Kit Carson the man was lost well over a century ago in the jaws of our hero machine, so it is fascinating to see him properly placed in the broad flow of American history, where he looms large.” – Boston Globe
To some, Christopher “Kit” Carson was one of America’s greatest heroes: a brave and loyal guide who laid out a path for the westward-moving nation, an Indian tracker who could follow any trail, the fearless warrior featured in dozens of best-selling novels. To others, he was a villain who waged a merciless crusade against Native Americans. In the end, his contradictions would define his legacy — and tell the true story of how the West was won.
Kit Carson, Insignia Films’ ninety-minute documentary for the PBS series American Experience draws upon rich archival materials, original recreations, and interviews with authors Hampton Sides and Sally Denton, Western historian Paul Hutton, Navajo historian Harry Walters, and more, to reveal the many facets of a complex and controversial figure who became a legend in his own lifetime.
From his boyhood in frontier Missouri in 1826 to the years he spent as a trapper living among the native peoples of the mountain West, from his expeditions with the famed surveyor John C. Fremont to his critical role in Indian
removals meant to “civilize” newly-American territory, Carson was ever on the cutting edge of the nation’s westward expansion. His exploits made him famous, and eventually inspired the creation of a popular literary hero – a fierce Indian fighter who bore little or no resemblance to the man himself.
“Kit Carson was the greatest living symbol of the desire Americans had to mythologize the West and take real things and turn them into something else,” notes author and historian Dayton Duncan. “He just was who he was and other people projected onto him their own beliefs, their own myths. In that respect, I think he is like the West itself: it’s a real place, there were real things that happened and they were fascinating, dramatic, and tragic. But that wasn’t quite enough for us as a society.”
At once the story of the most epic migration in American history and a moving portrait of a man caught up in the forces of his time, Kit Carson offers a revealing glimpse of the complexities and contradictions that characterized the nation’s expansion westward. “More than any other westerner,” says director Stephen Ives, “Kit Carson straddled two worlds, as the West he’d encountered as a young man increasingly gave way to what we eventually would think of as the American West. He is the ultimate symbol of that transition, the embodiment of both the heroism and tragedy of America’s drive to become a continental nation.”
Broadcast in early 2008, Kit Carson was the recipient of a prestigious Writers Guild of America nomination and the Western Writers Association’s Golden Spur Award. The film was produced by Amanda Pollak, edited by George O’Donnell, written by Michelle Ferrari and directed by Stephen Ives. Michael Murphy narrates.