Frontiersman’s complex identity
By Carol Berry
Although Carson was portrayed as larger than life–seven feet tall, blond, blue-eyed and handsome, rescuing the damsel in distress–in fact he was about 5 feet, 4 inches in height, illiterate, from Missouri, and eager to escape the notoriety accorded him via the dime-fiction accounts.
Carson seemed to embody the Anglo-American notion that the West was “supposed to be ours, or something,” traveling westward on the Santa Fe Trail as a youth after his father died, then becoming a mountain man and trapper at a time when beaver pelts were prized by hatters in the U.S. and abroad.
Rather than epitomizing quintessentially Anglo values, however, he spoke several Native languages, was married into the Arapaho and Cheyenne nations, and was close to Ute and Spanish communities, as well.
Attempting to force agriculture at the Bosque Redondo was “destined to fail, anyway,” Sides noted. “It was an arrogant way of trying to say, ‘We don’t like the way you’re living now; you should live an entirely different life.’”
Somewhat like a Mafia character, Carson lived in a violent world but mostly remained true to his personal code and to tribal alliances despite a propensity for violence and hair-trigger temper, he said.
In assigning hero and villain roles to the historical figures, Carson’s closeness to–and, some said, betrayal of–Native cultures was a defining characteristic, especially his closeness to the Ute nation and his use of Ute scouts against the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly.
I have Blood and Thunder but haven't read it yet. A few years ago I debated someone on the subject. Specifically, someone who got upset when I quoted someone who labeled Bosque Redondo a "concentration camp." (Because it fits the definition of one.) The person thought I was criticizing Carson too, but I wasn't.
For more on the subject, see How America Became Cowboy Country and Docudrama About Yellow Woman.