MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES

War Papers


RECOLLECTIONS OF KIT CARSON
By
Captain Nelson Thomasson, Company E, 5th Infantry USA
Original Member of the Illinois Commandery
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
Read before the Illinois Commandery of MOLLUS, March 1, 1928


Transcribed by Douglas R. Niermeyer, Commander, Missouri Commandery
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
momollus@sbcglobal.net
(September 2006)

Good-Bye, Friends, Adios Amigos – The last words of Kit Carson.

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Commander and Companions:
We reached Albuquerque on July 4, l862, and then and there, for the first time I met Kit Carson. But the heat was so terrific and the flies were so pestering, that the room was kept dark and I saw little of him. But afterwards, up and down the Rio Grande, and during the Navajo campaign, I saw enough of him, to fall in love with him. He was already enthroned in my mind, by my reading the first novel I ever read, "Lena Leota” or “The Prairie Flower,” by G. P. R. James, published in 1853, and by the accounts made to me by my maternal uncle, David Meriwether, appointed by President Pierce as Governor of New Mexico in 1854.

Kit Carson’s life is full to repletion with adventure. Look at his career with Fremont, just before and during our war with Mexico, and during the short while he was a Lieutenant in the regular army. The Senate would not confirm his appointment which he held about one year, but performed service to his Government even after he knew he was rejected in the winding up of certain public affairs. By the way, something ought to be done about the U. S. Senate ruling of confirmations. Don't we all remember the late Dr. Leib, who was the Editor and Proprietor of the “Rail-Splitter” in Chicago in 1860? He was made a Q. M., and became McClellan's capable Quarter Master in West Virginia, but the Senate would not confirm his nomination, and he gave up and went back to his old medical profession, and years after came out to us as a contract physician when we inaugurated the territory of Arizona, at Prescott, the capital thereof. Dr. Leib wrote a book how to make a million (which he did not do) but died a poor man in Prescott, and his widow married another doctor.

Carson was passionately fond of the buffalo, and told me he had hunted buffalo every year since he was 12 years old. He despised the appellation of scout, and wished to be called a trapper or hunter in his younger days.

In a paper of this kind it is so hard to tell what is best to give and the better to omit. But no matter how you do it, you will be criticized, and so we will dictate it just as it comes to us, and let it alone at that.

Christopher Carson was born at Cynthiana, Kentucky on December 24, 1809. But he was carried in his mother's arms to Missouri in less than a year afterwards. When I was part of the garrison of New Fort Barracks in Kentucky in 1868, I took the trouble just after Colonel Carson's death, to run down to Cynthiana, his birthplace, as it is in the adjoining county, but I could not find a soul who knew anything worth recording as to this Carson family. And by the same token little can be learned in Missouri, because when the subject of our inquiry became a mere boy, “he was on the jump,” to use his expression, to make a living. But if you really, want to know anything, go to Taos today, and every adult will talk and tell you a great deal of our hero of heroes.

He became a waggoner at the age of 15, and a hunter when about 17 years of age, and a full-fledged scout before Colonel Charles Fremont found him when he took his (Carson's) daughter to school in St. Louis. Fremont had his other employees, but when he could get the services of Carson he never rejected them.

Up to the time of the Civil War Carson had a great partiality for California, and every time he could go with Fremont or others, or alone, he would go. The first Mission established by the Roman Catholic religion was San Diego, in 1769, and then about 25 to 30 missions north, all near the Pacific Ocean or on the rivers that had their only outlet through the Golden Gate at San Francisco. Then the wealth of our country consisted of the precious metals of the South, or the rich peltries of the North. These two pursuits have, in a manner, been the pioneers and precursors of civilization, and without pausing on the borders, they have penetrated at once in defiance of difficulties to the very heart of savage countries, laying open the secrets of the wilderness after them, not waiting the slow and pausing steps of agriculture and the coming of crowds, and this was what Carson gloried in, to be an explorer, trapper, and hunter

Captain Asa B. Carey, who died as chief paymaster of the U. S. Army (whom I ever regard as the James Madison of our crowd) was next in command in the celebrated Navajos campaign. Carey had two companies of the 13th U.S. Infantry with him. We would start out in the morning, and unless we had water holes in view for camping purposes, we would make about 10 to 13 miles a day. We had American horses and they could in their walks keep the little mustangs in a perpetual dog trot. Carson would always lead the way, and when we would arrive at our rendezvous, he was there and through Murphy would yell out “Pheiffer, you throw your Company over thar and Birney, your Company adjoining” and so making a perfect semi-circle. And then in a few moments you could smell the fragrant coffee to be relished by the tired and almost exhausted soldiers.

Colonel Carson would always keep his camp chair at the head of this circle and receive the reports of the different detachments.

Afterwards, if sufficient officers were present, a card party would be formed, and certain officers (I often thought) would be invited to come and join in the game of draw poker, or whatever the majority or Carson might wish. Right here I wish to record Carson would only allow a small ante and limit to be practiced. He would invariably gamble or bet on canned fruits or chicken a la Marengo, and also what was called then lemonade sugar. This was new to us and “Oh!” so nice in that hot climate to our tired and jaded bodies. We all, if we could afford it, had meerschaums, but Carson was very partial to the briar pipe - some depended upon chewing tobacco being protected from the dry climate by tin foil covering, which General Winfield Scott had invented 16 years before on the road from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico. And then would begin the stories beside the camp fires, which I will never forget if I live ages to come.

Colonel Carson was not what could be called an educated man, and always regretted he was not. He could write his name, and wrote it “Kit Carson,” but Murphy, the adjutant of the column, decreed it would not go down with the third auditor, and prevailed upon having it “C. Carson.” I had a large box of these orders and returns signed by Colonel Carson but, of course, they all went up in your great smoke of 1871, where they were in an iron vault, but which proved to be no protection in your sad great fire.

Once when we were jogging along I asked Colonel Carson how many Indians he had sent to the “Happy Grounds.” His reply was that he could not tell exactly, but he said he never killed any unless his life was in great danger, and then he would send the Indian before him.

One day, looking up the road which came through the Bosque (or woods), I saw Colonel Carson coming toward me, mounted on a very superb horse. He was escorted by a few cavalry men of his New Mexican regiment. He saluted me teniente, “"How you like my new horse? It is a present from the people of St. Louis or State of Missouri.” I have forgotten which he stated. Colonel Carson said, “I wish you would keep it for me till I return from the Navajo Country, but you must promise me to let no one on its back but you. I will be gone about three weeks. When I get out of the Canon de Chelly, my address will be Ceboeta. I will come back here.” I promised - I told him I would like to discard the Mexican bit. “No,” the Colonel said, “he is too spirited to be without this curb.” This animal was a beauty - with the bridle (but which I thought was cruel) you could manage him with the left hand most easily. If Custer had this curbed bit he would not have had that runaway of his horse at the grand parade in Washington City in 1865. There is no cruelty to the horse by a skillful rider. The slightest pressure opens the animal's mouth, but his nostrils are free, which a horse so much likes. Napoleon could not adopt it, because he never could use the bridle reins with only his right hand, never the left.

Colonel Kit Carson was a great believer and lover of pure religion - that religion born in a stable and educated in a carpenter shop, he was a verily true Christian - but he would have nothing to do with theology. At the camp fires when the talk would glide into that, he would turn himself in his canvas back chair, and exhale his puffs of smoke from his briar root pipe in an opposite direction. What would he think if someone told him that we now have church property in the United States amounting to 3 billion dollars and that there were 183 sects of purported religions? Would it not have petrified him with astonishment as much as any of his Arizona trees? As to these statements see the 1926 Statements of the Census Bureau. But I am not a preacher or an exhorter, but let us hope, yes, let us pray that with these 183 sects or denominations and 3 billion dollars worth of church property, that we will soon have more practical piety and righteousness.

Carson was never heavy on any religion, but he knew that his Christ had been born, had died, and still lived - that was enough for him. He used to say, “A man should never do anything in day time that would make him repent thereof when the night came.” Now do you think we youngsters went wrong when we truly idolized this nature's man?

He took quite a liking to a Captain who commanded a Company of Americans, but who came too late to get into the regular column. This Captain was an ex-preacher and when detached and sent on scout would make speeches to his battalion, saying they were about to go into action, and every man should implore his Maker, or the God of battles, for His protection. This officer would spring doctrines upon Carson, but the Colonel would then turn his head away - puff his smoke in another direction. Colonel Carson had some time and somewhere been told about the simple and sincere teachings of the humble Galilean and of his 12 men who stood against the whole world and won. He believed in this and let theology go hang. He believed that membership in the kingdom above could be insured only on the basis of individual righteousness. No other credentials were worthy of a moment's consideration. He believed in the Heavenly Father who is the embodiment of mercy and redeeming love for his children.

And so I could go along and tire you with these recollections - but Cui Bono. He (Carson) lived a long life, as great men's lives are all short. Abraham Lincoln died at 56 years, and Carson a few years later, in the year 1868. He died really from a wound he received when a young man. This wound at times gave him great trouble. He was brought down from Taos to Fort Lyons to be near a doctor of the regular army. This doctor told him almost to a day how long he could live, ie., when the wound would reach a certain stage in his throat, and one day Carson had felt he was being choked, and he only had time to cry out, “Friends, good-bye,” and dying he shouted “Adios Amigos.”

Carson was born on the 24th of December, a Christmas Eve present to his parents, 1809, Madison County, the same year that Abraham Lincoln saw light, but he was brought to Missouri early to what is now Howard County. Missouri was then called Upper Louisiana, being a part of the land ceded to the United States by France in 1803. This Howard County, Missouri, where Carson came as a child, was a wild region, infested on all sides with Indians, often hostile and always treacherous. Carson told me he had sown his wild oats before he was 21, he knew he could not have his cake and eat it, too, so he chose to save his money and his strength for future use.

About the year 1868, General William Tecumseh Sherman made an inspection tour of the Plains forts, almost all said forts in Kansas and Colorado. Instead of hiring or inviting Kit Carson or Maxwell, formerly of Kaskasika, Illinois, to escort him and staff, as it had been the custom, General Sherman by a special order, commanded Captain Edmund Butler of my Regiment, the 5th U. S. Infantry, and platoon of soldiers, to be his bodyguard. At this we then marveled. The heirs of Butler proudly show this special order today. Why was it thus? About a year or so previous General Sherman was presented with a scholarship from some university in Indiana, and as Tecumseh had no son then eligible for this college, he selected the oldest son of Kit Carson to he the candidate to go through the curriculum. Carson's boy went, and before the first year was out, or soon thereafter, General Sherman had a bill of about $1,000 sent him for board and books, for Kit Carson's boy. This made Tecumseh mad as a March hare, and hence his screed against all scouts in general and particularly those in the employ of the U. S. Government then - stating the Indians were almost gone, and the scouts should go with them, and so forth and so on. But Reno will tell you (who is alive today) that if Custer had more scouts and depended upon them, that he (Custer) would never have come to such an inglorious end. But Sherman's screed had its effect, and how Buffalo Bill flourished in his long career; I have often thought it was due to Mr. Cody's perseverance and to his tip-top worthiness.

Colonel Carson always gave me the credit of his being appointed Indian agent of the Southwest, and I never did do a semi-public action that gave me so much private satisfaction. It happened in this way: When on waiting orders here in Chicago I made a visit to Washington City, and had hardly taken a seat in General John C. McFerran's office, when he spoke right out, that he wanted me to go to General Grant and join with others in asking this commission for Carson. I told him (McFerran) that Lieutenant Colonel Chaves, Carson's Lieutenant Colonel, had a candidate for that office, etc., but McFerran said, “No matter, go ahead, and be quick about it.” We immediately made a petition in as few words as possible. I went to the old warhorses first, whom I knew personally, such as General Rucker, Sheridan's father-in-law; McFeeley, Thompkins (who led the first cavalry fight in the Civil War, etc.) and who knew Carson fortunately and got them to sign this petition. Next morning I appeared before McFerran and showed him the petition, and he said we will go right over to Grant's office. We went, and found Grant just coming down the stairway, with Major Leit (who had been a cross-eyed dry-goods clerk in Chicago) and Grant had taken him on his staff. McFerran, who had been a classmate of Grant's at the Point in 1844, did the talking, saying “General, here is a small petition; we wish to call your immediate attention thereto.” Grant stopped and McFerran read the petition and some of the names appended. He (Grant) took the paper from McFerran and handed it to Major Leit, and told him to make out this commission to Colonel Kit Carson. Of course, this made Lieutenant Colonel Chaves howling mad, and he came out in the papers asking what could a delegate from the great territory in New Mexico amount to, when the administration made an appointment over his head by a Lieutenant of the regular army, and more similar stuff. But really, this was originated by McFerran, who died shortly after as Quarter Master General of the U. S. Army. He needed Carson muchly to carry out certain provisions promised to the Utes and Navajoes, and this was the only way to do it.

How fast humans increase even in bondage. We brought from the Navajo Country 9,200 prisoners, and now they write me there are about 21,000 Indians on the reservation. But this increase does not exceed that of the negro race. Lincoln, with a few strokes of his pen manumitted 4 million slaves, and now there must be several more million citizens of African decent - voting at the Northern Polls.

I wish to bespeak of the American people their best actions to these Navajoes. Even General Sheridan, whose antipathy extended to all Indians, used to confess to his compadres that there were many good Indians in the Navajo Tribe.

Right here and now I wish to stress the fact that this Navajo campaign was comparatively a bloodless one. On the second day after entering Canon de Chelly, and the killing of Major Cummins, the Major of Carson’s regiment, which I told you about in a former paper, we had no real fighting. It was all planned by General James H. Carleton and Colonel Carey - and executed by Colonel Kit Carson and his command - and all very successfully. I can, in my recollections, see Manulita, the Chief of all the Navajoes, bowing his head in acquiescence, and crying out after Carson had his talk and smoke with him, “Good Medicine.”

And now I am dead tired, and I am afraid you are also, and this is all I will say about Colonel Carson tonight, that he retired after his Indian appointment to that lovely Taos in New Mexico, just East of the Continental Divide - and the Ute and Navajo reservations in Arizona.

But I want to add one word about Lincoln - I tried to do so last evening but could not as I did not have the manuscript with me. Here it is, and I allude to it now again, because in our last meeting some of us intimated that we were not keeping the recollection of Lincoln as fresh as we might.

In my article on “Lincoln” published in the “Chicago News” some time ago, this article hardly went to press before I came to hear of something further which I regret not knowing then, so I put it in now as it is too important to leave unmentioned.

I was recently in Dr. Gardiner's anteroom waiting for my turn for a treatment, and I noticed a man and a woman and several children waiting with me. Suddenly the woman came up to me, and to my surprise asked me how I regard the memory of Lincoln. I replied that it would take me a long time to tell her. She interrupted me and told me she was teaching her children to regard Abraham Lincoln as a demigod and in another generation Lincoln would be regarded as great as any saint above.

Some of you know I have been writing my different recollections about Statesmen whom I knew, as Douglas, Lincoln, and others. But the articles I wrote fell stale with the exception of that of Lincoln - but Lincoln’s has been reprinted in the New York Herald-Tribune, Washington, D. C. papers, and especially all through the South and the Pacific Slope. That shows that Lincoln’s fame can take care of itself, and as this Russian lady said, it will soon be the loftiest ikon on all the world's flags.

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Source:
Thomasson, H. 1928. RECOLLECTIONS OF KIT CARSON, by Captain Nelson Thomasson, Company E, 5th Infantry USA, A Paper Read Before the Illinois Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, March 1, 1928, ??pgs.

Copyright © 2006 Douglas Niermeyer, Missouri Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States


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