Christopher “Kit” Carson 1809–1868

Charles DeForest Fredricks (1823–1894), after daguerreotype by an unidentified photographer
Albumen silver print, c. 1863

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Christopher “Kit” Carson was a legendary yet controversial figure whose career as a mountain man and an army officer in the Southwest earned him national acclaim. Carson first gained notoriety working under explorer John C. Frémont. Serving on three Frémont-led expeditions during the 1840s, he distinguished himself for his skills as a hunter and a guide. Despite being illiterate, he was fluent in several languages and was able to communicate with many Native American tribes in the region.

During the Civil War, Carson commanded a Union regiment, successfully defending New Mexico from Confederate invaders. Also at this time he was called upon to lead a campaign to relocate the Navajo to a reservation three hundred miles away on the Pecos River. The 1864 “Long Walk” to Bosque Redondo—during which more than two hundred died—represented one of the largest forced relocations in U.S. history.