Filed under: Analysis, Featured, History, Indigenous, Southwest
Historical analysis and context of the Kit Carson obelisk that was recently toppled in so-called Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The Kit Carson obelisk located in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Santa Fe was knocked down (another Kit Carson obelisk was toppled in 2020) on August 31st, 2023, according to local news reports. This is a moment of triumph for people all across these lands who are seeding the soils of a future free of genocidal colonial violence. While many can sleep easy knowing that the people of Santa Fe no longer have to witness the pedestalling of a local white supremacist many are still unaware of Kit Carson’s history of violence toward Indigenous people.
Kit Carson (December 24, 1809 – May 23, 1868) Indian Agent and US Officer has a well documented legacy of carrying out genocidal policies toward Native Americans including the sanctioned enslavement, trafficking, murder, and sexual violation of Native women, children and people. Carson’s terrorism includes The Long Walk that forced Diné to walk hundreds of miles to a concentration camp where they would be enslaved with 400 Mescalero Apache. The Long Walk resulted in the death of hundreds of Diné and was an attempt at cultural genocide and forced removal.
Dr. Marc A. Emerson and Dr. Teresa Montoya refer to Kit Carson’s genocidal violence toward the Diné in “Confronting Legacies of Structural Racism and Settler Colonialism to Understand COVID-19 Impacts on the Navajo Nation,“ writing:
In 1863, Lt. Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson began a violent scorched earth campaign by burning dwellings, slaughtering livestock, and poisoning water sources as the US military sought to seize Diné territory. During this process, more than 10,000 Diné were forcibly marched hundreds of miles to a concentration camp in New Mexico in an act of attempted genocide now known as The Long Walk.11 At Fort Sumner, Diné prisoners of war were forced to adopt Christianity, English language and education, the Euro-American cultural value of individualism, and a foreign diet of commodity foods such as flour, lard, and coffee. During their internment, one in every four Diné died because of deprivation, starvation, and disease.
Historical accounts of Kit Carson attempt to honor and buffer his “legendary” status by naming his alliance to several Native American tribes and never cease to mention his several Native American wives. As a historian and archivist it’s important to understand the context of colonization and racial capitalism in relation to historical recountings of famous white supremacists. Just like “George Washington was a nice slave owner” is as ridiculous as it sounds, so to are attempts at humanizing Carson whose relationship to Indigenous people was one of enslavement, rape, and murder. Proximity to Native peoples does not relinquish one of racist attitudes, behaviors, or genocidal attacks.
Carson’s history of trafficking and murdering Indigenous women mirror that of the MMIWG2S+ epidemic and should be considered when we discuss his marriages to Native children. His first wife, Waa-nibe, was an Arapaho child of 17 years. His second wife, Making-Out-Road, was a Cheyenne child of 17 years who divorced him (READ: escaped back to her family while he was away) after one year of marriage. And his third wife, although not Native, was also a 14 year old child. Are we surprised that a colonizer is also a child-predator? Not one bit. Are we surprised that a child predator like Kit Carson also has hundreds of monuments and place names dedicated in his honor? Nope. But we should be collectively mobilizing to remove these symbols that desecrate the spaces they consume.
Kit Carson’s genocidal legacy was celebrated even beyond the west and his scorched earth campaign became a model for other historical tyrants. Carson’s work “expanding the west” contributed to the inspiration for Adolf Hitler‘s concentration camps and genocide of 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust of Nazi Germany (1933-1945). Hitler found the colonization of the “Great West” to be central to the foundation of American history and identity and encouraged his generals to adopt the “creative ideas” that came from western popular media portrayals of “Indian Wars.”
David Carroll Cochran provides an analysis in “How Hitler found his blueprint for a German empire by looking to the American West,” writing:
Writing in “Mein Kampf” in the 1920s, Hitler praised the way the “Aryan” America conquered “its own continent” by clearing the “soil” of “natives” to make room for more “racially pure” settlers and lay the foundation for its economic self-sufficiency and growing global power. Indeed, the concept of Lebensraum was coined and popularized by Friedrich Razel, who said his theory of colonization and racial replacement drew inspiration from the American historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis” and its identification of “colonization of the Great West” as central to American history and identity.
Rather than maintain a bunch of Adolf Hitler statues, Germany removed all monuments and symbols glorifying the violence of the Nazi Regime long ago. The difference between Nazi Germany and America is that the Nazi Regime collapsed within a generation while the occupation of so-called America has been an ongoing colonial project worth hundreds of years of enslavement, genocide, forced removal, family separation, Jim Crow Laws, and so on. America is built on killing and has no other structure to maintain itself. This is all the more reason to dismantle white supremacist monuments. America is weak, it can’t function without it’s symbols. In Santa Fe we can see that settler locals are losing their only sense of identity with the recent loss of the Kit Carson obelisk. Without a monument to memorialize their history of mass murder and sexual violence they have no culture to cling to. If we want to upend the American colonial project we will have to participate in dismantling its culture which lives on in the glorified portrayals of mass murderers like Kit Carson.
As Dr. Jennifer Nez Denetdale (Diné) asserts:
The fact that we are even still questioning whether Kit Carson was a hero or a villain, is to succumb to multicultural narratives about cultural diversity that deny, sanitize and erase Indigenous presence, celebrate genocide and refuse an accountablty and ethics.” By doing this, “there is a refusal to acknowledge or respect the sovereignty and self determination of Indigenous people.
While we dance to the beat of the crumbling pillars of white supremacy a question still plagues many of our minds. Why is the community burdened with such a task as removing monuments when our local, state, and federal governments should be pouring resources into the country wide removal of violent idolatry? In Santa Fe for example, the 1973 City Council agreed to remove the Union Soldier’s Monument. In 2020, Mayor Alan Webber publicly proclaimed that the city would remove three contested monuments in the downtown area, citing that racist monuments have no place in the city. Instead of walking the talk, Mayor Alan Webber shows an allegiance to the anti-Indigenous sentiment of Santa Fe because he lacks a spine and is easily pressured by the fear mongering of his white supremacist locals. Fortunately, in every city where a colonial or confederate monument stands there is an even stronger community who believe in building up a world where people can co-exist without the harsh reminders of violence perpetuated onto them.
Until the eradication of all colonial monuments and place names,