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Kit Carson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107570).

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Carson, Kit (24 December 1809–23 May 1868), mountain man, army officer, and Indian agent, was born Christopher Houston Carson in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Lindsey Carson, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Rebecca Robinson. In 1811 Lindsey Carson moved his family to Howard County, Missouri, to find “elbow room.” He died in 1818, hit by a falling limb while clearing timber from his land. Christopher enjoyed no schooling and never learned to read or write, other than signing his name to documents. In 1825 his mother and stepfather apprenticed him to David Workman, a Franklin, Missouri, saddler whom Kit described as a kind and good man. Nevertheless, he ran away because he found saddlemaking tedious and distasteful work and yearned to travel. Following in the footsteps of a brother and a half-brother who were in the Santa Fe trade, Carson joined a caravan as a “cavvy boy” (an assistant to the wrangler in charge of the horse and mule herd). Though not unsympathetic, Workman was obliged by law to advertise for his runaway. But he misleadingly suggested to readers of the ...

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Chouteau, Jean Pierre (10 October 1758–10 July 1849), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Pierre Laclède and Marie Thérèse Chouteau. In accordance with French law, Jean Pierre Chouteau used his mother’s surname. Pierre, as he was most widely known, moved to St. Louis with his mother in 1764. Little is known of his education, formal or informal. Taking advantage of St. Louis’s position as the gateway to American, French, and Spanish commercial activities among the Native Americans in the trans-Mississippi West, Pierre and his half brother ...

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Davenport, George (1783–04 July 1845), Indian trader and frontier townsite entrepreneur, was born in Lincolnshire, England. Nothing is presently known of his parentage or childhood, although he apparently enjoyed the equivalent of a good common-school education. At age seventeen he was placed with an uncle, a captain of a merchant vessel. In 1804 Davenport’s ship visited New York, where he broke his leg and had to be left behind to recuperate....

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Forsyth, Thomas (05 December 1771–29 October 1833), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in what is now Detroit, Michigan, the son of William Forsyth, an innkeeper, and Ann Kinzie. Forsyth received such education as was available and was literate. His experiences in the multiethnic frontier world of Detroit, which even after the Revolution was dominated by British traders, completed his schooling. After the death of his father in 1790, Forsyth entered the fur trade as a clerk for George Sharp and spent several winters trading among the Ottawa on Saginaw Bay. By 1798 he was trading near what is now Quincy, Illinois. His first trading partner was a man named Richardson, and in 1802 he and his half-brother John Kinzie started a trading post at the present location of Chicago, Illinois. About 1804 Forsyth married Keziah Malotte, a former Indian captive, near Malden, Missouri, and they settled at Peoria, where he traded until the beginning of the War of 1812, when General ...

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Mitchell, David Dawson (31 July 1806–31 May 1861), fur trader and government American Indian agent, was born in Louisa County, Virginia. Nothing is known about his parents. Mitchell’s youth remains wrapped in mystery. He arrived in St. Louis as a young man and quickly became involved in the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Employed by the American Fur Company as early as 1828, he was assigned first to the Ioway country and then to the Upper Missouri River, where he displayed considerable skill in dealing with the Blackfoot and Assiniboine Indians. During the period between 1828 and 1838 he headed several trading outfits and built Fort McKenzie in Montana in spite of American Indian objections to the construction at the mouth of the Marias River. Noted for a cool head in stressful situations, Mitchell managed to keep tensions from reaching a boiling point, especially over the issue of which native groups might be favored in trade. ...