Wednesday, August 28, 2019

My Personal Story of Kit Carson - The Trailblazer

A few days ago I was reminiscing about a trip that I took to Taos last September to attend the 16th Annual Michael Hearne’s Big Barn Dance Music Festival. I knew it would be a great time because I had been prompted by my friend, Jimmy LaFave to go to The Folk Alliance Convention in Albuquerque in 1999 to hang out with my Austin musician friends in the Land of Enchantment. Needless to say, it was a blast having sleep overs with my cousins Albuquerque and then going to listen to Austin music in my beloved New Mexico. My lifelong dream had come true, if only for a weekend.

Kit Carson Park, Taos, NM
September 2018

Christina and Brenda
at the Barn Dance in Kit Carson Park
September 2018

Christina in Taos, September 2018

My weekend in Taos proved to be just as magical. The annual Barn Dance is held in downtown Taos, at the Kit Carson Park, named after the notable frontiersman, Kit Carson. There's a family graveyard in the park where Kit and his family are buried. Between musical sets, I wondered around looking at the graves, taking photos, thinking I should do some research when I got home. I had noticed his wife's name was Josephine Jaramillo, a surname that I had seen in my family tree. I finally got around to doing the research this week, almost a year later.

The Graves of Kit Carson and his wife Josephine Jaramillo Carson
In the Kit Carson Park, Taos, NM

Lt. Colonel Christopher Kit Houston Carson 

I was taken by this photo
of Josepha and one of her children
The baby looks so much like
my grandson, Andrew, the baby on the left.

As expected, Kit Carson's third wife, Josefa "Josephine" Jaramillo, was in fact, my 3rd cousin 3 generations back (In genealogical lingo - 3rd cousin 3X removed.) This storyline repeats numerous times over the centuries in my family history. This, of course is not the focus of historians, but I am a hopeless romantic. A handsome stranger blows into town and falls in love with a beautiful young maiden, who just happens to be part of a local, prominent, wealthy family. In this chapter of my family history, it's the family of Maria Apolonia Vigil Jaramillo and her husband Francisco Estevan Jaramillo. They were descendants of two of New Mexico territory's oldest and most respected families. I've been able to trace our Vigil family tree back to Zenobio de Jesus Vigil, born in 1500 in San Martino, Asturias, Spain. He was  my 11th great grandfather and Josepha Jaramillo's 8th great-grandfather. These families were some of the earliest of settlers and played an important role in the history of the northern New Mexico Territory during the tumultuous 1800s.

Josepha Jaramillo's older sister Ignacia Jaramillo was a common law wife to Charles Bent. Both Kit and Charles had come west from Missouri in the fur trapping business. Charles didn't want to marry Ignacia in the Catholic church because he was from a protestant family but they had a family together. Here's the spoiler alert! Even though Kit Carson is very much the star of this story, it takes a turn that I wasn't expecting when I was doing the research. If you are a history buff, you already know the story. I have to confess that until I started researching my ancestry, I had little or no interest in history. Now that I know how whitewashed our history books have been, it makes total sense that the stories we were taught didn't capture my attention. The real stories are much more colorful and make much more sense. There are always two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in between. 

I am going to tell the warm fuzzy part of the story first. From what I gather Kit Carson, the American frontiersman, soldier, western guide and Indian agent was an honorable benevolent leader. He was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1809 in Richmond, Kentucky. He was only a year old when his family moved west to Missouri. They settled in Howard County, between St Louis and Kansas City. When Kit was only nine years old, his father was hit by a tree limb and died. Two weeks later his mother gave birth to her tenth child. I can't imagine what it may have been like to be a single mother in the 1800's. She remarried four years later to a widower with seven children, so together they had seventeen children. Kit didn't get along with his stepfather and at the age of fourteen he became an apprentice to a saddle maker. Needless to say, the death of his father changed the trajectory of this his life. Many of the customers at the saddle shop were trappers and traders. Kit heard stirring tales of the west and at the age of sixteen, he secretly signed on with a large merchant caravan heading to Santa Fe. During the winter of 1826 he stayed in Taos with a trapper and explorer who had been a friend of Kit's father. Kit learned the skills of a trapper. 

In the summer of 1835, at the age of 25, Kit attended an annual mountain man rendezvous, which was held in Wyoming. He became interested in a beautiful Arapaho woman named Waa-Nibe ("Singing Grass" in English) Her tribe was camping nearby. They were married and had one daughter, Adaline in 1837 then Waanibe died giving birth to their second child. In 1840 he married a Cheyenne woman named Making-Out-Road Carson  but that marriage only lasted about a year.

By this time, Kit's friends and associates read like a who’s who of the rich and famous on the American frontier, yet his friends were diverse. He became friends with Charles and William Bent who had establishing 'Bent's Fort' in Colorado. The only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail in 1833. It was the commercial link between St Louis and Santa Fe, the capital of the Mexican province of New Mexico. 

Bent's Fort

So think about this and compare it to the headlines you read today. The Arkansas River was just a few hundred yards to the south of "Bent's Fort." and until 1848, the international border between Mexico and the United States was Arkansas River. It was like the modern day Texas/ Mexico border on the Rio Grande. 'Bent's Fort' made trade between the United States and Mexico very easy. So even though it may have seemed to be the middle of nowhere, on the contrary, it was in the middle of everywhere. In a time when most people used products from no farther than 30 miles from where they were born, Bent’s Fort was the modern version of an international trade center. There were glass beads from Venice, blankets from England, guns from Belgium, trade silver from Germany, ginger and tea from China, sugar from Havana and much more. The fort wasn't just a trade center, it had a bar, a kitchen and dining room 
with 40-60 employees. There were wild parties called fandangos that allowed people from all backgrounds mingled and danced together.  The traders and customers were diverse, with several languages spoken daily - Spanish being the most common. Kit became fluent in Spanish, Navajo, Apache, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Paiute, Shoshone and Ute.

From St Louis, it would take travelers 50 or 60 days to get to 'Bent’s Fort.' When travelers arrived to this destination, it was a big deal. Throughout history, there's this indescribable thread that's connects my family to someone in St Louis. Even now, my son and two grandchildren live in St Louis. Christian owns a restaurant serving my mother's recipes of our homeland, New Mexico. Bent Ave in St Louis is just a stone's throw away from the new Taco Circus location. The Bent family was from St Louis and they are now buried there. In Taos, the Bent Museum is on Bent Street, a couple of blocks from the Kit Carson Park. 

Then there was Kit’s best friend, Luciano Bonaparte Maxwell. His story reads like an old western adventure — because it was. Kit and Luciano married their wives in a double ceremony in 1843 at the Guadalupe Church in Taos. Kit was 33 when he married 15 year old Josepha. Luciano married Luz Beaubien. As a wedding gift, Luz' parents, Maria Paula Lovato and Charles Beaubien, gave the couple 15,000 acres of the Miranda-Beaubien Land Grant which consisted in part the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. At one time Luciano Maxwell owned more than 1,700,000 acres, making him the largest private landowners in United States history. 

Here's more mind blowing ancestral information that I just put together while combing through literature for this blog. Luciano's wife Luz is my 4th cousin 4 generations ago AND ..... Drum Roll Please...... Luciano and Luz were the parents of Paulita Maxwell Jaramillo. Do you know who Paulita Maxwell Jaramillo was? She was Billy the Kid's girlfriend. When I was a high school senior, I just knew her as the character that Rita Coolidge played in my favorite movie of 1973, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid." I later discovered that Billy the Kid lived on my great uncle's ranch and taught my great uncle Hilario Valdez to read and write in English when he was 7 yrs old. I verified much of what I read by combing through all the census documents taken by my great great Uncle Lorenzo Labadie. 38 years after Paulita's parents were married, Billy the Kid was killed at the Maxwell's home in Ft Sumner by Pat Garrett. Luciano had left the house to his son Peter.

The Maxwell House Where Billy The Kid Was Killed By Pat Garrett
July 14, 1881, In Ft Sumner, NM.
Luz Beaubien Maxwell and Luciano Bonaparte Maxwell's
son, Pedro was living at the house at the time.

So that's the story I expected and was extremely excited to find while doing the research on the Kit Carson family cemetery and I was very excited to finally make the DNA connection to Paulita Maxwell. Now comes the real history lesson. As I mentioned, Josepha Jaramillo's older sister Ignacia was married to Charles Bent, the successful trader who had established 'Bent's Fort.' In 1829, he and his younger brother William escorted a caravan of 93 wagonloads of goods from Missouri to the New Mexico Territory. After this highly lucrative expedition, Charles went into business with a French trapper named Ceran St. Vrain. Their firm Bent, St. Vrain and Co became one of the west’s leading mercantile enterprises. Annual profits from the fur trade alone averaged $40,000. They had stores in Santa Fe and in Taos.

Charles Bent's considerable wealth and his common law marriage into one of the New Mexico territory's oldest and most respected families helped him win acceptance among the political elites. He became a close associate of New Mexico's governor, Manuel Armijo. Then the U.S. Congress approved the declaration of war against Mexico on May 13, 1846. The Bent brothers had opened the gate to the west and welcomed the United States General Stephen Kearney’s conquest of New Mexico with open arms. Kearny informed Governor Armijo of the U.S. government’s intent to annex New Mexico. Sensing major trouble, Governor Armijo deserted. 

Christina at Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, NM 2017

On August 18, 1846, Brigadier General Kearny raised the American flag and fired a 13 gun salute at the Palace of the Governors as he informed the people of New Mexico’s capital of the annexation. Prominent New Mexicans were outraged at the United States aggression and were ashamed of Armijo’s desertion. They began making plans to defend their country against American occupation. In September 1846, Kearney appointed Charles Bent as the first American Territorial Governor of the newly acquired New Mexico Territory. Kearney and most of his soldiers then moved on to take over California, leaving the new governor to fend for himself. Bent's actions had earned him many enemies in Taos. Many of the Hispanic families naturally resented the American conquest of their home and the Native Americans had long disliked Bent because of his trade relations with their northern Native enemies. 

On the morning of January 19, 1847, the Taos Revolt began. It was led by Pablo Montoya, a Hispano and Tomás Romero, a Native of the Taos Pueblo. A violent mob attacked the Bent home, murdered his guards, and then assassinated and scalped Charles Bent, dragging Bent’s mangled body through the streets of Taos. The mob called for a full-scale rebellion against the American occupation and by the end of the evening, 15 others had been killed including Pablo Jaramillo, Josephine's brother and Narcisco Beaubien the brother of Luz Beaubien. They were the brother-in-laws of Kit and Luciano, both of them blood relatives of mine. Fortunately, Kit was on a fur trapping trip, Ignacia Jaramillo Bent, her sister Josefa Jaramillo Carson and the children escaped through a hole in the adobe wall. Ignacia and Josefa begged the bloodthirsty mob for mercy. Buenaventura De Jesus Valdez (another 2nd cousin of mine) entered the Bent house too late to save Charles Bent. He told the attackers they were only sent to take Charles Bent in, not to kill him. He intervened and spared the women’s lives. The attackers left, leaving the family in a state of shock. They went to stayed in the home of Maria Juana Catarina Lovato and Buenaventura De Jesus Valdez for three days until they could escaped to Santa Fe with their children. With the end of the Mexican War in 1848, New Mexico and all the rest of Mexico’s old northern frontier became the American Southwest.

The two accused rebellion leaders, Pablo Montoya and Tomás Romero, were captured. Tomás was murdered in his jail cell before being brought to trial. Montoya was convicted of treason and hanged. Later trials resulted in 14 additional public hangings. The Taos Pueblo women had to carry their dead husbands’ bodies the few miles back to the Pueblo.

After the American takeover of New Mexico, Kit Carson and Lucieno Maxwell moved their families to Rayado, where they built a trading post and supply station for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. When Lucieno Maxwell's father-in-law,  Charles Beaubien died, Lucieno bought out the rest of the family and became sole owner of the Maxwell Land Grant. It took two acts of Congress to validate his ownership.

I have extremely mixed emotions about the above chapter of my family history but it's an informative history lesson and considering our county's current state of affairs with Mexico, it is a history lesson I needed to read. Wikipedia gives a mostly white washed version, yet when I read Native American websites the story is very graphic and real. For instance, the Native websites brought to my attention that official permission to enter the New Mexico Territory to set up  trade would have had to come from 1600 miles away in Mexico City. So the opening of the Santa Fe Trail not only allowed American traders set up shop illegally, it very conveniently opened up the west to be invaded by the United States. I had family members on both sides of the aisle just as and I have family members on both sides of the aisle today. My thoughts .... why can't we all just get along?

Back to the warm fuzzy part of this family story...

As a wedding gift, Kit had given Josepha an adobe home in Taos that they lived in for twenty-some years. Today this home houses the Kit Carson Museum. They brought eight children into the world in that house. (The first one died as an infant) Their niece, Teresina Bent, once described her Aunt Josepha and Uncle Kit: “She was very dark headed, with large bright eyes, graceful in every way, beautiful and the best of mothers. The Carson door was always open to neighbors, Spanish, Native and Anglo. Kit was a kind hearted man. Once he was lying on a blanket with his pockets stuffed with candy. His children jumped on top of him, raided his pockets and ate the candy. Clearly such small episodes brought him great pleasure.

The oldest known photo of the Kit Carson home in Taos

The Kit Carson Home Today In Taos Is A Museum

The Courtyard of the Kit Carson Home

In 1854 Carson became an Indian Agent for the Utes and Apaches, a job that allowed him to stay home more. He worked to keep peace and to ensure fair treatment of Native Americans. Once while away on business, a party of Utes stopped by his office. Josefa, who was a strong and equal match to Kit, went out to speak with him. After telling them that her husband wasn't there, she noticed a small Navajo boy sobbing on the saddle behind one of the Utes. When she asked about him she was told that after they were out of sight, they were going to kill him because of his constant crying. Horrified, Josefa asked them what they would accept in trade for the boy. The Utes replied that they would trade him for a horse. The trade was made. When Kit returned home he noticed a horse was missing When Josephine told him what had happened he accepted the boy gracefully and named him Juan Carson. Juan remained with the Carson's until their deaths a decade later.

In January 1868, General Kit Carson, frontiersman, was appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs for Colorado Territory. He traveled to Washington with a group of Ute chiefs to negotiate a treaty. He also consulted with a number of doctors on the East Coast about chest pains and other health problems. By then, it was apparent that he was quite ill. He was suffering from an aortic aneurysm that was so large that he had a bulge on his chest.

Kit returned home in time for the birth of his seventh child. It was a difficult birth and his beloved Josepha died on April 23, 1868, shortly after the birth of their healthy baby. Kit named their daughter Josefita in memory of his beloved wife. He lost the will to live and made arrangements for his children, wrote his will and  died at the age of 59 on May 23, 1868 one month to the day after his wife’s death. Theirs had been one of the great love stories of the American frontier.

Cheers to all my ancestors in New Mexico
Thank you for blazing the trails
I honor you

This shows our family tree matches.
My 4th great-grandmother was Josephine's great aunt.
Click on it to make it bigger.