The Tragic Death Of Explorer Kit Carson

American family life and the American education system are sometimes criticized for praising children for, basically, showing up — "you were only a little bit late for the game today. Here's your trophy."

But when you think about it, it's not a new phenomenon. Look back at the years of westward expansion. Except in that case, the trophy was for managing to outlive all of the thousands of ways people could die before they were able to say, "My goodness, isn't it a good day to be alive?" Kind of like Kimmy Schmidt, but with less color. And there was no actual trophy. Beyond breathing.

Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson was a prime example. Born December 24, 1809, Kit was one of 10 children. His father died when Kit was 9, so he went to work to help support his remaining family. That meant that the man who helped guide expansion into California, trapped game in the western mountains, helped settle New Mexico, served a distinguished career as an army officer, and survived bullets, deserts, and all manner of persons bigger than he was. At a gathering of mountain men, he was challenged to a fight over the woman who eventually became his first wife. He and his antagonist mounted horses and charged each other, armed with single-shot rifles. (Spoiler: Kit survived.)

Carson was the subject of a fictional biography

Carson explored and led expeditions settle the West Coast, particularly California and Oregon, and was instrumental in bringing peace to the Southwest. He had fought for his country, but also brokered peace treaties with various Native American tribes. He was furious about reports of soldiers committing massacres of Native villages, with the deaths of women and children: "You call sich soldiers Christians, do ye? And Indians savages? What der yer 'spose our Heavenly Father, who made both them and us, thinks of these things?" reports Hampton Sides in his 2006 book Blood and Thunder.

Although he fought various tribes of Native Americans, his stance toward them softened as he grew older. He fathered 10 children of his own during his three marriages. His first wife was Arapaho, the second Cheyenne. His third wife, Josefa, was Mexican, and her death, in his arms, broke him. He died less than a month later.

Carson had suffered a fall from a horse some time before which caused an aneurysm. He had been in considerable pain from the injury, getting by on a concoction containing opium, and was resting at Fort Lyon, Colorado. According to Sides, the afternoon of May 23, 1868, Kit Carson ate a buffalo steak, drank a pot of coffee, smoked his pipe, and then the aneurysm ruptured at last. His last words were to his attending physician: "Doctor, compadre, adios!"