Christopher “Kit” Carson is a complicated figure in U.S. history. He served as a saddle maker, wagon driver, trapper, hunter, soldier, rancher, freemason, federal Indian agent, and the star of many dime novels. Many consider him a hero of the Old West due to his days as a frontiersman and his military service in the Civil War as well as the Indian Wars. Yet his participation and efforts in the Navajo Long Walk left a bloody legacy. His home in Taos is one of the few physical reminders of Carson’s legacy.
In 1843, Carson purchased the home as a gift for his third wife, Maria Josefa Jaramillo—a member of a prominent Taos family. He lived in the home while he worked as an Indian agent for the Ute and Pueblo people. Josefa stayed in the home with their children while Carson traveled. He had ranching ventures west of Taos at Rayado, served as the commanding officer at Fort Garland, Colorado, and guided merchants along the Santa Fe Trail. The family lived in the home for twenty-five years until the deaths of Kit Carson and Josefa in 1868.
The date of the home’s construction is unknown. Experts agree that it was built either before or in 1825. The three-room house is a territorial-style adobe building with Spanish-Colonial influences. Lightly colored stucco walls and a backyard patio give a Spanish visual esthetic, but with Native American building materials and construction techniques. Double-hung windows, a transom window above the front door, whitewashed interior walls, brightly colored trim around the doors and windows, and square porch columns all characterize the territorial style. Its large wooden vigas protruding from the sides of the building, inner courtyard, and gently sloping roof are characteristics of adobe homes.
After the deaths of the Carsons in 1868, ownership of the home changed six times before the Grand Masonic Lodge, also called Bent Lodge, of New Mexico purchased it in 1911. In 1949, members of the community formed the Kit Carson Memorial Fund to officially maintain and operate the building as a house museum. By 1955, the museum had grown so popular the operators added the Romero Building (which belonged to a neighbor of Carson). In 1963, the National Park Service designated the home as a National Historic Landmark. Today, people can tour the Kit Carson Home & Museum for a small fee. Visitors can arrange for a tour of the home, or they can explore on their own. The museum contains original artifacts from the family and other period pieces. The courtyard contains a horno (adobe brick oven) and a drying rack. Inside the museum, there are furs and furniture.