Into the West

by Kieran Healy on April 29, 2007

New Yorker Matt Yglesias’s westward march, from Washington DC to Santa Fe and maybe beyond, has been attracting some attention. So far the highlight has been what you might call the Fashion Trail of Tears, pictured here. An iconic image, I think. Today he freely admits to never having heard of Kit Carson (knowledge of whom had even made it to the Ireland of my youth) and notices how sunny it is in New Mexico.

Maybe Matt will continue west and get to Tucson and see the saguaros. (“Some kind of spiny tree.”) Of course, I’m a relatively recent transplant to the Southwest myself. One thing I didn’t want to have happen when I moved out here was to succumb to a common disease of grad students recently relocated to new jobs, which is to chronically pretend you are still living on the campus where you got your degree, or — worse — in the downtown NY apartment or beachfront West Coast condo you daily fantasized about living while writing your dissertation. So I bought a mountain bike and started exploring.

Although it takes a long time to really get to know a place, it’s surprising how quickly you can adapt to some things. For example, I can now wear jeans in the kind of summer temperatures that, when I first moved here, I didn’t think were capable of sustaining human or other animal life.



Christmas 04.29.07 at 3:26 pm

I’ve never heard of Kit Carson, either.


Doctor Slack 04.29.07 at 3:32 pm

In all fairness to Matt, I don’t think there are all that many people who’ve heard of Kit Carson. If he’d never heard of Daniel Boone or Davey Crockett, that would be weird.


Matt 04.29.07 at 4:04 pm

Looking at those photos helps confirm something I concluded when I drove through New Mexico a few years ago. It’s not nearly as scenic or pretty as are Arizona or southern Utah.


chris y 04.29.07 at 4:14 pm

Slack, don’t you young people have Westerns any more?


dearieme 04.29.07 at 4:35 pm

Kit Carson? Natch. But why do you wear jeans in weather fit for shorts?


Kieran Healy 04.29.07 at 4:42 pm

Because like a good Irish boy I was raised to think “weather fit for shorts” was something like 55 or 60 degrees F. Then when I moved to the U.S. I revised my estimate upwards to the high 70s or low 80s. Then I moved to Arizona and the threshold is now somewhere in the mid 90s.


bob mcmanus 04.29.07 at 4:45 pm

Kit Carson

Dallas-born actor-writer-producer who starred in David Holzman’s Diary in 1967, hung with Dennis Hopper in the 70s, adapted Paris, Texas in the 80s, produced Bottle Rocket in the 90s. Once husband of Karen Black;father of Hunter Carson.

Not quite as cool a freak as Peter Coyote, but pretty damn cool. More interesting and important than any ole scout.


Cryptic Ned 04.29.07 at 5:05 pm

I’d never heard of him until reading the New Yorker review of two books about him earlier this year.

Also, to answer Chris Y, Westerns have not existed for over 30 years – the kind of Westerns that mythologize semi-historical figures, anyway.


Russell L. Carter 04.29.07 at 5:49 pm

“A scrub is a kind of foliage that gets much love from New Mexico.”

I’m still gawking. I’ve introduced a lot of people to the southwest, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such… a disconnect. Kieran, I got introduced to Arizona via just dropping in to Phoenix cold (hot?) with the SO at her new job. Hated it. The sun is shining *again*??. But it grows on you, and the mountain bike helps quite a bit. You should come ride with us up here in Prescott sometime.

I’d really like to see BMM encounter the saguaro forest meself. Gawd, I’d like to see him mountain bike through the saguaros. Somebody needs to film that.


ogged 04.29.07 at 5:52 pm

“A scrub is a kind of foliage that gets much love from New Mexico.”

I’m pretty sure lines like this are meant to be funny.


Russell L. Carter 04.29.07 at 6:02 pm

“A scrub is a kind of foliage that gets much love from New Mexico.”

“I’m pretty sure lines like this are meant to be funny.”

Your comment, ogged, is as amusing from my perspective as Yglesias’. I’m pretty sure that lines like that that require moral support are funny too. I suppose the real moral of this episode is: travel is *good*.

See, what I’m really thinking here is, when I’m wandering around the East Village like I like to do, am I functionally equivalent to Yglesias here? I never thought so, but maybe so.


washerdreyer 04.29.07 at 6:42 pm

It’s important in reading the scrub line to recognize that it’s based on a lyric from the song “No Scrubs.”


justin 04.29.07 at 7:30 pm

By my second year in Tucson, I could drink hot coffee and wear jeans on 95 degree days. The flip side of course is that I wore a coat and scarf when it dipped below 65. Also, is MY wearing a suit coat at Bandelier? ‘Cause that will get your Southwest privileges stripped.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 04.29.07 at 7:43 pm

#3: “Looking at those photos helps confirm something I concluded when I drove through New Mexico a few years ago. It’s not nearly as scenic or pretty as are Arizona or southern Utah.”

Value judgements aside, this represents an impressive level of overgeneralization. Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah all encompass enormous variations of climate and scenery, from low desert to high alpine forest. All you can tell from a remark like this is “the freeway I happened to drive through this one state on wasn’t as pretty as the freeway I drove through another state on.” Which is kind of like concluding that German food is better than Italian based on a meal you had in an airport in each country.


yoyo 04.29.07 at 7:49 pm

Summer=Linen trousers.

Who wears jeans? Do you fancy yourself a cowboy?


Flippanter 04.29.07 at 7:57 pm

I guess Yglesias has never read the Flashman novels. The buffalo-intestine-eating contest in, I think, Flash for Freedom! would grant the name of Kit Carson some vividness.


Mary Kay 04.29.07 at 8:08 pm

Not heard of Kit Carson? What the hell are they teaching kids in school these days anyhow? And you kids get off my lawn!

MKK–read bio of KC in grade school


CharleyCarp 04.29.07 at 8:18 pm

This Kit Carson business is really bumming me out. He played a fairly important part in a story that every American should know about, as I mentioned in comments 89 and 92 to the Unfogged thread.

A person who says he’s never heard of Kit Carson is telling me he/she’s never read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. For example.

Fifty years from now, will well eduated young Germans be proud to claim they’ve never heard of anyone named Eichmann?


abb1 04.29.07 at 8:36 pm

It’s dry heat down there, right? Yeah, try mid-90s along the east coast. I don’t care what you wear, just try to walk for 3 minutes, see what happens.


Fledermaus 04.29.07 at 8:43 pm

I think a lot of us, knowingly or not, internalized the phase “go west young man” 5 out of every 6 people I meet is a transplant from somewhere else.


Kieran Healy 04.29.07 at 8:50 pm

18: I know … I spent five summers in New Jersey.


novakant 04.29.07 at 8:51 pm

good god, I think I’d simply die there – I hate the sun, except when it’s rising or setting or behind a cloud


roger 04.29.07 at 9:06 pm

I, too, thought Kit Carson was in the pantheon, at least as much as Daniel Boone. He isn’t? He actually occasions quite a fierce battle among Western historians, who are always defending his honor against revisionist accounts that accuse him of being an Indian killer, not merely an Indian fighter. At least, this was hot stuff in New Mexico when I lived there in the early nineties.

Do easterners learn anything about the West? My god.


Doctor Slack 04.29.07 at 9:43 pm

Kit Carson is certainly in the pantheon, he just seems to be a more local deity. I’m not sure why that is, really. My first thought was that Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone both had tv shows which I’ve seen, but apparently there was also an “Adventures of Kit Carson” show which I’ve never heard of.


CharleyCarp 04.29.07 at 10:17 pm

24 — I don’t know how old you are Doc, but I’d guess that the locality here has more to do with age than geography. Is there any American over 40 years old who’s willing to cop to never having heard of Kit Carson?


rea 04.30.07 at 1:20 am

But why do you wear jeans in weather fit for shorts?

In my youth in New Mexico, we never wore shorts, for the simple reason that there were too many cactuses. Jeans were invented to deal with such problems . . .


Matt 04.30.07 at 1:25 am

Kit Carson murdered way more Indians than Boone, and Boone NC is even more of a hell-hole than is Carson City NV, so Carson should be ahead of Boone. If Boone hadn’t had that TV show in the late 70’s, re-run on the early version of Fox in the late 80’s, Carson would be just as well known.

And PHN, I’ve spent _a lot_ of time in Southern Utah, and a fair amount in Arizona (esp. the norther part) and not as much in New Mexico, but almost all on highways, not freeways, so I think I have some basis to say that really, New Mexcio just isn’t as pretty as either of the other two. I’m sure there are some better parts but the parts that MY gives photos of, and the parts I’ve seen, just pale before much of Arizona or Southern Utah. It might be that Santa Fe is a much better place to live than, say, Scottsdale or St. George (where isn’t?) but it’s just not as pretty.


Russell Arben Fox 04.30.07 at 2:26 am

“It might be that Santa Fe is a much better place to live than, say, Scottsdale or St. George (where isn’t?)…”

Hey, let’s not bag on Brigham Young’s summer home. I’m not crazy about St. George, but I’ve seen plenty worse. Besides, if you’re in St. George then you’re less than an hour from Cedar City, which is a really fine little college town.


Matt 04.30.07 at 2:48 am

Well, I’ve spent many a spring break in St. George, as my grandfolks used to live there, and it’s not too bad a place in, say, late march or early April when it’s about 85 in the day and you can go for nice hike at Red Rocks Recreation area. If you can avoid the terrible tedium that comes from there really being nothing to do in the city itself and the endless “cruising” of Main by the people from the rest of Utah on spring break it’s not bad, ignoring the fact that it’s impossible to get a drink there. But after april it’s awfully hot (as in it cools down to about 95 at night hot) and you still can’t get a drink and it’s no longer any fun to go to Red Rocks since all the water has dried up. It’s not truly wanting to kill yourself sprawlsville like the greater Phoenix area, at least, since it’s not hard to get to the country side, but the town itself is dead boring once you’ve been there once or twice. And Cedar City isn’t anything more than a rest stop, is it? (I say that in a kind ways, since Utah really has some of the nicest rest stops in the country. Lots wrong with Utah, but damned fine rest stops they have there.)


Gene O'Grady 04.30.07 at 3:11 am

Cedar City has a really nice historical museum; I recall a wonderful display of hearses. Also get to tease my wife about the fellow with her family last name (no relative, as far as I know) having held the record for having the most wives among the 19th century LDS converts (15).

Is there anything behind Kit Carson as Indian murderer, like evidence or bibliography?

And I’m rather fond of Saint George, partly because I like the heat (even 100 in the summer), partly because I’ve found the people friendly and appealing, including the local Catholic church I’ve been to a few times. Plus the young lady at the LDS temple from a small town in West Virginia who was doing a mission as a guide was one the friendliest and most impressive teenagers I’ve ever met.


Matt 04.30.07 at 3:57 am

From Carson’s Wikipedia page:
“To avenge the deaths of his expedition members, Frémont [Carson’s companion, to whom he was loyal] chose to attack a Klamath Indian fishing village named Dokdokwas, at the junction of the Williamson River and Klamath Lake, which took place May 10, 1846. The action completely destroyed the village, and involved the massacre of women and children. After the burning of the village, Carson was nearly killed by a Klamath warrior later that day: his gun misfired, and the warrior drew to fire a poison arrow; but Frémont, seeing Carson’s predicament, trampled the warrior with his horse. Carson stated felt that he owed Frémont his life due to this incident.

The tragedy of Dokdokwas is deepened by the fact that most scholars now agree that Frémont and Carson, in their blind vindictiveness, probably chose the wrong tribe to lash out against: In all likelihood the band of Indians that had killed [Frémont’s three men] were from the neighboring Modocs….The Klamaths were culturally related to the Modocs, but the two tribes were bitter enemies”. ”

…”Carson instituted a scorched earth policy, burning Navajo fields and homes, and confiscating or killing their livestock.”

…”In January 1864, Carson sent a company into Canyon de Chelly to attack the last Navajo stronghold under the leadership of Manuelito. The Navajo were forced to surrender because of the destruction of their livestock and food supplies. In the spring of 1864, 8,000 Navajo men, women and children were forced to march or ride in wagons 300 miles (480 km) to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Navajos call this “The Long Walk”. Many died along the way or during the next four years of imprisonment.”

…”Virginia Hopkins stated that “Kit Carson was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Indians” (Hopkins, p. 40).”

Of course in all of this he wasn’t much different from other white people of the time. He might not deserve special condemnation, but he was clearly a murderer and killer of Indians, someone who thought them less than human and deserving of being driven off the land they lived on. We should no more be proud of him than we should other murderers and killers, even if many thought the same at the time.

And in the summer in St. George the 100 degree heat is usually there around 8am or so. It’s the 120 degree heat that gets to you.


roger 04.30.07 at 4:45 am

I found New Mexico, especially around Santa fe – i lived 25 miles out in Pecos, on the Pecos river – the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived in. And the hardest to live in. Go tooling around on those country roads and you will not be welcomed, either by the old spanish families or by descendants of the old Texas/Spanish feuds. And St. george Utah is, I believe, the town that was repeatedly irradiated with fallout from the above ground testing in Nevada. I just read a nice book of interviews about that, published by MIT in the 90s: America Ground Zero. And, incidentally, it was the town that killed John Wayne. Howard Hughes set Genghis Khan on a site near St. George, and moved about a buncha dirt. Here’s a story about that:
06.11.98/scoop-9823.html. Movie killed the Duke and Samantha’s mother on Bewitched. See, beauty is dangerous.


roger 04.30.07 at 4:46 am

ps – I should add, moving about the dirt stirred up the fallout, or so it is said. Hell, Hughes trucked irradiated dirt from the site into a sound stage in Hollywood. Didn’t know no better.


agm 04.30.07 at 6:05 am

Carson? Pffft. John Wesley Hardin.


Russell Arben Fox 04.30.07 at 11:39 am

Just to clarify…

1) I meant “Brigham Young’s winter home,” not his summer one. My apologies. Brother Brigham can be criticized for a great many things, but constructing a summer retreat from Salt Lake City in the heat of St. George, Utah, shouldn’t be added to the list.

2) Cedar City has Southern Utah University, which is a (I think) surprisingly active place for both Utah and for being located in a small rural outpost in the midst of the southwestern desert. Their Shakespeare festival in the summer is great fun, and high quality too; I’d put it on par with any regional festival anywhere in the U.S.

3) Yes, St. George, along with many other hundreds of square miles in the part of the country, was hit hard by the fallout from Nevada’s nuclear testing. It took years of work before Utah’s Republican representatives took up the fight in DC, and many years more before the relevant documentation was finally brought to light, which included a statement from some Defense Department flunkie in the 50s defening above ground testing by pointing out that any potential fallout would only affect a “low-use segment of the population.” Compensation finally came, but too late for many.

4) That MY had never heard of Kit Carson before leaves me flabbergast. Still, in fairness, it might be worth grabbing some blogger over at Red State, sending them to New York City, and see if they don’t stare blankly at some historical marker for Robert Moses.


CKR 04.30.07 at 12:55 pm

You Easterners and city folks just keep on keeping on with your misconceptions.

We’ll stay happy and beautiful here in New Mexico. Don’t have enough water to support all of you anyway.


arthur 04.30.07 at 2:21 pm

“Kit Carson” answers the critical question: What got left out of junior high school history classses when Native Americans, African-Americans, women, and Presidents after Kennedy got put in?


mds 04.30.07 at 5:42 pm

Next he’s going to say he’s never heard of Jim Bridger.

Summer=Linen trousers.

There might still be some elderly Texas oilmen that would wear a linen ensemble in summer, but they seem to be a vanishing breed. A relentlessly-mocked vanishing breed, in the vein of “It’s hot out! Why are you wearing a suit?”

Who wears jeans? Do you fancy yourself a cowboy?

Duh. He’s living in Tucson. Everyone living in Tucson fancies verself a cowhand. Bolo ties were de rigeur for gentlemen dressing up for church (twenty-five years ago, anyway). And cowboy boots are far more prevalent than people who actually ride horses.

Anyway, I could see someone not being dressed for the trail if caught off-guard by an unplanned stop. However, I’m curious as to why Mr. Yglesias was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit jacket on a motorcar trip… especially with that ensemble. Kids these days.


aaron 04.30.07 at 5:45 pm

Try 120 with 25mph winds. Still less comfortable is eight degrees cooler, but with the humidity doubled as moisture roles in off the gulf in the evening.


Linkmeister 04.30.07 at 7:07 pm

Well, I’ve spent more time in Arizona than in New Mexico, but seems to me the Sangre de Cristo range around Santa Fe is just as beautiful as the San Francisco range around Flagstaff.


Gene O'Grady 04.30.07 at 10:08 pm

Response to #37, actually Kit Carson is completely connected with the experience of non-white Americans, having been married to three of them, most lastingly to a woman named Jaramillo who saved his life when most of the “whites” in Taos were killed. Furthermore, in the Civil War he commanded largely Hispanic militia units fighting against the hated racists invading from Texas.

I don’t want to argue the case, but Wikipedia quotes about a military officer being directly or indirectly responsible…. is hardly the same thing as being a murderer.


gab 05.01.07 at 10:42 pm

Why does Fremont’s name have an accent? We’re talking about John C. Fremont right?


Joshua W. Burton 05.01.07 at 11:03 pm

Carson and Crockett were both US citizens, though the latter died fighting in a foreign army. Boone (whose sons grew up with Kit Carson, by the way) is the odd man out, having served as a Virginian, a British prisoner and quisling, and finally a Spanish officer, but by careful intent never having lived a day of his life in a US state.

USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629) was a nuclear missile sub in the “Fighting Furriner” series, along with foreign flag heroes Kamehameha, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Sam Houston, and foreigner allies Simon Bolivar, Casimir Pulaski, Lafayette and don Vallejo.


Joshua W. Burton 05.02.07 at 12:45 am

Oh, and Tecumseh, of course.


Erik 05.03.07 at 1:46 am

I’m not sure why John C. Frémont’s name has an accent, but it in fact does.


Valuethinker 05.03.07 at 4:31 pm

Did anyone else read ‘Classic Comics’ in their youth?

Kit Carson, and Marco Polo, would be two people whose careers I know of, primarily (and vividly) through Classic Comics.

Human memory is visual, or more strongly so than that communicated by reading.

It is for this reason that we remember the movie, typically, better than the novel (think ‘The Big Sleep’), and the comic book treatment better than some dull high school history text.

37 asks what happened to history? The answer is there is room for all those people. The history you and I were taught, by ignoring the aboriginal inhabitants, the black slaves, the likes of the Chinese migrants who built the railways, and the women, was an entirely partial and incomplete history.


Nat Whilk 05.04.07 at 8:38 pm

In #43, joshua w. burton wrote: “[Daniel] Boone . . .never . . . lived a day of his life in a US state.

What an odd claim. Where was he living from 1795 to 1799, when everyone else seems to think he was living in the state of Kentucky?

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