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Kit Carson left a complicated and controversial legacy

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By Sherry Robinson

Kit Carson Park in Taos will have a new name.
The local argument over the name is one of those debates New Mexicans have from time to time that shows our lingering sensitivities. Navajos have strong feelings about the man, but let’s look more closely at the person and the place.
Kit Carson was a man of his time. The frontiersman and trapper scouted for explorer John C. Fremont, fought in the Civil War and served as Indian agent. He once testified, “I think, as a general thing, the difficulties (with Indians) arise from aggressions on the part of the whites.”
In 1862, Gen. James Carleton ordered Carson to attack Mescaleros, kill all the men and capture women and children. It was a brutal campaign, but Carson ignored the order to kill all the men, and the Mescaleros became the first to occupy the Bosque Redondo reservation on the Pecos.
The next year Carleton ordered Carson to round up Navajos. Carson didn’t want to lead the campaign and tried to resign, but Carleton cajoled him into staying. In “Blood and Thunder,” author Hampton Sides describes how Carson grimly carried out the ruthless, scorched-earth campaign that Carleton demanded. After troops destroyed their crops, livestock and orchards, the starving Navajos surrendered.


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