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Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 67

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Item 67. Sabin’s Kit Carson Days—“A must-read overview of the American takeover of California and Carson as agent of Manifest Destiny” (Kurutz).

67. SABIN, Edwin L[egrand] (1870-1952). Kit Carson Days (1809-1868)...Illustrated by More Than One Hundred Half-Tones, Mostly from Old and Rare Sources. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1914. xv [1] 669 pp., frontispiece portrait, numerous halftone plates, maps. 8vo, original gilt-lettered brown vertical ribbed cloth. Light cover wear and front hinge starting, otherwise fine in lightly chipped d.j. with two small tape repairs. The d.j. is scarce. This copy bears John Howell–Books pencil notes at back indicating that it came from the collection of Dr. Herbert M. Evans, noted book collector and discoverer of Vitamin E.
First edition. Cowan II, p. 548. Dobie, Guide to the Life and Literature of the Southwest, p. 74: “A work long standard, rich on rendezvous, bears, and many other associated subjects.” Graff 3630. Howell 50, California 354. Howes S1. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 67. Rader 2867. Rittenhouse 501. Rocq 17128. Saunders 3140n. Zamorano 80 #67. ($100-300)


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Edwin L. Sabin, a prolific historian of the Southwest, wrote the first documented biography of the famed New Mexican mountain man, trapper, teamster, scout, Indian fighter, and agent. Many earlier dime-novel-style biographies had been written about this Western icon but none are comparable in scholarship to this detailed study. Sabin, for his day, made a supreme effort in assembling a welter of primary source material and hammering it into a cogent narrative. Through this majestic work, the panorama of the American West unfolds from Carson’s days as a mountain man, to his close involvement with John C. Frémont and the conquest of California, to settling the “Indian Problem” in the Southwest.
Sabin must be commended for writing a critical biography of his subject. This is not an orgy of hero worship and deification. Two years earlier, Sabin had written a juvenile book on his subject, Adventuring with Carson and Fremont, but with this new work, the child’s play was left behind. Modern scholarship has, of course, turned up more documentation, corrected errors, and developed different interpretations based on the historical evidence. Nevertheless, this monumental biography and its later, expanded editions will always stand as an essential reference on California and the West. Too often recent writers have ignored this resource. Rather than concluding his biography with Carson’s death, Sabin, in presenting a balanced approach, ends with an assessment of the man neither making him a towering figure of the West or a ruthless agent of American cupidity. Rather, Sabin treats him as a living human being with both strengths and failings. Sabin wrote, “Kit Carson was not a great man, nor a brilliant man. He was a great character; and if it was not his to scintillate, nevertheless he shone with a constant light.”
For historians of California, Kit Carson Days provides a must-read overview of the American takeover of California and Carson as agent of Manifest Destiny. Sabin delves deeply into the reasons for the Mexican-American War and the cultural and political differences between California and New Mexico. “There,” Sabin wrote, “California dangled like a red and savory apple; temptingly near the Sierra fence, far from the Mexican house, and bound to be the spoil of the first bold hand.” The California part occupies a considerable portion of Sabin’s text and centers around the adventures of John C. Frémont, the controversial “Pathfinder,” or as biographer Allen Nevins called him, “The Pathmarker.” Sabin covers the harrowing expeditions over the snowbound High Sierra, Frémont’s machinations in trying to outfox Mexican authorities, the stand at Hawk’s Peak, the Bear Flag Revolt, the efforts of the California Battalion in subduing Alta California, the Battle of San Pasqual, Frémont’s imbroglio with General Kearny, and Carson taking the news of California’s conquest to the East. During this time, Carson became involved with an incident that will forever mar his reputation, the murder of Francisco and Ramon de Haro and the elderly José de los Reyes Barreyesa in June 1846. Was Carson carrying out Frémont’s orders, drunk, or just plain bloodthirsty? To this question, Sabin does not dodge the issue or defend his subject but rather presents a number of contemporary viewpoints on this dastardly event. He concluded, “There is no defense for this act, save the excuse of obeying orders; and there is no defense for the orders.”
Because of this incident and his life as an Indian fighter, Carson’s standing has been besmirched in recent times. Marc Simmons, in his masterful introduction to the Bison Books edition of Sabin wrote, “By the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, the Carson reputation, once so luminous, had fallen on bad times. And it had nothing to do with any new documentary discoveries that suddenly painted him in a reprehensible light. Beginning in the 1970s, Carson was transformed from a national hero, noble and self-sacrificing, into an arch-villain and stigmatized as a ruthless racist.” Fortunately, the pendulum is starting to swing as demonstrated by Tom Dunlay’s new book, Kit Carson and the Indians, recognizing that Carson must be seen as a “man of his times.”
The first edition of Sabin is illustrated with a number of halftone reproductions of photographs, lithographs, and other documents. In 1935, the Press of the Pioneers in New York published a revised and expanded edition illustrated with twenty full-page line drawings by Howard Simmons.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Tom Dunlay, Kit Carson and the Indians (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2000); Marc Simmons, Introduction to Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868, 2 vols. (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995).



Item 67. Chrisopher (“Kit”) Carson (1809-1868).



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