In the mid-19th century, Taos witnessed much upheaval and violence due to U.S. military invasion during the Mexican-American War. Much has been written about the men of the time, such as Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, Taos trader and governor Charles Bent, Father Antonio Jose Martinez and frontiersman Kit Carson. But what of the women of that era, specifically Carson’s third and most beloved wife and local girl Maria “Josefa” Jaramillo?
It was a question that dawned on Karen Douglas, executive director of the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos. Three years ago, Douglas accepted her new post as the museum’s executive director. One day while acquainting herself with the property, she focused on family photographs. They piqued her curiosity. Why was there only one verifiable photo of Josefa Carson? As she searched for more photos of the beautiful young woman, Douglas noticed that there was also not much written about her. An idea came to mind.
“Because of the turmoil of the times, I thought, ‘This woman deserves a book,’” Douglas shared. “She was involved with important Taos history while living in this small, three-bedroom house with seven children and a husband who was rarely home.”
Kit Carson often had to leave the home he bought Josefa for extended periods of time because he made a living as a mountain man, wilderness guide, American Indian agent and American Army officer.
“This was a woman’s life back then,” Douglas explained. “But it was hard to find out anything about them.”
Douglas reached out to her friend, Barbara Schultz, a retired educator and author of “The Couse Collection of Santos,” who gladly took the assignment of writing a book about Josefa — pro bono. Schultz began her “project of passion” two years ago and quickly found herself searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“It’s true, there wasn’t much written about her,” Schultz said.
Schultz started gaining some ground when she visited the Governor Bent House and Museum in Taos. There, she learned that Josefa and her sister, Ignacia (who
was married to Bent), were both present in the Bent home when the then-governor was dragged out into the street and killed during the Taos Rebellion of 1847. Along with Ignacia’s first-born daughter, Rumalda, she and Josefa dug the famous hole in the Bent house as an escape route into the adjoining house that fateful night.
It also came to light during Schultz’s research that Josefa was present when some Ute warriors came by the Carson home to visit with her husband, who was
away. As often happened during skirmishes with other tribes, the Ute men had abducted a Navajo boy and were looking to sell him into slavery. His distress was not lost on Josefa, who asked the men what they wanted for the boy. “A
horse,” they replied. So, she went out to the stable and brought back a horse.
The Carson home also entertained many historic figures. And Josefa was the consummate host, making sure everyone was fed and had a place to sleep.
“Josefa kept this place going with seven children,” Douglas said. “She was not a wimp. This book is going to bring these places to life again. The book is charming and talks about the time here for the women and children.”
“Josefa: The Lifetime of Maria Josefa Jaramillo Carson, 1828-1868” is being self-published by the museum with hopes of it being available in May. The museum is currently seeking donations toward its publication costs. All proceeds go directly to the museum.
“This is not just a history of Josefa,” Douglas added. “It’s a history of Taos.”
For more information, call the museum at (575) 758-4945 or go online to kitcarsonmuseum.org.
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