Overland With Kit Carson: A Narrative of the Old Spanish Trail in ’48.
By George Douglas Brewerton with an introduction by Marc Simmons. Introduction to the Bison Book Edition, 1993, by the University of Nebraska Press. Bibliography, woodcut illustrations. Index. 301 pages. $12.95.
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Reviewed by Ray Brandes, Professor of Western American History, University of San Diego. Editor of Troopers West: Military and Indian Affairs on the American Frontier and books and articles on the American West.
Christopher Carson, born in Madison County, Kentucky, the day before Christmas, 1809, is legendary in Western American history. Numerous works and nickel and dime novels portray his life. Carson authorized military surgeon Dewitt C. Peters to write The Story of Kit Carson’s Life and Adventures provided from Facts Narrated by Himself in 1873.
This University of Nebraska Press edition, is a reprint of the 1930 hardback edition with an introduction by one Stallo Vinton. Vinton was the “editor,” which may suggest some literary license common to a number of early works. Vinton also utilized maps by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, who drew the scientific and scenic sketches for the second John Wesley Powell expedition down the Colorado River so skillfully written of by Wallace Stegner in Beyond the Hundredth Meridian.
In the instance of the Bison edition, Simmons provides a nine page introduction which deftly puts the work into a proper historical perspective. The introduction is neither a summary of the original edition nor a series of appended notes. Rather, Simmons traces the origins of Vinton’s information which is important to the reader and the researcher.
The new introduction, therefore, makes it clear that Vinton’s writing in 1930 was not drawing on someone’s memory of 75 years earlier. Instead, much of the data came from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine as early as 1853.
Equally significant is that while Brewerton was an accomplished landscape artist, and some of his unsigned sketches are used in the work, the magazine engravers borrowed from western artists Richard Kern and John Mix Stanley. What Simmons has accomplished is a discreet introduction that makes the volume a satisfactory primary resource.
Brewerton and others describe Carson as the “Greatest Hunter, Trapper, Scout and Guide.” Brewerton explains that when he had first heard of Carson the image in his mind’s eye was of a man:
over six feet high–a sort of modern Hercules in his build– with an enormous beard, and a voice like a roused lion… The real Kit Carson I found to be a plain, simple, unostentatious man; rather below the medium height, with brown, curling hair, little or no beard, and a voice as soft and gentle as a woman’s. (p.38)
His adventures from California eastward on the “Old Spanish Trail,” are entertaining, and a descriptive story of traveling with Carson. The work is useful for those who desire information about the region between Los Angeles and Fort Leavenworth at the time of the California gold rush. The work does not relate to San Diego or the Mexican War, when Carson, Lt. Edward F. Beale and a Delaware Indian crawled on their hands and knees through the Californio lines to get a relief column for General Kearny’s beleaguered troops at San Pasqual. For their bravery, Carson and Beale were awarded medals while the Delaware was given the thanks of a grateful nation.
The reviewer would suggest it is not necessary to be politically correct by explaining Brewerton’s views about ethnic groups of the period.
Simmons introduction is a nice piece of historiographical detective work; Brewerton’s descriptive narrative of his adventures with Carson is another example of the University of Nebraska’s effort to make out-of-print, expensive books more available through Bison Book paperbacks. is a singular document of San Diego’s and California’s literary history.
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