Kit Carson: History and the Myth

kit-carson-blogIn October 1849, a trader named James White, his wife Ann and their infant daughter were traveling on the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico when they were attacked by a band of Apache. James was killed while Ann and the child were taken captive. Major William Grier and a company of Dragoons went in pursuit of the raiders. Their scout was Kit Carson whose sensational, bigger-than-life adventures were being chronicled in popular dime novels of the day.

On the twelfth day out they spotted a large camp and attacked. As the warriors were fleeing, one fired an arrow into the breast of Mrs. White. Her child was never found.

Mrs. White had been dead only a few minutes and her body was still warm.  Among her possessions was a copy of the popular dime novel Kit Carson: Prince of the Gold Hunters, a story about Carson saving a beautiful woman from death at the hands of a band of Indians.  Carson couldn’t read nor write and when the story was read to him, he muttered “Throw it in the fire!”

He was deeply shaken by the fact that this woman probably died hoping the famous scout would come to her rescue. Life doesn’t always imitate art. Unlike in the dime novels, he got there too late. It was said the incident haunted Carson for the rest of his life.

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.