Mountain man Kit Carson takes a trip down the aisle

February 6, 1843

On this day, Kit Carson, poster boy for the frontier free spirit got married – again.  The new missus, Maria Josefa Jaramillo, was Carson’s third wife.

Admittedly, the bride-groom’s resume as trapper, trader, soldier, scout, didn’t lend itself to a picture of domestic bliss. And not surprising, Josefa’s prominent family was skeptical of the match.  They’d been down this road with persistent Anglo suitors before.  Josefa’s sister, Ignacio, (right) was already the mother of several children by wealthy American trader, Charles Bent, before the couple was wed.       

In addition, Carson’s marital status was sketchy when he began his campaign for Josefa’s hand.  At 30-something, he’d reportedly been smitten with the lovely young girl even before she had reached the marginally marriageable age of 14.  Plus he’d already had two wives. maybe even at the same time.

In 1836, he’d married a beautiful Arapahoe woman, Waa nibe, (Singing Grass).   She had caused a ruckus among the mountain men at Wyoming’s  Green River Rendezvous.  That courtship led to one of the classic Kit Carson tales, being forced to fight a duel on horseback with a trapper named Chouinard.  One of Carson’s shots amputated the Frenchman’s thumb on his right hand, the story goes, and history can’t say whether the unlucky Chouinard  survived the encounter.

Depiction of Mountain Man Rendezvous

Waa nibe had two children with Carson.  She died giving birth to their second daughter, probably in 1841.  The child tragically died two years later after falling into a boiling caldron.

But Carson may have already taken a second wife at the time of Waa nibe’s death.  Whenever it began, the second marriage didn’t end well.  The Cheyenne woman, Making-Out-Road, divorced Carson in the way of her people, setting his belongings outside the lodge, including Waa nibe’s surviving daughter, Adaline. 

It’s not clear if his pursuit of wife number three prompted Carson to deliver young Adaline to his sister, Mary Carson Rubey in Missouri.  Settled in a prosperous marriage to a judge, Mary Rubey was, by all accounts, a compassionate woman known later for opening her home to both Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Finally with his obligations from previous relationships discharged, at 33 Carson left his Presbyterian past behind, converted to Catholicism and married the 15-year-old Josefa.  

Kit obviously didn’t believe in long honeymoons.  He was soon off with explorer George C. Fremont (left) on his second expedition. 

He and Fremont were in California  at the start of the Mexican War, leaving Josefa to fend off rioters during the bloody Taos Rebellion of 1847.  The melee made a widow of her sister, Ignacio.  Charles Bent, (right) was serving as the first territorial governor of New Mexico when the trouble began and returned from Santa Fe to Bent’s Fort in Taos. He was scalped alive by pueblo Native Americans in league with Mexican conspirators, unhappy with the American take-over.  

The other members of the household were spared when Josepha tunneled through the adobe wall into the next building, allowing the family to escape.  It was three months before Carson arrived back in Taos to learn about the family’s plight.

Despite his long absences, Carson was home often enough to father eight children.  In addition to his growing brood, he continued to support Adaline, calling her “Prairie Flower.”  Educated in a convent school  in Missouri, she rejoined her father in New Mexico as a teenager.  But Carson’s Prairie Flower did not thrive.  She died in 1859 at the age of 20 or 21 of an unrecorded cause, perhaps in childbirth. 

The now legendary frontiersman was in his late forties at the start of the Civil War.  Enlisting in the Union Army, he served with the New Mexico Volunteers.(Right)  Despite being on the losing side at the Battle of Valverde, General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s Confederates were later defeated and driven back to Texas.   Carson spent the remainder of the war pursuing the Navajo, Kiowa and Comanche.

He mustered out after being breveted a brigadier general and retired to a ranch in Boggsville, Colorado.

It was a short, unhappy retirement.  Josefa died giving birth to their eighth child on April 23, 1868.  She was just 40.  Grief-striken, Carson died a month later at 58.  Having survived the rigors of the frontier for more than two decades and the hardships of several wars, he succumbed to an aortic rupture, often caused by an abdominal aneurysm.  It is still today estimated to be fatal on the high side of 50 per cent without immediate modern surgical intervention. 

Dime novel hero and read-deal mountain man, Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson left behind a murky legacy.   Harvey L. Carter’s 1968 biography concludes that Carson was “not overrated…in respect to his actual exploits and his actual character,” declaring him at least a cut above his fellow contenders for the National Mountain Man crown. 

A number of less charitable reviews, however, have found Carson’s treatment of Native Americans reprehensible, not the least of which was his role in the tragic events surrounding Basque Redondo.  Known as the Long Walk, hundreds of Navajo Carson marched through the desert died along the way.  Many more were casualties during the four years of maltreatment and incarceration at Fort Sumner. 

At least one attempt was made to change the name of Kit Carson Park in Taos to Red Willow Park.  It failed and as of this writing, it still bears the Carson name.  His grave and that of Josefa are located in the park’s Kit Carson Cemetery. 

Not far away is the final resting place of Mexican activist, Padre Antonio José Martínez, (right) someone Carson always believed helped incite the Taos Rebellion that killed Josepha’s brother-in-law, Charles Bent.  No proof  of his claim was ever offered.

Never overlooking an opportunity to create a celluloid hero, Hollywood mostly voted with biographer Carter.  In the 1940 film,“Kit Carson” the  140 pound, freckle faced, stoop-shouldered Carson was portrayed by burly Jon Hall, who bravely led a wagon train on a perilous trek to California.  The 1950s’s TV series, “The Adventures of Kit Carson” cast professional swimmer turned actor, Bill Williams, (left) in the role of the fabled West-erner.  He did bear some resemblance to Carson.  They both had red hair.

The Kit Carson Home and Museum, 113 Kit Carson Rd, Taos, New Mexico, is a short walk from the central Taos Plaza.  The one story adobe house was built in 1825 and served as the primary residence for Carson and Josefa from 1843 to 1868.  Its U shape and central courtyard are typical of Spanish Colonial, the oldest portion furnished in the Spanish Colonial and Territorial styles popular during the mid-19th century.  Other parts of the building display historic artifacts.  Administered by the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation, admission fees finance the work of the organization. 

Hours vary with the season.   Contact the museum for exact times the museum is open.   Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $7 for veterans, teens and students.  Children 12 and under are free.  Active duty military and their families are also admitted free from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  For more information go to, call (575) 758-4945 or write Kit Carson Home and Museum, 113 Kit Carson Rd, Taos, NM. 

© Text Only – 2020 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.