See you later Indian killer! Kit Carson get’s the boot from the town officials who are calling it a gesture of reconciliation. The Taos Town Council has changed the name of Kit Carson Memorial Park to Red Willow Park.
“[Kit Carson] was atrocious, an Indian killer,” said councilor Fritz Hahn in an interview Wednesday morning (June 11). “This is about reaching out to our vecinos and righting past wrongs.”
So all I have to say is…Yay Taos! Happy Days are here again! Que Viva Red Willow Park
here is the rest of the article from the Taos News:
The council voted 3-1 to rename the park Tuesday. Council Fred Peralta dissented, saying there should be more time to consider alternatives and hear suggestions from the community. The name “red willow” was proposed by those who spoke. The word “Taos” translates to “place of the red willow” in Taos Pueblo’s native language, Tiwa.
Christopher “Kit” Carson lived from 1809 to 1868, and spent many of those years in Taos. Carson is a polarizing figure, seen by some as a brave and talented scout and mountain man, and by others as a brutal killer of native peoples in the West. Nearly a century-and-a-half after his death, Carson’s legacy in Taos remains controversial.
Carson’s name is ubiquitous in Taos, associated with the electric cooperative, the national forest and a prominent road in the historic district. Carson and members of his family are buried in the cemetery on the east side of the park.
But the mixed reviews on Carson led a small group of residents to lobby the town council to change the park’s name.
Local business owner Chris Pieper, Taos Pueblo member Linda Yardley, Taos County Probate Judge Andrés Vargas, and Methodist pastor Steve Wiard addressed the council at a meeting Tuesday (June 10), explaining the ill feelings associated with the name. Wiard read an email from Lyla Johnston, a Taos native with Navajo heritage, who described how the Carson name was synonymous with oppression and violence.
Vargas told The Taos News Carson’s exploits have been mythologized to gloss over the less savory parts of his career, specifically his efforts to eradicate the Apaches and round up the Navajos to have them relocated to a reservation. “Those animosities have not healed,” Vargas said.
“We’re not denigrating Kit Carson,” Wiard told The Taos News Wednesday. “We’re just saying the park is central to the community, and to make it a place of healing and reconciliation, something like this is long overdue.”
Wiard said he was “pleasantly surprised” when the council swiftly moved to enact the change Tuesday.
A scenic historic marker that stands outside the park gates says the state of New Mexico gave the park to the town in 1988.
“It is dedicated to the citizens of Taos and to the historic figures of our community who have made this a great place to live and visit,” the sign reads.
Carson was a member of the Taos Masons, and members of the Taos Masonic Lodge are largely thought to be responsible for the proliferation of the Carson name around Taos. According to a history written by Charles E. Randall and posted on the Kit Carson Home and Museum website, a group of “prominent Taos citizens” help the Masons establish the 20 acres that now make up the park as Kit Carson Memorial State Park in 1949.
In a statement sent to The Taos News, the Kit Carson Home and Museum board said it is “proud to offer its resources to the Taos community as it deliberates the naming of Kit Carson Park.”
The statement said Carson is “an iconic American figure whose life embodied both historic accomplishments and controversial actions.” It did not take a firm position on whether it thought the name of the park should not have been changed. Board president Martin Jagers told The Taos News he had heard there was discussion about changing the name of the park, but he said he did not expect a decision to be made so quickly without a broader community conversation.
Town manager Rick Bellis told The Taos News Wednesday there would be a ceremony in the coming weeks to formally change the name of the park. Bellis said changing the name would help restore the relationship between the town and Taos Pueblo.
Bellis credited Taos musician Robby Romero with the name “Red Willow,” which was meant to be a neutral alternative. Bellis said the Kit Carson name has been a sticking point as the town works to collaborate with the pueblo on various projects, including events and festivals in the town limits.