While writing my final California Rising novel, I spent the past year buried in research books. One man dominated my days. Kit Carson. I loosely based my hero, Peter Brondi, on him.
I feel like Kit Carson became my friend. When I first began researching for Chasing the Wind, I deemed Carson a heartless killer. He was known as the greatest Indian fighter of all time. Responsible for the deaths of thousands of Indians, Carson helped slaughter the peaceful California Indians along the Sacramento River during the Bear Flag Revolt. He killed Californios and Mexicans alike. He had so much blood on his hands. But the more I read about Carson, the more I developed compassion for this man determined to protect his family and see his nation win the West.
The Californios called Carson, El Lobo, the wolf. They feared Carson more than any other man. A quiet, soft-spoken Missourian of smallish stature and sharp blue eyes, Carson never learned to read. This embarrassed him. He wanted California for the Union and was a hero of the Mexican War. Above all, Carson was a patriot. He loved his nation. I have no idea if he loved the Lord, but Carson did value religion.
In his early thirties, he left the Presbyterian Church to join the Catholic Church in order to marry 14-year-old Josefa Jaramillo, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent Mexican couple in Taos, New Mexico. This may sound strange to us today, but grown men married girls in those days due to the fact that men established themselves before starting their families and girls were considered adults at an early age. Women regularly died in childbirth. Most folks did not live to be old. It was a different time with different social norms. I was very aware of this while crafting my story. I wanted to stay true to history, while not stirring up the sensibilities of modern-day readers.
Isabella my heroine is a teenager in my story, but I never outright reveal her age. Peter is in his late twenties. This was about Carson’s age when he married his first wife, an Arapaho Indian girl named Singing Grass. It was rumored Carson gained his first whiff of fame in the gun battle he fought with another mountain man to win the beautiful Singing Grass’s hand. I envisioned Peter and Isabella’s love story out of the ashes of Carson’s youthful love for Singing Grass, who died soon after giving him two daughters, only one girl lived.
Carson’s second wife, a Cheyenne woman, divorced him within a year the Indian way, by setting his belongings and his young daughter outside of her tent. No children came from that brief wedlock. Carson then took his little daughter back to Missouri and left her with his family. His greatest desire for his daughter was schooling. He wanted more than anything for his daughter to learn to read. For the next eight years, Carson split his time between St. Louis with his daughter and his trapping duties in Taos, New Mexico. During this time, he married the captivating Josefa and had eight more children with her. When Josefa died at 40 years old, after complications from having their final child, Carson was devastated. A month later, in his 58th year, he followed his beloved Josefa to the grave. Here is Josefa with one of Carson’s sons.
I find human beings so interesting. A person’s past is the key that unlocks their character. Writers call this backstory. Carson wasn’t an Indian fighter for no apparent reason. Raised to deeply fear Indians from a very early age, Christopher “Kit” Carson was born in Madison County, Kentucky on Christmas Eve, 1809. His father, Lindsey Carson, fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Carson’s father also battled Indians on the American frontier, losing several fingers on his left hand fighting the Fox and Sauk Indians.
Lindsey Carson married Rebecca Robinson in 1796. She was his second wife. Kit’s father had five children from his first wife who died, and ten more children with Kit’s mother. Kit was the sixth of their ten children. When Kit was about a year old, the Carson family settled in Howard County, Missouri on a tract of land owned by Daniel Boone’s sons. The Boone and Carson families became close friends. Kit’s brother William married Boone’s grand-niece, Millie Boone in 1810. Their daughter Adaline became Kit’s favorite playmate. Kit named his first daughter with Singing Grass after her.
When Kit was a child, Missouri was the frontier of American expansionism. Cabins were “forted” with tall stockade fences to defend against Indians. Kit mentioned in his Memoirs: “For two or three years after our arrival, we had to remain forted and it was necessary to have men stationed at the extremities of the fields for the protection of those that were laboring.”
Carson’s father died while clearing a field when a limb fell on him when Carson was about eight years old. His mother remarried four years later, but Carson did not get along with his stepfather. Because of this, as a young teenager, Carson was apprenticed to David Workman, a saddler in Franklin, Missouri. Kit mentioned in his Memoirs that Workman was “a good man, and I often recall the kind treatment I received.”
Franklin, Missouri was located on the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail. Many of the saddle shop’s customers were trappers and traders that told stirring tales of the West. Carson said, “the business did not suit me, and I concluded to leave.” Against his mother’s wishes, at 16 years old, Kit ran away from his apprenticeship, joined a caravan of fur trappers, and his days as a mountain man commenced. He was mentored by Mathew Kinkead, a trapper and explorer who had served with Carson’s older brothers in the War of 1812.
From Kinkead, Carson learned the skills of a trapper, and also the necessary languages for trade. Eventually, Carson became fluent in Spanish and several Indian languages. At 19 years old, he fought his first real battle with Indians, the dreaded Apaches. He traveled with famous mountain men like Jim Bridger and Old Bill Williams and spent the winter of 1828–1829 as a cook for Ewing Young in Taos. This ancient pueblo city in New Mexico territory would eventually become Carson’s home. He joined Young’s trapping expedition of 1829. It was under the leadership of Ewing Young, where Carson learned how to survive in the mountains.
Indians were always the enemy, and Carson was exceptional at fighting them. He spent most of his life waring with the native tribes. But Carson’s feelings toward Indians softened over the years. His mindset about Indians grew understanding and humane as he got older. He urged the government to set aside reservations of land for their use. As an Indian agent, he made sure under his watch that “Indians were treated with honesty, fairness, and clothed and fed properly.” Historian David Roberts believes his first marriage to Singing Grass ultimately, “softened the stern and pragmatic mountaineer’s opportunism.”
In 1842, explorer John C. Frémont landed by steamboat in St. Louis, looking to hire the well-known guide Andrew S. Drips to lead his expedition to the Wind River in Wyoming. Unable to locate Drips, Frémont chose Carson instead. It was the beginning of a long and lasting friendship and partnership that would prove fateful for California four years later. For the next several years, Carson, along with Fitzpatrick, worked as a guide for Frémont on three expeditions through Oregon and California.
The timing of these two legendary men teaming up was perfect. The American public had become fascinated with the western frontier. Tales of hostile Indian tribes and unsettled land stirred the public’s imagination. Frémont’s published reports on his expeditions soon became famous, as did Kit Carson, but Carson was never comfortable with his fame and avoided recognition when he could. He also was incredibly shy around the ladies, refusing to speak to most of them, but Carson would lay his life down for any woman. Sadly, he was haunted for the rest of his life by the death of Mrs. Ann White.
Ann and her baby girl had been captured by the Apaches who massacred her husband and the men accompanying their wagon on the Santa Fe Trail. No one listened to Carson’s advice about how to rescue her. Mrs. White was found dead with an arrow in her heart after the rescue party confronted the Apaches the way Carson told them not to. Ann had been horribly abused and passed among her captors as a camp prostitute. Her baby girl had been carried away by the Indians and was never found. A soldier in the rescue party wrote: “Mrs. White was a frail, delicate, and very beautiful woman, but having undergone such usage as she suffered nothing but a wreck remained; it was literally covered with blows and scratches. Her countenance even after death indicated a hopeless creature. Over her corpse, we swore vengeance upon her persecutors.”
Carson discovered a book about himself in the Apache camp near Ann’s dead body. This was the first time that he found himself in print in a dime novel. In this adventure story, Carson was the hero who saved a white woman from the Indians. He wrote in his Memoirs: “In camp was found a book, the first of the kind I had ever seen, in which I was made a great hero, slaying Indians by the hundreds … I have often thought that Mrs. White read the same … and prayed for my appearance that she might be saved.”
I will miss my days with Kit Carson. Creating the world of California Rising has been so interesting and enjoyable. After twenty-five years chasing this dream of finishing these novels, and the past twelve months of chasing Kit Carson, I’m sad but incredibly satisfied to see this series to completion.
It felt like a small miracle to type “the end” last week on this final California Rising story. When I started this series in my early twenties, my Grandma Helen was so excited about me writing historical romances set in the Golden State. Grandma Helen had sold her favorite horse in Montana and bought a train ticket to California when she was 17 years old. She met and married my Grandpa John when she became a cook at an Oroville, California gold mine where my grandpa was a handsome, young miner.
Grandma Helen loved California and was an avid reader. She wanted me to write books for her long before I wrote anything. “You can do it, honey,” she used to say. “Become a famous author for your grandma.” I can still hear her voice and see her twinkling blue eyes as we rode horses together all over the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains. Western romances were Grandma’s favorite. Here she is in her cowboy hat hugging her sister-in-law, Mary. Her brother my Uncle Johnny is wearing a cowboy hat too. Their father, my great-grandfather John is standing between Johnny and my dad in the white T-shirt has his arm around his grandpa. I’m the boyish-looking girl hiding behind my dog Gidget in this 1978 or 79 photo.
My Grandma Helen is no longer with us, but I know her sister, my Aunt Gracie, will love Chasing the Wind. At 98 years old, Aunt Gracie reads my novels. I can’t wait to give Aunt Gracie this book on March 22nd for her 99th birthday. Here is my Aunt Gracie, when I see her, I see my Grandma Helen all over again.
Thanks for celebrating Aunt Gracie’s birthday and the publication of Chasing the Wind with me. The novel is now up for pre-order and releases March 20th on Amazon and in local bookstores. Tap on the picture of the book below for the Amazon link.
A beautiful, half-Indian girl raised by the Californios finds her fate intertwined with an American frontiersman haunted by his past in 1850 California.
As California comes to statehood amidst the madness of the gold rush, Isabella Vasquez must wed a buckskin-clad American who wins her in a card game. Though their union is passionate, Isabella soon finds herself abandoned in a brothel, where she rises to fame as a singer known as the Bluebird. Yet because of her Indian blood, the Bluebird will always be bought and sold in the white man’s world. When more is demanded of the Bluebird than just singing, Isabella flees to Fort Ross in search of her Russian father and her own race of people.
Peter Brondi has battled Indians all his life. The last thing he wants is a half-Indian wife. While taming the West with Kit Carson and John C. Fremont, Peter has fought the Mexican War and lost his beloved fiancée, Maggie, to his half-Indian brother, Paul. To satisfy his father’s dying wish, Peter vows to find his brother and put an end to the hate that’s between them. But when history repeats itself and Paul steals Isabella away, Peter must come to terms with his past and the animosity he holds against all Indians, including his half-brother and the wife he has forsaken.
Chasing the Wind is the final story in the sweeping saga of California Rising, a tale of love, betrayal, and the ties that bind brothers together and California to the nation.