Nicholas “Cheyenne” Dawson and his three comrades were not getting rich at gold digging. So they decided to try a new occupation–droving.
Droving meant going down to the ranches and buying up cattle to herd back to the mines. Dawson went to Monterey, to his old employer Job Dye, and bought a herd at $20 a head. When he reached the Stanislaus River he sold them for $40 a head, which sounds like a good profit,but the cost of hiring vaqueros and the difficulty of getting the cattle to cross rivers made it a hard job, one that Dawson had no wish to repeat. He lamented that “almost every night the beeves would stampede, and I got almost no sleep.”
When he got back to camp, he and his three friends dissolved their partnership and went their ways. Dawson and a man named John Crow bought a wagon and four yokes of oxen and “went to freighting.”
We got from five to ten cents a pound, according to the distance. We camped out, did our own cooking, and soon had made enough to buy another team. The diggings were from thirty to one hundred miles distant, and to some of them we had awful roads, but we made it pay.
Dawson and Crow were operating out of Stockton, and one day Nicholas got up the courage to visit Charles W. Weber, the proprietor of Stockton, owner of a large land grant, and a wealthy man. Weber had come to California in 1841 in the same company as Dawson.
One day when I was feeling a little braver than usual I went to see him, ragged and dirty freighter though I was. “Cheyenne Dawson!” he exclaimed joyously, when he recognized the object before him; and then could not find enough to do for his old mule-eating comrade. He offered to give me a ranch off his grant, and, though I remonstrated, ordered his clerk to make out deeds to me for the two best central lots in Stockton.
Though Weber was anxious to get me into more congenial employment, I was too independent to accept favors, and continued my freighting. The winter of 1850 was remarkably dry, and I freighted all winter, doing better than I had done in the summer, as freights were more plentiful and prices better.
In the spring I began to think of home, sweet home.