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Table of Contents

The Philmont Mountain Lion
The Dyin' Gunfighter
The Truth About Wild Horses
Bunc Bradshaw and the Mexican Captain
Cowboy Bob: Movie Star
The Cowboy's Wardrobe
Some Other Cowboy Paraphernalia
The First Bulldogger
God's Bit and Bridle
The Adventures of Cheyenne Dawson
Louis Remme's Wild Ride
Cowboy Bob and the Bunny Buckle

The Adventures of Cheyenne Dawson

In his western novel, Reilly's Luck, author Louis L'Amour portrays a fictional heavy named "Cheyenne Dawson." As much as I like L'Amour, his character pales in comparison to the actual western pioneer, Nicholas "Cheyenne" Dawson. The real-life Cheyenne Dawson is worthy of a whole series of books -- or at least a feature-length movie -- detailing his adventures. Cheyenne Dawson

Born on January 22, 1819, at Glasgow, Pennsylvania, Nicholas Dawson was the son of a pious Presbyterian farmer and keelboat freighter.

On the first of May in 1838, Dawson left home "with the purpose of spending about six years in seeing the world." To finance his travels, Dawson sold all of his books to his brother... and headed for the horizon with all of eight or ten dollars in his pockets.

Dawson traveled by steamboat to Lexington, Missouri, where he homesteaded and built a cabin. He then found a job as a schoolteacher.

His employment lasted "until the first snow froze out my school -- which was not hard to do, as the [school] house had neither doors nor chimney, but only openings for the same." His work ended, Dawson sold his homestead for ten dollars and hit the road again.

Dawson wandered up and down the Mississippi, working a variety of jobs, before he decided to travel to the Pacific via the California Trail.

Three years to the day after he had left home, Dawson headed for California as a member of John Bidwell's Western Emigration Society. After paying for his mules and provisions, Dawson had only seventy-five cents left. (He still had the seventy-five cents when he reached California the following November.)

On June 4, Dawson -- who had been out hunting -- came running up to the wagon train exclaiming that a horde of Indians had attacked him and taken his rifle, pistol, and mule from him. Dawson's hysteria spread, and the leader of the party, mountainman Thomas Fitzpatrick, had a difficult time bringing the panic-stricken wagon train under control enough to form a defensive hollow square position.

A short while later, the Indians arrived -- but instead of attacking, they started pitching their tepees nearby. They turned out to be a group of forty or fifty friendly Cheyennes. The Indians explained that they had no intention of harming the young hunter, but he was obviously so terrified that they were afraid he might start shooting and hurt someone. They decided to let him cool down with a nice walk back to the wagon train, They readily returned Dawson's property -- except for his mule -- and he was given the derisive nickname "Cheyenne" by the others in the wagon train. The name stuck with him for the rest of his life.

The Bidwell party split off from Fitzpatrick's Oregon-bound group and headed for California -- literally blazing a new trail over barren deserts and rugged mountains as they did so. They were the first emigrant party to travel overland to California.

In California, Dawson went to work as a clerk at Dye's store in Monterey for $20 a month. After a rather disastrous otter hunt with Dye, Dawson parted company with his employer--and found himself in Santa Barbara "with forty dollars in money and five or six otter skins, a broken arm and my feet so badly bruised that I could scarcely walk on crutches."

In 1843, Dawson decided to move on, so he sailed to the Mexican seaport of San Blas. From there he traveled to Mexico City. Undecided where to go next, Dawson let his horse decide. The horse picked Veracruz.

The cover of an original copy of Nicholas Dawson's memoirs From Veracruz, Dawson sailed to New Orleans. After discovering that he was not cut out to be a slave overseer, he taught school for a season, then returned to his family in Pennsylvania.

Seven years had passed with no contact, so Dawson's relatives had given him up as lost. "My return," Dawson noted, "was as if one had risen from the dead."

In 1846, Dawson returned to Arkansas to teach school -- and married one of his former pupils, nineteen-year-old Margaret Wright. Three years later, he joined his brother-in-law and several others in a journey from Texas to the California gold fields by way of Northern Mexico. A couple of years of panning and freighting yielded him some $1,600 -- so Dawson took a ship for home.

Deciding that the Texas climate would be better for his health, Dawson took his wife to Austin and became a farmer. He remained in the Lone Star State for the rest of his life.

With John Bidwell's death, Cheyenne Dawson became the last living member of that pioneer expedition. Dawson died in 1903 at the age of eighty-four.

A limited edition of fifty copies of Dawson's memoirs -- written at the request of his family -- was published in 1901, then reprinted in 1933. They make fascinating reading, and what I've written here doesn't even scratch the surface of Dawson's amazing life.

The photo of Cheyenne Dawson above is from the frontispiece of the original printing of his memoirs, the cover of which is also pictured above. This specific copy was signed by Nicholas and inscribed to his sister-in-law, Sarah McCullough Dawson -- the wife of James "Bear" Dawson. James Dawson was a noted Oregon pioneer and also a fascinating individual. Both photos are courtesy of Michael Burnley, a rare book dealer in Beverly Hills, California.

(For some information on Cheyenne and Margaret's descendents, see Q&A #276 - Can you tell me about Cheyenne Dawson's family?)

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COPYRIGHT © 1999-2009 BOB LEMEN, GRAND RAPIDS, MINNESOTA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. The contents of this document are not for reproduction.