Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson was well known in his own time through dime novels that told often exaggerated stories of the West. He was an army officer, a mountain man, and famously a guide for John C. Frémont. Nowhere in his resume does it list “horse thief.”
However, such a tale was told about the man in the May 20, 1923 edition of the Idaho Statesman. The article was part of a continuing series of stories told by the son of Captain Stanton G. Fisher. The elder Fisher had over the years been an Indian trader, chief of scouts, and the Indian Agent at Fort Hall. The time period when he held various posts and titles seems to have been from the late 1860s into the 1890s. He was involved in what some call the Nez Perce War.
Fisher’s son heard from his father that Kit Carson and Jim Beckworth, a freed slave who was a mulatto and himself a well-known mountain man, stole a string of 6 or 8 horses and mules from someone near Fort Hall. The teller of the tale was careful to say that stealing horses at that (unspecified) time was not necessarily looked upon with great disfavor if one didn’t steal them from a friend or neighbor.
The tale-teller said the owner of the small herd offered a beaver trap worth $16 for every animal returned to him. Jim Bridger, ANOTHER well-known mountain man who was also at the fort at that time, told a little Frenchman named Meachau LeClair about the reward offer. LeClair and a young Mexican named Thomas Lavatte set out to earn those beaver traps.
They caught up with Carson and Beckworth somewhere outside of Soda Springs. The pair waited until well into the night to approach the camp of the two men. They first silenced a bell tied around the neck of one horse, then quietly led the herd away without waking anyone. Not relishing the idea of being overtaken on their way back to Fort Hall by Carson and Beckworth, the men decided to steal the personal horses of the mountain men as well as the previously purloined herd. With some tense moments delivered courtesy of a growling guard dog, they were able to sneak the mounts away.
With Carson and Beckworth now on foot, LeClair and Lavatte pounded back to Fort Hall with the herd, which they would trade for the promised beaver traps. Along the way they stopped at Soda Springs where a store proprietor noticed the men had the Carson and Beckworth horses, to which the Frenchman allegedly said, in the third-hand telling of the tale, “Yas, you tell de man Kit Carson and de man Jim Beckworth dat de little Frenchman got his mool. You bet he no folly me.”
A grain of truth or a grain of salt? You be the judge.