DescriptionChristopher "Kit" Carson: A Monumentally Rare and Important Signed Letter with Great Western Content. Autographic items from this iconic Western personality are rare in any form, and when they do appear they tend to be in the form of documents, clipped signatures, or the occasional signed photograph. (In the 2010 Spinks auction of the Risvold Collection, a signed Carson carte de visite sold for $66,225.) Our research has failed to turn up a single example of a letter at auction, going back to the early 1970s!
Carson was barely literate, so the body of the letter was written for him by a Lieut. Whatley, who was serving with Carson at his Colorado post. This is documented in two remarkable dockets by Charles McClure, another officer who had served with them. In one he writes: "Lt. Whatley wrote this letter for Old Kit and put in the paragraphs about drinking and 'gay time with the fair sex' to annoy me. He was a dissolute fellow himself. Old Kit could only sign his name and was in matters epistolary at the mercy of his amanuensis (secretary). C. McClure "
In the other docketing, he writes "This letter is signed by 'Kit' Carson. He was at the time Col. Of the 1st New Mexican Volunteers for conquering the Navajo tribe of Indians. Chas. McClure Capt. and C.S. U.S.A. Boston Oct 16/78."
The letter, dated Jan. 24, 1867, was written to "My dear Colonel" from Fort Garland, C. (Colorado) T. (Territory). Carson had gained fame in the 1840s for his wilderness exploits, which included serving as a guide for John C. Fremont's three expeditions to California and Oregon. An Indian agent among the Utes in the 1850s, he became an army officer during the Civil War, and after the war he continued in conflicts with the Southwest Indians. Carson was brevetted a general of volunteers in recognition of his conquest of the Navajo tribe. In 1866 he was named commander of Ft. Garland, Colorado, but had to resign the following year because of ill health. His condition continued to deteriorate, and he died in May 1868.
Carson opens with the personal remark quoted by McClure above, and goes on to observe: "I am much pleased to hear that you have quit 'drinking' for I know from experience you will enjoy better health from total abstinence." Carson complains of the dullness of the routine at his post, but talks about the "Gold Fever" occasioned by the appearance of some placer diggings nearby: "...the prospect of these diggings is said to yield four cents to the pan on the surface; if the mines yield as they prospect it will be a great thing for this section of country. I think of going down shortly myself and if it looks favorable I shall take up a claim: all the officers here are going to take claims, and if you desire one notify me and I will take up a claim for you; the claims are the entire width of the 'Gulch' and 200 feet in length: the Gold is of excellent quality."
In another portion of the letter he notes that "A Bill has passed Congress granting suffrage in the Territories to the 'Negro' - 'Bully for the Nager' - 'Query'- will they not amalgamate next." Even among supporters of Negro suffrage at that time the notion of "amalgamation" was a radical one indeed, perhaps forged in Carson's frontier experiences, where there were many qualities about a man which were more important than the color of his skin.
This amazing letter is accompanied by a 1992 Certificate of Authenticity from renowned autograph expert Charles Hamilton, as well as an appraisal from him setting the value of the letter at that time at $75,000. Rarity, subject matter, and the charming period documentation by McClure combine to make this a very special letter indeed, one we are honored to bring to the auction block. It is in excellent condition, with a strong, clear Carson signature.
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