June 4, 1841

Friday, 4th. Half past six this morning saw us on the march. The valley of the [Platte] river was here about 4 miles wide. Antelope were seen in abundance. A young man (Dawson) was out hunting, when suddenly a band of Cheyenne Indians about 40 in number came upon him; they were pleased to strip him of his mule, gun, and pistol, and let him go. He had no sooner reached the camp and related the news than the whole band came in sight. We hastened to form a corral with our wagons, but it was done in haste. To show you how it affected the green ones, I will give the answer I received from a stout, young man (and he perhaps was but one of 30 in the same situation), when I asked him how many Indians there were. He answered with a trembling voice, half scared out of his wits, there are lots, gaubs, fields and swarms of them!!! I do really believe he thought there were some thousands. Lo! there were but 40, perfectly friendly, delivered up every article taken, but the pistol.

Nicholas Dawson was ever after this incident known in the company as “Cheyenne,” to distinguish him from the other Dawson in the company, V. W. Dawson, called “Bear.” He left his own account of the incident. The guide, Thomas Fitzpatrick, had warned them not to stray beyond sight of the wagon train, but in following an antelope herd Dawson had wandered out of sight. Suddenly he was accosted by the band of Cheyenne, who forced him to dismount and, in his words, “seized my gun and knife, stripped me of my outer clothing, and taking my mule, left me.”

Dawson ran back to the wagon train, told his story, and Fitzpatrick and a few men on horseback set out to find the Indians.

I was very angry now, and intent on vengeance, so hastily borrowing a horse and gun, I hurried after the party. I came on at full speed and was aiming at the first Indian within range, when I was stopped by some forcible language from Fitzpatrick, and perceived that Fitzpatrick and the Indians were engaged in a friendly powwow. It had proved to be a band of Cheyennes, friendly but thievish. They camped near us that night, and Fitzpatrick attempted to get back my property. He and I and the Indians sat around in a circle, and for every article to be returned, gifts of blankets, clothes, etc. had to be thrown down, a peace pipe smoked by all, and much haranguing done. Fitzpatrick’s patience gave out before all was got back, and declaring that I ought to be satisfied to have got off with my life, he refused to intercede further.

Seems to me that it was a good thing all around that the Bidwell-Bartleson Party had joined up with the missionaries and their guide, Fitzpatrick. Otherwise they would have all been dead on the prairie within a month from their misadventures.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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