Historical Marker #79 in Richmond, Kentucky, notes the birthplace of western scout and soldier Christopher “Kit” Carson.
Carson was born in Madison County, Kentucky, near Richmond, in 1809. His father, a Revolutionary War veteran, moved the family to the Bluegrass State from North Carolina. After a two-year stay in the commonwealth, they again continued westward to Missouri.
Carson came from an impoverished family. After the death of his father, Carson apprenticed to become a saddler. Carson disliked the work, however, and fled to New Mexico in 1826, where he settled and married Singing Grass, a member of the Arapaho Tribe. Carson hunted and trapped in the West for the next decade. Upon the death of Singing Grass, Carson traveled to Missouri to place his daughter Adaline in the care of his family. While travelling back from Missouri, Carson happened to meet with John C. Frémont, who was about to lead an expedition westward.
In 1842, Carson served as a guide for Frémont as he explored the Oregon Trail. In 1843 and 1845 he helped guide Frémont’s next two expeditions. In the midst of the third expedition, Carson participated in a series of aggressive attacks against Native Americans. Under Frémont’s orders, Carson and his men shot Native Americans on sight. On May 12, 1846, the expedition murdered fourteen individuals of the Klamath Tribe, in what became known as the Klamath Lake Massacre. Neither Carson nor Frémont faced any repercussions for the attack.
After the U.S.-Mexican War ended, Carson lived in New Mexico and became an Indian Agent for the United States government. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Carson was named lieutenant colonel of the New Mexico Volunteer Infantry (US). As he had done during the U.S.-Mexican War, Carson’s role revolved around attacks against Native Americans. He served under Major General James Henry Carleton in his campaign to subdue the Mescalero Apache. Carson became known for his willingness to deploy “scorched-earth” tactics. In 1863, Carson helped lead a campaign against the Navajo. Carson burned homes, destroyed fields, and garnered a reputation for his ruthless approach to “Indian fighting.” Carson continued his campaigns against Native Americans until 1867, when he retired. He died a year later, in 1868 and was buried in Taos, New Mexico.
Much like Davy Crockett, Carson became a folk hero while he was still alive. Although Carson could not read or write, short story writers and dime novelists—writers who penned short, racy novels that sold for a dime—turned Carson into a larger-than-life figure. These stories began appearing in 1847 but they continued to appear long after his death in 1868. Stories focused on his battles with Native Americans, his rescuing of captured women, and his travels in the West. Over the nineteenth century, these writers wrote hundreds of stories featuring Carson, crafting a fictional version of “Kit” that bore little resemblance to the actual man.
The marker reads:
Famous hunter, soldier and scout born near here. Carson (1809-1868) grew up in Mo.; began scouting career in Taos, N.M., at age 17. Won renown in piloting Fremont's Western expeditions; served in Mexican War. Appointed Indian agent, 1853, he was peacemaker and counselor. In Civil War, breveted brig. gen., U.S.A. Buried in Taos. Carson City, Nev., named for him.