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On Walkabout At: The Kit Carson Memorial Cemetery

Basic Information

  • Name: Kit Carson Memorial Cemetery
  • Where: Taos, New Mexico
  • Cost: Free
  • More Info: Taos city website

Narrative

After visiting the Kit Carson Home and Museum during the recent visit our family made to Taos, New Mexico I had worked up an interest in learning more about Kit Carson.  At the museum I bought two books about the frontiersman that I quickly read through.  Reading these books I learned that Kit Carson was actually buried just a short walk down the road from where my family and I were staying at in Taos.  The cemetery is known as the Kit Carson Memorial Cemetery and it is part of the Kit Carson Park in downtown Taos:


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From the Casa Benavides Inn that my family was staying at, I walked a short ways down an alley to the entrance of the Kit Carson Park:

Near the cemetery portion of the park there is a New Mexico state historical marker recognizing the importance of the cemetery as being the final resting place of not only Kit Carson, but various other important New Mexican historical figures as well:

The cemetery is really not that large and some areas I was surprised to find was not up kept all that well:

Here is the corner of the cemetery where Kit Carson is buried which is easily identifiable due to the US flag flying over his grave:

Kit Carson was a frontiersmen that was born in 1809 in Kentucky.  At a young age his family moved to Missouri where as a teenager Kit Carson left home to live out West.  He learned to become a trapper and eventually a respected mountain man.  He eventually even married two Native-American women.  His first wife from the Arapaho tribe died of sickness after child birth, but gave birth to two daughters before her death sometime between 1838-1840.  Kit Carson would later remember his time living in the mountains with his first wife as the happiest times of his life.  He married another Native-American woman from the Cheyenne tribe in 1841, but the marriage was dissolved after a few months due to Kit Carson refusing to follow the Cheyenne on their annual migration around the West.  In early 1842 Kit Carson brought his children to live with relatives in order to get an education.

In Missouri Kit Carson met John C. Frémont who was mounting an expedition to explore the American West.  The two became friends and Kit Carson offered his services to Fremont.  Kit Carson guided the expedition on their 5 month journey across the American West.  After the expedition in 1842 Carson found himself settling in Taos where on February 6, 1843 the 34 year old Kit Carson married the 14 year old  Josefa Jaramillo.  It is amazing to think that by modern day standards that Kit Carson would be considered a pedophile, but back then marrying girls at such a young age was common.  Kit Carson’s third marriage worked out for him as he remained married to Josefa for the rest of his life and she gave birth to eight kids.  His marriage to Josefa also gave him a powerful friend as Josefa’s sister Maria was married to the future governor of New Mexico and wealthy businessman Charles Bent.  After his marriage Kit Carson in 1843 rejoined Fremont on his second expedition to explore the American West.  They traveled far into the American Northwest and even spotted Mount Rainier in Washington State.  Upon his return Fremont wrote articles about his expeditions that featured large starring roles for Kit Carson.


Image from Wikipedia.

In 1845 Kit Carson guided another expedition for Fremont that ultimately led to Carson playing a prominent role in the Mexican-American War.  When Fremont’s expedition entered into California he got himself involved in the movement for independence from Mexico that some Californians were involved in.  In 1846 an official war between Mexico and the US was declared and Fremont assisted US Commodore Robert Stockton in conquering California while General Stephen W. Kearny rode into Santa Fe withh his Army of the West and declared the New Mexican territory as part of the US.  Kit Carson would play a key role in this conflict as a guide, fighter, and courier bringing messages from the frontlines overland all the way across the continent to Washington, DC.  After the victory of the US over the Mexicans during this war only increased the fame Kit Carson enjoyed back in the Eastern US.  He would also go on to later play a small role in the Civil War defending New Mexico from Texas Confederates that hoped to capture the state.

Josefa Carson with Kit Carson Jr. in 1860 via Sangres.com

Kit Carson died in 1868 in Ft. Lyon, Colorado while on a business trip.  However, by this time Kit Carson’s health had begun to leave him and he got sicked and passed away.  Tragically his pregnant wife had traveled to visit him in Ft. Lyon from Taos and passed away during child birth a month earlier.  Both him and Josefa body’s were eventually moved from Ft. Lyon and buried in this cemetery back in Taos:

Here is a closer look at Kit Carson’s grave:

Here is a closer look at the grave of Josefa Jaramillo Carson:

Besides the graves of Kit Carson and his wife the graves of his various children and grandchildren are buried in the cemetery as well:

Some of his grandkids would go on to serve in both World War I and II:

As I walked around the cemetery I noticed there was a few other veterans not related to the Carson’s also buried in the cemetery:

Here is a veteran that was a friend to Kit Carson, Captain Smith H. Simpson:

According to the marker at his grave site, Captain Smith had a distinguished military career in New Mexico and served in the State Legislature.  Smith, along with Kit Carson, Ceran St. Vrain, and Tom Boggs were instrumental in re-erecting the US flag in the Taos Plaza after Confederate sympathizers removed it during the Civil War.  Since that day the US flag has flown night and day in Taos Plaza in commemoration of the event.

There is also a section of the cemetery for the Jaramillo family which is no where near as up kept as the section that the Carson family is buried in:

Here is the grave of Charles Bent’s wife Maria, the sister of Kit Carson’s wife Josefa:

However, I could not find where Charles Bent was buried so if anyone knows where he is buried please leave a comment.

Another interesting grave site was for the men killed in the Battle at Turley Mill:

According to the marker, Simeon Turley built a store, gristmill, and distillery in the Arroyo Hondo Valley, about ten miles north of Taos, in the early 1830’s.  The distillery was a great success, drawing large numbers of mountain men who came to trade furs for his famous “Taos Lightning” whiskey.  The Turley Mill became the site of an attack during the Taos Rebellion of 1847 that I previously discussed in my prior posting about Taos.  It was during this rebellion that the Governor of New Mexico Charles Bent the brother-in-law to Kit Carson was killed.

Eight mountain men were at Turley’s when a large group of Mexicans and Pueblo Indians arrived heavily armed.  The rebels offered Turley his life if he surrendered his house and the Americans in it.  He refused, so the enemy soon commenced attack.  The mountain men greatly outnumbered, held off their attackers valiantly until they began to run low on ammunition on the second day.  When the rebels set fire to the mill, the men were forced to flee for their lives.  All but two of the men were killed.  Those killed at the Battle of Turley Mill are buried in a common grave at Kit Carson Cemetery – William Austin, William Hatfield, Joseph Marshall, Peter Robert, Louis Tolque, Albert Turbish, and Simeon Turley:

Another friend to Kit Carson I noticed at the cemetery was Stephen Louis Lee:

Lee was an early trapper and fur trader working out of Taos.  He was a friend and business partner to not only Kit Carson, but the Bent family and Ceran St. Vrain.  He had a house next to Kit Carson’s home and owned a small store and tavern near the plaza. Lee was killed on his rooftop in 1847 fighting insurgents during the Taos Revolt.

Another grave I checked out was for Peter Joseph De Tevis who was another good friend of Kit Carson:

De Tevis establihsed a trading post in Taos in 1840 and later was involved in defeating the insurrectionists during the Taos Rebellion in 1847.  De Tevis would later serve on Kit Carson’s behalf as an Indian Agent in 1854, 1857, and 1858.

Another that had a marker explaining the person’s life was for Don Juan Santistevan:

According to the marker Santistevan was a member of a well-known family or early settlers to Taos who were large owners of land in the village and valley.  Don Juan established the first bank in the village and owned the property surrounding the Kit Carson Cemetery.

Another grave of interest was for Antonio Jose Martinez:

According to the marker at his grave he was born in nearby Abiquiu, New Mexico in 1793 and became one of the major religious leaders in Taos.  Following the death of his wife and child when he was 23, Martinez entered the seminary in Durango, Mexico and began a life of laborious study and religious scholarship.  After first serving as a priest in his native Abiquiu, he move to Taos, where he became a dominant spiritual force for many years.

Antonio Jose’ Martinez via Wikipedia.

In the 1830’s Padre Martinez established the first co-educational school in New Mexico, published several textbooks and one of the first newspapers in New Mexico.  Always active politically Martinez served in the assembly that helped organize the New Mexico territory in 1848 although he was said to have been involved in the Taos Revolt the previous year.  In 1851 and 1862 he was deputy in the Territorial Legislature.  Martinez was a controversial figure and his religious differences with Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy caused him to be defrocked and excommunicated in 1856.  After being defrocked Martinez just formed his own church and kept his popular following in Taos until his death in 1867.

The final grave I checked out was for a notable local woman named Mabel Dodge Luhan:

Luhan was a wealthy socialite who came to Taos in 1916 and was very active in the town’s art scene.  She wrote several books about Taos and helped put Taos on the map as a tourist destination and place to find fine arts.

Mabel Dodge Luhan via Wikipedia.

Conclusion

Visiting old cemeteries may not be for everyone, but I enjoy visiting these locations to learn more about the people that lived and ultimately died in a historic location such as Taos.  Without visiting the cemetery I undoubtedly would not have learned about people like Mabel Dodge Luhan or Antonio Jose’ Martinez that were important characters in Taos’ past.  So for those that have a passion for history definitely take a walk through the Kit Carson Memorial Cemetery and learn more about the people that helped make Taos the great city it is today.

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