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Kit Carson was an American frontiersman, trapper, soldier and Indian agent who made an important contribution to the westward expansion of the United States.
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A chance encounter in 1842 with the explorer John C. Frémont made Kit Carson an active participant in extending the boundaries of the United States to its present size. From 1846 until the end of the war with Mexico, he alternated fighting and guiding. In 1854 he became an Indian agent at Taos for the Ute. But by 1861 he was back in the field to serve the cause of the Union in the U.S. Civil War.
Born on Christmas Eve, 1809, Christopher "Kit" Carson became one of the most famous figures in the American West. He grew up on the Missouri frontier on lands bought from the sons of Western hero Daniel Boone. From an early age, Carson knew both the beauty and the danger that this area possessed. He and his family often feared attacks on their cabin from Native Americans.
When Carson's father, a farmer, died in 1818, Carson did his best to help out his mother, who had 10 children to raise on her own. He gave up on his education and worked the family's lands. Carson never learned to read—a fact he later tried to hide and was ashamed of.
At the age of 14, Carson moved to Franklin, Missouri, where he served as an apprentice to a saddlemaker. But the young man longed for freedom and adventure. In 1826, Carson fled Franklin, breaking his contract with the saddlemaker. He headed west on the Santa Fe Trail, working as a laborer in a caravan of merchants.
Carson eventually learned the ins and outs of trapping in the sometimes hostile lands of the West. He became one of the famed mountain men, who lived and worked in the wilderness. In 1829, Carson joined with Ewing Young to trap in Arizona and California. He also worked for Jim Bridger and the Hudson Bay Company at different times as well. Along the way, Carson learned to speak Spanish, French and several Native American languages.
In 1842, Carson met explorer John C. Frémont, an officer with the United States Topographical Corps, while traveling on a steamboat. Frémont soon hired Carson to join him as a guide on his first expedition. With his many years living rough in the woods, Carson was the ideal candidate to help the group make their way to the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains. Frémont's reports from the expedition, which praised Carson, helped make him one of the most famous mountain men. Carson also later became a popular hero in many Western novels.
Carson accompanied Frémont on two more journeys. In 1843, he accompanied Frémont to survey the Great Salt Lake in Utah and further west to Fort Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest. Carson also guided the 1845-1846 expedition to California and Oregon. During this time, he found himself caught in the Mexican War. While in California, Frémont's mission changed into a military operation. Carson and Frémont helped support an uprising by American settlers in the area, and Carson was then sent to Washington, D.C., by Frémont to deliver the news of their victory.
Making it as far as New Mexico, Carson was asked to guide General Stephen W. Kearny and his troops to California.
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