A stand-out member of the Bidwell-Bartleson emigrant company, and almost the last surviving member of that band, was Nicholas Dawson. During his adventures on the trail he earned the nickname “Cheyenne” from an incident that typifies Indian encounters in the old West. He spent three years in California in the 1840s, went back to the States, came back for the Gold Rush, went back again to the States and finally settled in Texas. He was in many ways the prototypical pioneer.
He kept a trail journal – mostly a record of miles covered — and in old age wrote a narrative of his travels. It was published by the Grabhorn Press in 1933 as Overland to California in ’41 and ’49, and to Texas in ’51. (It’s a rare book, but Meriam Library Special Collections has a copy.) In their later years he and John Bidwell corresponded, reminiscing about old times.
Chico, Cal. Dec. 20, 1891
Dear Mr. Nicolas Dawson Austin, Texas
Your very welcome letter of 12th instant is received, and I assure you it takes me entirely by surprise. You were very kind indeed to write me. Our party of 1841 are now few and far between. Besides yourself and myself I know if but two others, namely (now living) Michael C. Nye who now lives in Oregon, and Josiah Belden who lives in New York City. Belden is very rich – Nye not rich but quite well off I think. But I have not seen him for ten years or more. Saw Mr. Belden about five years ago.
Dawson probably heard that Bidwell was still alive because of the latter’s prominence in the temperance movement. By the time they exchanged letters both men were in their seventies, but both still hardy and active.
Stay tuned and I’ll tell you how “Cheyenne” Dawson joined up with the first emigrant train to California, and how he got his nickname.