the huts. The Indians were so completely taken by surprise, that they became panic-struck and fled in every direction. They, however, rallied somewhat, and a running fight commenced which lasted some time, but which did not change matters in favor of the Indians. The entire herd fell into the possession of the trappers.
On the same evening, after the men had wrapped themselves up in their blankets and laid down for a sleep, and while enjoying their slumbers, a noise reached their ears which sounded very much like distant thunder; but a close application of the sense of hearing showed plainly that an enemy was near at hand. Springing up, with rifle in hand—for generally in the mountains a man's gun rests in the same blanket with himself on all sleeping occasions—they sallied forth to reconnoitre, and discovered a few warriors driving along a band of at least two hundred horses. The trappers comprehended instantly that the warriors had been to the Mexican settlements in Sonora on a thieving expedition, and that the horses had changed hands with only one party to the bargain. The opportunity to instill a lesson on the savage marauders was too good to be lost.
They saluted the thieves with a volley from their rifles, which, with the bullet-whizzing about their heads and bodies, so astonished them, that they seemed almost immediately to forget their stolen property, and to think only of a precipitous flight. In a few moments, the whites found themselves masters of the field, and also of the property. To return the animals to their owners was an impossibility; Mr. Young, therefore, selected as many of the best horses as he needed for himself and men, and game being very scarce, killed two and dried most of the meat for future use, turning the remainder loose. Such either became wild mustangs or fell again into the clutches of the Indians. The company then renewed their trapping, and continued it up the Gila to a point opposite the copper mines of New Mexico. Here they left the river and proceeded to the copper mines, where they found Mr. Robert McKnight engaged in trading with the neighboring Indian tribes. These mines were not then, and ever since have not been, worked. The holes which had many years before been made by the miners—but who they were is unknown—formed a safe hiding-place for their skins. The stock of beaver was therefore placed under the care of Mr. McKnight. Young and his men then renewed their march, and in due time arrived safely at Santa Fe. Here they purchased licenses to trade with the Indians who live about the copper mines. With these licenses as protection papers, they returned to where the skins were concealed. Having once more recovered their fur, they returned with it to Santa Fe. The deserted mines of New Mexico show incontrovertible signs of having been successfully and extensively worked, at some remote period, for various kinds of metals. They have proved a knotty historical problem to many an investigating mind; for their authentic history has fallen, and probably will ever remain in oblivion. It may have been that about a century ago the Spaniards, with Indian assistants, worked them; and the savages becoming hostile to their employers, in some sudden fit of frenzy may have massacred the Spaniards. There is a legendary story circulating, similar to the traditions of the Indians, giving this explanation. The more probable hypothesis, however, is that the Indians themselves, many centuries in the past, were versed to some extent in the art of mining, and carried on the business in these mines; but from indolence or, to them, uselessness of the metals, the work was abandoned, and their descendants failed to obtain the knowledge which their ancestors possessed. These mines, and those which exist nearer to the large towns, will some day render New Mexico a profitable and rich field for the learned antiquary.
The ruse which Mr. Young found absolutely necessary to employ, in order to blind the Mexican authorities, succeeded so well, that when the fur arrived at Santa Fe, every one considered the trappers had made a very good trade. The amount of beaver thus brought in amounted to two thousand pounds. The market price was twelve dollars the pound. The proceeds, therefore, of the entire trip were nearly twenty-four thousand dollars. The division of this handsome sum gave to each man several hundred dollars. It was during the month of April, 1830, that Mr. Young's party again reached the town of Taos. Here they disbanded, having completed their enterprise. Like as Jack, when he returns from his battles with old ocean, having a pocket well lined with hard earnings, fails not to plunge into excess, with the determination to make up for the pleasure lost by years of toil, the brave mountaineers courted merrymaking. From their own accounts, they passed a short time gloriously. This similarity of disposition between trappers and sailors, in regard to pleasure's syren cup and its consequent draft upon their treasures, causing them to forget the risk of life and limb and the expense of their valuable time, is most remarkable. These hardy trappers, like reliable old salts, proved to be as true to the bowl as they had been to their steel; for, most of the party, in a very brief space of time, were penniless and ready to be fitted out for another expedition. Young Kit, at this period of his life, imitated the example set by his elders, for he wished to be considered by them as an equal and a friend. He, however, passed through this terrible ordeal, which most frequently ruins its votary, and eventually came out brighter, clearer and more noble for the conscience-polish which he received. He contracted no bad habits, but learned the usefulness and happiness of resisting temptation, and became so well schooled that he was able, by the caution and advice of wisdom founded on experience, to prevent many a promising and skillful hand from grasping ruin in the same vortex.
The scenes of pleasure lasted until the fall of 1830. Kit then joined his second trapping expedition. This band had been formed for the purpose of trapping the principal streams of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Fitzpatrick, a trapper well known and respected by the mountaineers, had charge of the party. He was, at that time, well acquainted by experience with the Rocky Mountains, and has, since then, gained an enviable fame as an Indian Agent. The new party travelled North and commenced operations on the Platte River, which they followed down stream to one of its tributaries, the Sweet Water River. From here they worked on until they reached the Green River. Hence they journeyed to Jackson's Hole, which is a fork of the Great Columbia River. After making a short stay at this point they started for the Salmon River. Here they were joined by a band of their own party, who had left Taos some days in advance of the main body, and for whom they were then hunting. The whole party, as now organized, remained where they were throughout the winter of 1830 and 1831, employed in killing only the amount of game necessary for their sustenance. An unfortunate affair here happened to them. Four of their men, while hunting buffalo, were attacked and killed by a party of Blackfeet Indians. No other incident occurred during the winter to change the everyday routine. In April of 1831, they recommenced trapping, shaping their course for Bear River. This is the principal stream that empties into GREAT SALT LAKE. Thence they returned to Green River, where they found some Trappers under the command of Mr. Sinclair, who left New Mexico soon after Mr. Fitzpatrick's party and had wintered on the Bear River. Among many other facts, they learned from this party that Captain Gaunt, who was an old mountaineer well known to most of the whites present, had passed the winter on the Laramie River, and that he was then with his men in the New Park. Kit Carson and four of his companions determined to join him. For this purpose they started, and, after ten days of steady travel, found his party.