Denver's Pioneer Monument and a Legacy of Controversy


Looking at the conceptual drawing of the monument published in the Sons of Colorado publication Vol, 1 #12 pg. 31 , the Indian on the back of a horse reared up on his back legs, pushes the definition of "final".

A few excerpts from that same issue provides insight into the mindset of the pioneers.

"the Eastern point of view, a view, we venture to believe, shaped more familiarly with popular romance than by actual knowledge gained by contact with real conditions. And of course such a conception is, as
might be expected, vitally lacking in realism and cannot be satisfactory to a Western, and particularly a frontier constituency."
"To them the red man is a myth, a creature of the poet's fancy, the hero of a great story. The Indians who lend poetry to beautiful western tales are not the men who massacred the defenseless women and children forty-five years ago. They are not the hostile creatures who kept the stalwart men who had
blazed the trail to the far West constantly in fear in trembling.
This is the sort of Indian the pioneer knew."
Mr. W. R. Head, of Jefferson, Park county, Colo., an old and honored pioneer, writes:
“I like the stand that our association took in regard to the proposed monument. Men that never rode in anything rougher than a Pullman car or an auto have little idea of what we have had to go through. I have seen enough men, women and children killed by Indians to make a good-sized grave yard”.

Viewing historic figures like Kit Carson, and John Evans filtered through lenses of contemporary sensibilities does disservice to history. If those figures who made numerous contributions to the development of Colorado and the West are condemned for one or two actions then it would only be fair to likewise condemn the natives for their actions.

I would think a way on honoring the history of that time would be to return Kit Carson to his place on the Pioneer Monument (if indeed that is Kit Carson) and build a new monument nearby celebrating the earlier culture.

Thank you for reading and sharing. Your thoughts on how to best honor history are felt by many and systemic issues are complicated knots to unravel. Though I would point out that we cannot condemn all "natives" for the actions of some, while only judging Carson and Evans on their own personal actions. Part of this is focusing on indigenous people as humans like us, something that was missing from both the "eastern" and "pioneer" viewpoints you reference.

Is the statue carved above the door supposed to be a representation of Manifest Destiny?


Thanks for commenting, Myra. What door are you referring to?

If the man and horse on top the monument was a generic figure, not named as Kit Carson, just a man with a gun on a rearing horse. Would this figure be acceptable.
I ask this because none of the other figures in the monument have a name.
The figure of the hose and rider is abundance in the world of art.
Who gave it the name Kit Carson?

That's a reasonable perspective, Jo, and thank you for reading! Generic figures are often less controversial than their named counterparts (though the generic Native American figure originally conceived for the pioneer monument is a counter-example). Kit Carson is named at least as early as the July 1909 Municipal Facts magazine, which captions an image as "The Pioneer Monument--The Central Figure Showing Kit Carson on horseback--No portrait of Kit Carson in his early pioneering days is extant, hence the idealized presentment." The monument was erected with this idealized depiction of Carson two years later.

Interesting article. I am the great-granddaughter of one of the people you mention and would like to correct the spelling of his name please. It is John S. Flower, not Flowers.

I would be very interested if you have more resources regarding the Pioneer Monument. Thanks!

Thank you for calling our attention to that, Ann! It's been fixed.

In terms of resources regarding the Pioneer Monument, I found that the bulk of the information was published in the Denver Municipal Facts and local papers Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post (which you'll find here). However, we do also have a small Pioneer Monument Collection (WH488) which includes materials from the 1910 Cornerstone, 1983 Time Capsule, and a small exhibit that was put together on the history of the monument.

Was actually wondering what happened to this statue. Kit was my great uncle. I really don't care so much about whether or not they moved the statue (don't think he would have either) but I think the mischaracterization of him as an Native American hater is ridiculous. Kit lived with the Arapaho tribe after his marriage to his first wife Waa-nibe; Kit was married to a Cheyenne woman for a short time after that, he was friends with NA's like Tom Tobin (1/2 Delaware) whose daughter was married to Kit's son. His last wife Josefa Jaramillo was Hispanic. Kit was also critical of cruelties inflicted on NA peoples. History is not so black and white and frankly taking down a statue that 95% of the passers by don't know who it is, doesn't help or injure anyone.

Thanks for sharing, Doug! Kit Carson's life (especially as it related to the Indigenous people around him) was certainly complicated, as is his legacy. It's a huge part of what makes him such a fascinating historical figure to research!

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