A fringed buckskin coat with embroidered designs is on display in the Santa Fe Trail Museum at the Trinidad History Museum complex. History Colorado curators believe the coat is affiliated with the famous scout, trapper, frontiersman, and U.S. Indian Agent Kit Carson. But beyond that, much of the coat’s history is fuzzy.
Who Made It?
Many people who don’t know the coat’s true history assume American Indians made it. After all, it’s made of buckskin and has fringes. Plus, Carson was a U.S. Indian Agent who in 1835 married Singing Grass, an Arapaho woman, and later married a Cheyenne woman. A WPA guidebook from 1941 even states than a Cheyenne chief gave Carson the coat. Over time, local residents have passed on the belief that American Indians made the coat.
However, curators think the coat—which is machine-stitched—was made in about 1855, after Carson was married to Josefina Jaramillo, a member of a prominent Hispano family in Taos. Several embroidered designs that closely resemble designs from the Hispano colcha tradition adorn the coat. The designs are not American Indian in origin or inspiration. Curators think the coat was made in an “outfitting town in the East” or a “buckskin tailoring establishment” in the West. There was such a place in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It is likely that Carson would have known about the establishment.
Was It Really His Coat?
The phrase “Kit Carson’s Coat” implies that Carson wore the coat or that it was his coat. But was it?
Ever since Trinidad’s Carnegie Public Library first displayed the artifact, local residents have called it “Kit Carson’s Coat.” Some people come to the museum specifically to see “Kit Carson’s Coat.”
According to the family of Dan L. Taylor, Kit Carson gave the coat to their pioneer ancestor, a future mayor of Trinidad. Did Carson buy the coat as a gift for Taylor? Or did he buy it for himself, wear it for a while (or not), and later give it to Taylor? If he bought it as a gift, did he try it on first? Since we don’t know the answers to these questions, is the coat’s affiliation with Carson sufficient to call it “Kit Carson’s Coat”?
Recently, we received a call from the director of another museum. He was coming through Trinidad and wondered if he could see “Kit Carson’s Coat.” After I told him about the coat’s fuzzy history, he said, “Maybe Carson tried on the coat before he gave it to Taylor. That’s good enough for me!”
By Paula Manini, Regional Museum Director
Trinidad History Museum
Contact the Library
Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203