Rayado was founded by Lucien Maxwell in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War as the first plains settlement in New Mexico east of the mountain valleys of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The area was far from secure due to marauding Apaches and Comanche, so Maxwell persuaded his friend Kit Carson to help provide security in 1849. A detachment of US Army Dragoons was based at Rayado the following year. After a few years at Rayado, Kit Carson returned to Taos.
Founder Lucien Maxwell left Rayado to found Cimarron in 1857, and his brother-in-law Jesus Abreu and his family took over operations of Rayado Rancho.
In 1950, the Boy Scouts of America built an adobe museum at Rayado to serve as an interpretive area to portray its history and recount the exploits of Maxwell and Carson. It was named in honor of Kit Carson.
Staff at the Kit Carson Museum dress in period clothing and demonstrate frontier skills and crafts like blacksmithing, cooking, shooting, and farming. Each room in the museum is outfitted with reproduction furniture and objects typical of New Mexico in the 1850s. The Rayado Trading Company, located at the museum, sells books, maps, reproduction tools and equipment, moccasins, and blankets.
The Kit Carson Museum is seven miles south of Philmont Camping Headquarters on NM Highway 21.