19th Century Literature and Culture
Rayado and Kit Carson Museum in 1852
Christopher Houston Kit Carson was born in 1809 and died in 1868. He was a frontiersman that travelled through the Rocky Mountains and explored all the way through the west of California. Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell (September 14, 1818 - July 25, 1875) was a rancher and entrepreneur who at one point owned more than 1,700,000 acres of land. Along with Thomas Catron and Ted Turner, Maxwell was one of the largest private landowners in United States history. He encountered and became fast friends with Kit Carson. Both were to sign up with John C. Frémont in 1841 for western expeditions, with Carson serving as guide, and Maxwell as chief hunter to South Pass on the Continental Divide. The five-month journey, made with 25 men, was a success, and Fremont's report was published by Congress. His report "touched off a wave of wagon caravans filled with hopeful emigrants" heading West.
Rayado (now called the Kit Carson Museum) was the first permanent settlement in Colfax County and an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Independence, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Pioneered in 1821 by William Becknell, it served as a vital commercial and military highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880.
The Kit Carson Museum tours the settlement or Rayado, teaching young scouts of the old lifestyle of the frontiersmen. It is stationed 11 miles outside of Cimarron, New Mexico and follows almost directly on top of the original Santa Fe trail.
The house was made out of adobe bricks-- mud and clay. The floors were made out of a mixture of adobe and animal’s blood. Lighting source was all done by candles and wick oil lamps. Most chores were done during the daylight hours outside. There were no glass windows, as glass was an expensive luxury at the time.
As a way station, a blacksmith was required. Any sort of wheel or horse shoes or ammunition needs were met at this site. A traditional 19th century smithy’s shop usually had a large hand cranked bellows made out of buffalo intestines. A wide assortment of hammers and clamps were used. The most widely used material was lead, which was melted down into musket balls. Iron was also the most common, as the smithy was the one responsible for making all the utensil’s and latches for the settlement. All hooks, door handles, knives, nails, etc. were a part of the Blacksmith’s job.
The carpenter’s job was pretty straight forward. His job was constructing things as needed out of wood, and fixing them. Period tools included the hand drill (also called the egg beater drill), chisels, nail cutters, lots and lots of clamps, draw knife, and many others. He used primarily a saw horse as his work space.
Rayado was built much like a fort. The outside walls were constructed to prevent ambushes and raid, which were common in that time by both Ute and Apache Indians. Everyone in the settlement had protection in case of invasion, including the women. Everyone toted a black powder gun and a knife.
There is a saddle room at the museum, which holds many different models of saddles, including an original pony Express. The Pony Express was a mail delivery service that only lasted for one year (1860-1861) before it was replaced by the telegraph. This is also the room where they stored the grain for the animals.
The kitchen was spacious, and because of the heat, the majority of the cooking and preparation was done outside. The oven was made out of adobe and tools used commonly were mortar and pestle, meat hooks, and switches for misbehaving children. Common food supply was whatever the huntsman brought home, usually some form of meat, which was quickly spiced and dried, for the only source of keeping food cold was the stream. Common spices were hot peppers, rosemary and thyme.
The huntsman had their own room, which they decorated in the furs of their prizes. Mountain lions, wolves, bears, buffalo, deer, coyote and antelope are all native to this area. His tools of trade are his trusted .26 caliber black powder rifle and his assortment of bear traps. Fun Fact: A bear trap requires superior physical strength to open. We always ask the cocky scouts that if they can open the trap themselves, they will get a free knife from the gift shop (boy scouts do love pointy things). Two of them together could not apply enough pressure to even open the jaws. The strength of a bear trap is enough to shatter straight through a human’s bone.
The mountain man sleeps on a bed that is laterally built into the wall. It’s simply adobe blanketed with furs.
The owners of the settlement, the “Don” and his family, get the biggest room—and an actual bed. It was a constructed of a wooden frame with rope, then a blanket stuffed with straw was put on top of it. Every week they would have to change the straw because of insects, and every night they would have to tighten the ropes to keep the bed from sagging (good night sleep tight don’t let the bed bugs bite…). Between everyone in the household, there was only one toothbrush. Toothbrushes were expensive, ranging in about the price of a buffalo pelt. They were made out of fine boar’s hair bristles and ivory.
The next room is the ball room. This is the only room that has wooden floors—a sign of wealth. The walls are painted with whitewash and a large candelabra (with real candles) swings in the center. This is where the celebrations were held. In the corner is an old piano dating back to 1826. It is unique because of his rectangular shape. It was designed to be taken apart and fit into a wagon.
The courtyard is where all the activity is held. In the center is the orno, an oven made of adobe that is cone shaped. Most of the baking was done in this. There is a garden where all vegetables and herbs are grown. The gardener’s job was to tend to it and keep out wild animals as well as tending to the sick. There were no formal doctors.
There is also a shooting range for our warning cannon and a tomahawk ring. A tomahawk is a type of throwing hatchet. We have the young scouts take turns throwing the tomahawks at a giant “cookie” which is a large tree cut. Past this is the barracks for the soldiers when they did pass through.
The commissary was of vital importance. This was where the immigrants would stock back up on their supplies such as food, ammunition, clothes, health care, first aid, shaving equipment, tobacco, you name it. Payments were made in coins, and to make change, the merchant would simply cut the coin into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces were called bits (shave and a hair cut…).
The clothing worn by the countrymen were working clothes and simple. They got dirty frequently, but only a few had extra clothes to change into. All clothes washing was done by hand with an old wash top and wash board. Clothes were hung to dry in the courtyard. The people were strongly Catholic, and as such there isn’t a room In the house that doesn’t have a crucifix hanging on the wall. Their culture was very heavily influenced by Spanish culture.
Among the jobs given, one that everyone contributed to was the tanning of buffalo hides. Tanning a hide consists of laying out the skin onto a frame, then wiping the insides down with a mixture of egg yolks and brains. After a short period, they stretch it out onto a large frame. A tool called the dry scraper was used to scrape away at the inside of the skin, removing the layers bit by bit. Ideally, one person was given this job a day and had it completed by nightfall. Buffalo hide is very large, some easily ranging over eight feel. Our summer there, we only managed to finish one buffalo hide a week.