Kit Carson Jr.
By the end of Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill's second tour, they had amicably parted ways with both Ned Buntline and Wild Bill Hickok. Cody was eager to start another dramatic tour, but Texas Jack had agreed to lead the Earl of Dunraven on a trek through the new Yellowstone Park. While Jack and the Earl visited the geysers, Buffalo Bill started his tour without Jack, having hired an actor who was billed as Kit Carson Junior to tour with him. When Jack returned from his trek, he and his wife spent several weeks with Cody and his family at their new home in Rochester, New York.
In Rochester, Cody and Omohundro enjoyed leisurely strolls through town and time spent with Cody’s children without the pressing needs of theatrical touring. Ever fond of children, the two scouts spent much time interacting not only with Bill’s own daughters and young son, but with other Rochester youth. One Rochester local who was a child that summer later recalled that:
Texas Jack was always the life of the party. One day he got all the horses from the two livery stables, Black’s on Main Street near the Baptist church and Frank Wetherill’s on Chapin Street and turned them loose on Main Street. Then he chased the horses up and down the street to show people how they caught them with the lariat and other customs of the plains.
Another day Omohundro and Cody were riding through the town when they came across a dog sitting beside the road:
Jack, who had already shown us tricks on horseback with the rope, saw a dog sitting under the surrey, and offered to bet a bottle of champagne that he could ‘rope’ the dog. Buffalo Bill accepted the wager, with the understanding that the horse should be moving at a good speed. Texas Jack rode by two or three times and at the first throw of the rope it settled around the dog’s neck. Then the fun commenced. The dog being an old one and the weather being hot, the dog began to froth from the mouth and Texas Jack could not loosen the rope from the dog and at the same time was busy keeping out of the way. This caused a good deal of excitement. Buffalo Bill remarked that it was the first time he had ever seen Texas Jack caught in a trap of his own making.
Though this was initially all in good fun, things escalated when Kit Carson Junior, the actor Cody and Omohundro had hired to take Wild Bill’s part in the show when he parted ways with the company, shot and killed the dog. The dog’s owner was justifiably upset and was only calmed when Texas Jack offered him $100 to cover his loss. Omohundro never forgave Kit Carson Jr. For most of his life, Texas Jack had given much weight to his ability to judge another man the moment he met him, and his judgment of Kit Carson Jr. was a harsh one. Before he had left to hunt with the Earl, Omohundro warned Cody that the young actor was not to be trusted, and that he was only using Cody to attain a measure of fame that would allow him to make a name for himself at Buffalo Bill’s expense.
Like Omohundro had warned, Kit Carson Junior left Cody at the end of the dramatic season, attempting to establish his own western drama trading on his association with Buffalo Bill For a few years, he attempted to run his own combination, in direct competition with Cody, which upset Bill greatly. In one of his later letters to Buckskin Sam, Cody mentions that Kit Carson Jr. was arrested in Chicago for hitting his wife with intent to kill. Cody notes that “I should have expected as much.” A note on a portrait of Carson Jr. in the collection of James Earl Taylor, who used the portrait to illustrate the dime novel Kit Carson Jr., the Crack Shot of the West states that Kit Carson Junior’s real name was Jim Spleen and that he had posed as the son of the famous scout Kit Carson to try and get into West Point. According to Taylor, General Sherman had confided in him that Spleen was discovered to be an imposter when he failed to pass the entrance examinations for either grammar or mathematics.
On his own, Kit Carson Junior took to peddling Indian medicine, or snake oil, promising that the concoction he offered would remedy any number of ailments. He also lectured widely on his supposed experience with various Native American tribes and their conflicts with the ever-expanding frontier. This article, from the Bangor, Maine, Daily Whig and Courier newspaper, typifies Spleen's exploits:
It appears that "Kit Carson" has been arrested in Indiana for passing counterfeit money. It would seem as though there ought to be some punishment for his counterfeiting a good name as well as good money. We do not know whether this in the same person who was somewhat familiar in this vicinity a few years ago, and who professed to have the same name and to be a relative of the heroic scout, bit who was chiefly remarkable in this respect for his want of resemblance to the appearance and character of the original bearer of the name.
It would not be altogether surprising if such was the case, considering the appearance and the ways and manners of "Kit Carson, Jr,." and his experience, which revolved from appearances on the stage as lecturer and actor to disposing of "Indian remedies" at county fairs, and although it is not to be presumed that many credited him with actual relationship to the distinguished scout of the plains, there might have been some disrepute reflected from the counterfeit to the original.
There is no law to prevent a man from calling himself what he likes, so long as he does not use a false title for the purposes of fraud; but it would be a satisfaction if pretenders could be made to suffer for casting discredit upon honorable names to which they have no right. At any rate, if this scout of the gutters has been caught in counterfeiting more tangible property than a good name, he is likely to get his hair cut and be taught some more useful trade that delivering lectures or peddling "Indian remedies," and may consent, when he concludes his experience, to assume a more honest appelation, and to earn an honest livelihood.
The Harrisburg Telegraph expands in an article headlined "A First-Water Fraud."
Our readers will remember a tall, long-haired individual, wearing a buckskin suit and a broad sombrero, who promenaded throughout streets by daytime last week, and who "lectured" in the evening to large audiences in front of the courthouse and sold a book containing a remarkable account of his adventures in the "far West," where he was a trapper scout, hunter, and a combined edition of Wild Bill, Texas Jack, Buffalo Bill, Big Footed Ie, Snakey Wallace, and a hundred and one other buckskin heroes who figure in dime novels and kill millions of Indians, buffaloes, and other wild game and do it just as easy.
This Kit Carson, Jr., was feeling remarkably brave while here, and took occasion in the course of his "lecture" to malign the character of a certain army officer whom he pretended to have seen and known while on the plains. That he did not know him was self-evident, or he never would have spoken of him as he did.
It turns out now, on the authority of a Brooklyn paper, that this same Kit Carson Jr. is a fraud of the first water, and that he never was on the plains. That he is—heaven save the mark!—a book agent of the brassiest kind, with a tongue remarkably glib from long practice and a harder cheek to the square inch than any of his talky compeers. Kit was in a New York town the other day and after removing his long hair and buckskin suit and donning civilized habiliments he "gave himself away" in the most thorough manner, relating to a party of admiring friends how he had pulled the wool over the "Reubens" in the "country" towns by wearing his peculiar uniform and how he made lots of cash selling his book, clearing $50 in one town, $40 in another, and so on. He advised his hearers to get a book containing adventures on the border and climb into a buckskin suit, and their fortunes were made.
The true Western scout does not make an exhibition of himself, and those who come East and prate of their glorious deeds are held in supreme contempt bt the hardy, earnest fellows in the far West. And so must Mr. Kit Carson, Jr., the brassy book agent, be held.
The Army officer in question was the deceased George Armstrong Custer, who "Kit Carson Jr." routinely spoke of as both an old acquaintance and an incompetent military commander. His other speaking points were religion ("Don't be a Catholic, don't be a Protestant. Be a man."), personal behavior ("Don't lie, steal, drink, smoke nor chew tobacco, love God and man and never deceive a woman.") and politics ("Don't be a Republican, don't be a Democrat, be an American. It it were not for the whisky in the Democratic party, it couldn't live twenty-four hours, and if the thieves and liars were taken out of the Republican party it couldn't live ten minutes.")
One newspaper reported that after a lecture in Paterson, New Jersey:
[Kit Carson Jr.] went into the baggage room, took off his broad-brimmed hat, his buckskinned suit and his long-haired wig, revealing under the masquerade a bright-looking young man of the world, a shrewd canvasser. “You boys are fools,” he said to the depot folks, “to be slaving out your lives here for $40 or $60 a month. I tell you the people like to be humbugged. -- Nobody could sell this book till I took hold of it and passed myself off as “Kit Carson, Jr.,” and now I’m coining money. Last night I cleared $50 in Middletown, and tonight $35 in Paterson. I’m making big pay. Boys, there’s nothing like it. The people will pay well for being humbugged. Give up your railroad job and buy a wig, a broad brimmed hat and buckskin suit, and then take the agency for a frontier story book. You’ll get rich. Come, let’s have a drink!”
He also spoke against the American government and military, and in favor of the Native tribes. "Kit Carson Jr. says the Black Hills belong to the Indians, fair and square," reported the St. Albans, Vermont, Advertiser, "and that the government treats them badly." The lecture concluded with Carson shooting an apple off the top of his wife's head, followed by a pipe from her mouth.
Kit Carson Jr's lecturing career was short-lived. In March of 1881, the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Daily Times reported that "The alleged Kit Carson Jr.'s blathering no longer entertains the crowd of knowledge seekers who have heretofore listened to the disquisitions on his idea of how the world ought to be run, society reorganized, and religion reformed. He is languishing in the hospital with his system infected with smallpox. He evidently brought the disease with him, for it is the only case heard of in this vicinity." He died at the Read House Hotel and was buried in an unmarked grave to avoid infecting locals with smallpox.