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Kit Carson and the self-made soul

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A book you may not have heard about but would enjoy reading is Hampton Sides’ enthralling Blood and Thunder: The epic story of Kit Carson and the conquest of the American West (New York: Anchor Books, 2006). Sides is one of the finest narrative historians writing today. His research is astounding in its breadth; his prose captures the spirit of the West like no other I’ve read.

And his hero is still a man for our times. Kit Carson (1809-68) was a trapper, mountain guide, “Indian fighter” (as the term was used in his day), rancher, and possibly the only illiterate general in U.S. military history. He stood five feet four inches tall. Fluent in Spanish and French, he also spoke nine different Native American dialects. A man of strong Catholic faith, he was one of the fiercest warriors the West ever knew.

When he was 16, Carson ran away from his Missouri home, captivated by tales of adventure in the West. He became a fur trapper and “mountain man,” then led John Fremont in mapping the Oregon Trail and the West Coast. He became a hero of the Mexican-American War and Colonel in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. President Lincoln made him a General three years before his death.

Some 70 “blood and thunder” novels (precursor to the modern “Western”) were written about his life. Carson City, the capital of Nevada, is named for him, as were two steamships in his day. He met with presidents and senators, and was a personal friend of Gen. William Sherman. A man respected nationally for his integrity and bravery, Christopher Carson was the first true Western hero in American history.

In a way, he never died. We Texans still admire the self-made success who rises to prominence through unaided toil and grit. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. If you get up earlier, stay up later, work harder and try longer, you can do anything. If Kit Carson was the first Lone Ranger, he wasn’t the last.

But self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide.

The church of Jesus Christ is a body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), a vine with many branches (John 15:5). We depend on our Lord and on each other. Jesus sought his Father’s direction (Mark 1:35) and his friends’ intercession (Matthew 26:38). There are no solos in the book of Revelation.

When I became Senior Pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, the Lord soon led me to the finest pastor friends I’ve ever known. Our covenant group is comprised of seven ministers from five denominations. We still meet for lunch twice a month and pray for each other every day. These men are mentors and brothers to me.

I believe every Christian needs a mentor like Paul, a disciple like Timothy, and an encourager like Barnabas. A lone explorer may brave the dangers of the uncharted West, but spiritual health requires submission to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) within the family of faith.

A coal taken from the fire quickly grows cold. So does a soul.


This article originally appeared in a simlar form in the Reading the Culture column in The Baptist Standard