Kit Carson

Kit Carson

The Life of An American Border Man

Book - 2011
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History has portrayed Christopher "Kit" Carson in black and white. Best known as a nineteenth-century frontier hero, he has been represented more recently as an Indian killer responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Navajos. Biographer David Remley counters these polarized views, finding Carson to be less than a mythical hero, but more than a simpleminded rascal with a rifle.

Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man strikes a balance between prevailing notions about this quintessential western figure. Whereas the dime novelists exploited Carson's popular reputation, Remley reveals that the real man was dependable, ethical, and--for his day--relatively open-minded. Sifting through the extensive scholarship about Kit, the author illuminates the key dimensions of Carson's life, including his often neglected Scots-Irish heritage. His people's dire poverty and restlessness, their clannish rural life and sternly Protestant character, committed Carson, like his Scots-Irish ancestors, to loyalty and duty and to following his leader into battle without question.

Remley also places Carson in the context of his times by exploring his controversial relations with American Indians. Although despised for the merciless warfare he led on General James H. Carleton's behalf against the Navajos, Carson lived amicably among many Indian people, including the Utes, whom he served as U.S. government agent. Happily married to Waa-Nibe, an Arapaho woman, until her death, he formed a lasting friendship with their daughter, Adaline.

Remley sees Carson as a complicated man struggling to master life on America's borders, those highly unstable areas where people of different races, cultures, and languages met, mixed, and fought, sometimes against each other, sometimes together, for the possession of home, hunting rights, and honor.

Publisher: Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 2011.
ISBN: 9780806141725
Branch Call Number: BIO CARSON, K. Remley 06/2011
BIO Carson K.
Characteristics: xxx, 289 p., [16] leaves of plates :,ill. ports. ;,23 cm.


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Jan 27, 2015

This is the third biography on Kit Carson I've read in the past six months and so far rereading what is more or less the same story over and over again, with nuanced differences from each author, hasn't gotten the least bit old. By now I know the noteworthy beats of Carson's life from memory so it's not like there are many surprises left to discover. I should restate that. Even though I know how his story ends, the value of Carson's biography lies in the telling and, subsequently, in his legacy. There are always new hidden truths waiting to be discovered, even from a tale I know by heart.

David Remley's report on Kit Carson is the kind of biography I love—a full measure of a person's life, triumphs AND failings, with an occasional impartial judgment from the author. For many decades during his life in the 19th century and many more after his death, Carson was regarded as a great American hero of westward expansion. And then starting around the 1960s the pendulum swung the other way, and Carson was re-branded a cold-blooded killer. No argument from me. He was all those things. His active involvement in the forced Long Walk of the Navajo's, for example, is especially egregious in light of being thought a hero. There's this tendency by many—a shortcoming in my opinion—to pass judgment on the past according to today's standards. I'm not interested in the labels of hero and villain when it comes to history. Leave that to fiction. The real world is not that simple. The value of the biography lies in context and motivation. Who is this extraordinary person, living in an extraordinary time and doing extraordinary things? Remley's book captures exactly this tone.

Aug 30, 2011

Academic story of Kit Carson's life. The author attempts to present a "balanced" view of Kit, however the use of multiple works/sources creates a bumpy narrative with multiple citations of sources. Reminded me of a high school history book.


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