As thousands of Forty-niners streamed west, many carried with them the explorer John C. Frémont's official reports of his expeditions into the Rockies in the early 1840s, which portrayed his scout, Kit Carson, as fearless, chivalrous, and resourceful. But these reports paled in comparison to the sensational "dime novels" about Carson written by people who had never been west themselves, and certainly had never met the former mountain man.
was one of the first legends in his own time, a case where people had
their image of what a Westerner was, that sometimes didn't square with
the real thing. Kit Carson was up at a Fort Laramie. Somebody came over
and said, 'I hear you're Kit Carson; is that right?' And, he was kind
of a laconic man, he said, 'Yeah, I am.' And the person from the East
looked him up and down and compared him to what he had read, and he goes,
'No , I don't think you really are Kit Carson.'"
The real Carson knew enough not to gamble his future on finding gold. Instead, he bought some 6,500 sheep from the Navajos at fifty cents a head and began driving them toward the gold fields, where he hoped to sell them for more than ten times that amount. Even here, his fame preceded him. When he drove his sheep onto a ferry boat on the Green River in Wyoming, the boatman refused to let him pay.
let him trail his six thousand five hundred sheep across for free -- that's
quite a savings -- in order that they could name it Kit Carson's Cut Off,
cause they figured if people heard about that, that's the one they would
take, and they'd make a lot of money off his name."
Soon there would be Carson Lake, Carson River, Carson Pass, Carson Sink, Carson City -- and more. The old scout was philosophical about it all. Someone once showed him the cover of a particularly lurid book about himself and asked about the story it contained. "It may be true," he answered, "but I ain't got any recollection of it."
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