Skip to content

Kit Carson’s performance winds up Chautauqua

BONNE TERRE – It was June of 1867 and Christopher “Kit” Carson had a lot on his mind.

During his visit to the Big River Chautauqua in Bonne Terre Saturday night, Carson, portrayed by Fred Krebs of Kansas, told the audience he was on his way to Denver to speak to Congressman about his concerns regarding Indians.

Carson, a respected yet illiterate man in poor health, knew they wouldn’t like what they were going to hear and suspected he would have to go to D.C. to get his message across.

Carson said a large reservation is a key concept. He said the West is a vast area what won’t be settled greatly by the people from the eastern United States. The land is not suited for their lifestyles and the desert area won’t be able to support a large population.

Carson said the government needs to stop the intertribal warfare and encourage Indians to pursue agriculture. He said the government needs to stop the sale of liquor.

Carson quit school when he was 9 years old after his father died. He ran away from his Missouri home when he was 16 to become a mule boy, and then a trapper and a mountain man, learning Spanish and several Indian languages.

He worked for Ewing Young as cook and then miner. When he was 20, Young asked him to be part of a fur trapper expedition into the Apache country. Not only was he fluent in Indian languages, he also was known for his visual memory and map knowledge.

The journey went on for two years and he received 50 pieces of gold. Not long after, he learned not to drink because he soon found himself without funds.

A few years later, he was involved in a duel over a woman. He shot the man and married the woman. She died shortly after the birth of their second child, who also died.

He trapped with Jim Bridger and Tom Fitzpatrick before becoming a guide for John Fremont. The first expedition was to South Pass but they journeyed a tad bit further.

The goal of the second expedition was to find the Buenaventura River, which was thought to be a river that ran from the Great Salt Lake to the Pacific Ocean. They found the river did not exist at all.

He hadn’t planned on being part of Fremont’s third expedition but he did join at Fitzpatrick’s urging. He said it was an odd expedition and he was never quite sure what they were doing on that expedition. After all, Fremont had a cannon he claimed was for atmospheric tests.

When they arrived in California, they found the American settlers almost in a revolt with the Mexican military. After the military asked them to leave, they went to Oregon where they were attacked by Indians. They returned to California to support the Americans in the revolt. Carson became a lieutenant and was a courier.

By 1847, he was well-known as a hero, guide, military man and Indian fighter. Carson, however, said he was never a deliberate Indian fighter. He said he defended what he needed to defend.

In the 1850s, he received an appointment as an Indian agent working with the Ute and Jicarilla tribes. He found that a lot of Indian agents were corrupt.

He then became involved in the Civil War fighting the Confederates. He was named a colonel of a Volunteer infantry and participated in the Battle of Valverde to stop the Confederate aid in the West.

He then became involved in his colonel’s plan to move the Indians in New Mexico to a distant reservation. Carson said he really didn’t agree with this policy and tried to resign several times. He didn’t think the Indians would survive where they were being taken. Many died along the march to the reservation.

Now, Carson is fighting for the Indians’ return.

When it was time to answer questions from the audience, Carson spoke more about his three wives and children. The first two wives were Indians while the third was Josefa, the daughter of a prominent Taos family. He had 10 biological children and adopted several into the family as well.

Josefa gave birth to their eighth child shortly after he returned from Washington D.C. She died shortly after and he died a short time later in 1869 at the age of 59.

Carson’s portrayer, Krebs, has been performing in Chautauquas since 1985. Krebs, an instructor at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, has portrayed 15 characters including Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Fremont and President Rutherford Hayes.

Big River Chautauqua began in Bonne Terre in 1995. The Big River Chautauqua is the longest continually running, privately funded show in the nation.

The idea behind the Chautauqua is to bring history to life in an entertaining and unusual way. Scholars, who have studied the life and times of historical figures extensively, portray the figures, dressing and speaking as the character throughout the show.

It takes an estimated $14,000 each year to bring this event to St. Francois County and the Big River Chautauqua Committee is dependent upon donations from individuals and businesses. The event is free to the public.

Those who would like to mail a donation, should make checks out to Old Bonne Terre Inc., in care of Paul Williams, P.O. Box 105, Bonne Terre, MO 63628.

Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at

Leave a Comment