On this day, the Union’s Lt. Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson leaves Santa Fe with his troops, beginning his campaign against the Indians of New Mexico and Arizona. A famed mountain man before the Civil War, Kit Carson was responsible for waging a destructive war against the Navajo that resulted in their removal from the Four Corners area to southeastern New Mexico.
Carson was perhaps the most famous trapper and guide in the West. He traveled with the expeditions of John C. Fremont in the 1840s, leading Fremont through the Great Basin. Fremont’s flattering portrayal of Carson made the mountain man a hero when the reports were published and widely read in the east. Later, Carson guided Stephen Watts Kearney to New Mexico during the Mexican-American War. In the 1850s he became the Indian agent for New Mexico, a position he left in 1861 to accept a commission as lieutenant colonel in the 1st New Mexico Volunteers.
Although Carson’s unit saw action in the New Mexico battles of 1862, he was most famous for his campaign against the Indians. Despite his reputation for being sympathetic and accommodating to tribes such as the Mescaleros, Kiowas, and Navajo, Carson waged a brutal campaign against the Navajo in 1863. When bands of Navajo refused to accept confinement on reservations, Carson terrorized the Navajo lands–burning crops, destroying villages, and slaughtering livestock. Carson rounded up some 8,000 Navajo and marched them across New Mexico for imprisonment on the Bosque Redondo Reservation, over 300 miles from their homes, where they remained for the duration of the war.