Kit Carson – The Runaway Boy

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Mountain man Kit Carson and his favorite horse, Apache

When Kit Carson ran away from his employer David Workman, in 1826, the man put a price on Kit’s head in the amount of one cent. In the notice that Mr. Workman posted he described the sixteen-year-old boy as being small for his age, thickset, and having light hair. Carson had been bound out to Workman, a saddler in Franklin, Missouri, to learn a trade. Though it was a skill Kit would fall back on from time to time, it was not what the boy wanted to do.

When, on Christmas Day in 1809, Christopher Carson was born surely his parents had every hope that their youngest of fourteen children would grow up to be strong, fearless, and independent just as his older brothers were who were giant-sized frontiersmen. Kit, in time, more than matched his brothers in bravery and strength but he never obtained their size. Kit was the runt of the family. He also had little interest in books or learning, but there was little opportunity on the frontier to gain an education anyway.

When Kit was just a toddler in Kentucky, where the Carson family had been neighbors of the Boones for a couple of generation, his father loaded up his family and their meager belongings and headed west along the Boone Trail. At that time the settlement farthest west was Franklin, Missouri and there Kit’s father built his family a rough log cabin.

By the year 1822, when Kit was thirteen years old, several factors were greatly influencing his life and would shape his future. First of all Mexico had won her independence from Spain. Prior to Mexico’s independence Spain allowed no trade with the Americans but now Mexico clamored for American merchandise. Another factor was a man in England named Beau Brummel who had, in 1800, popularized the beaver hat. By 1822 the rivers of England, as well as the eastern portion of the United States, had depleted their beaver population. Only in the unknown streams of the Rocky Mountains was the beaver bountiful, and they were going for the unheard of price of six dollars a piece for a prime pelt.

With the Santa Fe trade, and the outfitting of trappers for the beaver trade, Franklin, Missouri was about the busiest place on the frontier. And young Kit Carson saw it all happening, as well as passing him by as he worked in the saddler shop. This bandy-legged boy who stood barely five feet tall watched big, raw-boned men in buckskins getting ready to travel the Santa Fe Trail or head to the Far West in search of beaver. But Kit, bound out to David Workman in his saddler shop, was saddled with a seven-year apprenticeship. Kit knew what he wanted and decided that some day he’d have it, and it wasn’t repairing harness and saddles for the rest of his life.

By the summer of 1826, though his arms and shoulders had developed, Kit was still small. He had also by then become acquainted with Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain who were fitting out an enormous wagon train filled with trade goods to take to Santa Fe. On the last day of August the final piece of harness for the big caravan was finished. On the first day of September Kit Carson was missing and that is how a reward came to be posted for his return in the amount of one cent.

Though Bent had misgivings about hiring little Kit Carson he took him on. Ironically, one of Kit’s convincing points for being hired was that he could mend saddles and harness.