War between the United States and Mexico was in active operation. Colonel Fremont took the responsibility of capturing a weak Mexican post near by, at Sonoma, where he obtained several cannon and some small arms. His explorers being thus virtually resolved into an army, he marched, with Kit Carson as nominal Lieutenant, for the capture of Monterey. Before he reached there, the city was taken by an American squadron under Commodore Sloat. Colonel Fremont obtained a ship to convey him, with his fast friend Kit Carson, and one hundred and fifty bold mountaineers, who had attached themselves to his fortunes, a few hundred miles down the coast, to San Diego. Thence he marched upon Los Angelos.
It was becoming important to have some communication with Washington. To send dispatches around by the cape, required a voyage of weary months. To reach the capital by land, it was necessary to traverse an almost pathless wilderness four thousand miles in extent. Whoever should undertake such an enterprise, must not only live upon such food as he could pick up by the way, but also be exposed to attack from innumerable bands of hostile savages, urged on by still more hostile Mexicans.
On the fifteenth of September, 1846, Kit Carson undertook this hazardous enterprise. He was placed in command of fifteen picked men. The utmost vigilance was necessary every step of the way. He was instructed to make the journey in sixty days. For two days, he pressed on his way without molestation. The third day, he came suddenly in view of a large encampment of Apache Indians. Each party discovered the other at the same moment. There was instantly great commotion in the Indian camp; the warriors running to and fro in preparation for a fight.
Mr. Carson, acquainted with their language, and also familiar with all their customs, saw at once that his only safety consisted in reckless courage. He halted his little band, and assuming an air of entire unconcern, rode forward till he came within speaking distance, and of course within arrow distance of hundreds of plumed and painted warriors. He was entirely at their mercy. They might instantly pierce him, and almost bury him beneath a shower of arrows. The chief of the white men being thus killed, the rest of the party would fall easily a prey to their overpowering numbers. Carson shouted out to them:
“I come to you as a friend, and I ask for a parley.”
Two or three warriors then came forward and with the usual preliminaries, held a brief conference. They could without any difficulty have seized upon Carson and held him as a hostage. But he knew that his only possible safety was in this apparent act of desperation. Having smoked the pipe of peace, he said to them:
“We come to you as friendly travellers, seeking only a passage through your country. We come to you as brothers, presenting the olive branch of peace. We do not wish to harm you. We ask only for your friendship. Our animals are weary. We would exchange them for those that are fresh. We will pay you well for the exchange.”