Kit Carson Mountain (14,170 feet/4,319m) rises dramatically above Star Dune. This complex mountain, with its numerous sub-peaks and precipitous climbing routes, was named for the famous 19th century mountain man, frontier guide, and U.S. Army commander.
Like his namesake mountain, Kit Carson was complex and multi-faceted, defying simplistic labels. From humble beginnings in Missouri, he came west on a wagon train at age 16, and ultimately commanded nearby Fort Garland just after the Civil War. Though he could not read or write, he learned six languages. Through marriages to an Arapaho woman (who passed away and left him as a single father), and later a Hispanic woman from Taos, he developed personal connections within these cultural communities. His children were half American Indian or half Hispanic, which resulted in prejudice against his family in some circles.
Kit Carson was known as a fierce fighter against tribes that attacked settlers; sometimes that resulted in excessive force, especially earlier in his career. Yet Carson was also a brilliant and compassionate statesman who on many occasions advocated for fair treatment of tribes. At Fort Garland, he pushed back on the pressure from Washington to be more aggressive toward the Ute people. He and his family became close friends with Ute Chief Ouray and his wife Chipeta, believing that treating them with respect and kindness would bring a more lasting peace here than military power alone. As a result, Utes often set up their tipis right next to Fort Garland buildings. Kit Carson's approach here was successful, ushering in a decade of peace in an otherwise volatile history.
As you gaze up at this spectacular mountain above Great Sand Dunes, take a moment to reflect on the diverse human history that is also an integral part of this amazing landscape!
Learn more about Kit Carson, and tour their family home, at nearby Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center:
Photo: NPS/Patrick Myers
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