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Dawson Family Papers
MSS 0240  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Historical Background
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Dawson family
    Title: Dawson Family Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1852 - 1950
    Extent: 5.60 linear feet (10 archives boxes and 12 oversize folders)
    Abstract: Papers (1852-1950) of the Dawson family, including patriarch John Barkley Dawson (1830-1918), a trailblazer, Texas Ranger and cattle rancher in New Mexico and Colorado, and several generations of his descendants. J. B. Dawson purchased part of the Maxwell Land Grant in New Mexico. The bulk of the collection relates to research about J.B. Dawson and other family members complied by Delphine Dawson Wilson, family historian. Materials include correspondence between family members, diaries and scrapbooks, photographs and photograph albums, ephemera, and research materials. The collection occupies 5.6 linear feet and is arranged in five series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) DIARIES AND SCRAPBOOKS, 3) PHOTOGRAPHS, 4) EPHEMERA, and 5) WRITINGS.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0240
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Dawson Family Papers, MSS 0240. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Historical Background

    John Barkley Dawson, patriarch of the Dawson family, drove cattle across the American frontier from Arkansas to the mining towns of California in 1855. In 1857 he homesteaded land in Fort Belknap, Texas, and began a business that sold cattle to government forts, Indian agents and the distant mining towns of Colorado. Dawson blazed the trail that later became known as the Dawson Trail. For a brief period, 1864-1865, he served as a Texas Ranger.
    In 1869 Dawson and several relatives purchased 250,000 acres of land on the Vermejo River, New Mexico, from Lucien B. Maxwell. Originally a Mexican land grant given to Judge Carlos Beaubien and Senor Guadalupe Miranda in 1844, the Maxwell land grant was confirmed in 1860 according to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Over the next twenty years, Dawson developed the ranch, stocked his range with cattle, constructed a dam and irrigation system for agriculture, and built a two-story ranch house and numerous buildings.
    Controversy arose over the exact boundries of Dawson's property once coal was discovered under much of his range. The Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company, an English corporation, purchased the remaining portion of Maxwell's land and engaged in an aggressive attempt to remove squatters and lease tenants from portions of the original grant. During the 1880s, the corporation successfully removed occupants without valid deeds of contract. In the early 1890s, the corporation filed a suit against Dawson which was eventually decided in his favor in the United States Supreme Court in 1893.
    The costs of litigation and a persistent regional drought created a financial crisis for Dawson in the 1890s. He responded by sending his three older sons on a successful stock drive to the gold fields of the Yukon in Alaska in 1893. In 1901 he sold all but 1250 acres of his ranch to the Dawson Fuel Company (no relation) and moved to Routt County, Colorado. There he built another ranch and raised cattle and horses. The Colorado property also contained large deposits of coal, which Dawson later sold to the Victor American Fuel Company in 1915. John B. Dawson died in Los Angeles, California, in 1918.
    J. B. Dawson's son, Si Dawson, continued in the cattle business after the sale of the Routt County ranch. In 1918 he accepted a position as the superintendent of a large ranch called the Fazenda Morungava, located in Brazil. He lived there with his wife Lucy and son Henry Clay until December 1919, when he died of a ruptured appendix. His daughters Delphine and Dorothy were preparing to visit their parents when word arrived of their father's death.
    Delphine Dawson Wilson was responsible for assembling this collection of her family's papers. She began to compile information on her family's history in 1972 and is writing a book on her grandfather J. B. Dawson.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Dawson Family Papers document aspects of the lives of several generations of the Dawson family, including John Barkley Dawson (1830-1918) and his son Si Dawson (1870-1919). The collection includes letters written by and to Dawson family members (1894-1947), loose photographs, photograph albums, scrapbooks, and miscellaneous items such as the Dawson Family bible. The collection, dated 1852-1950, occupies 5.6 linear feet and is arranged in five series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) DIARIES AND SCRAPBOOKS, 3) PHOTOGRAPHS, 4) EPHEMERA, and 5) WRITINGS.
    The first series, CORRESPONDENCE, contains letters written to various members of the Dawson Family. The most detailed group (1894-1909) of letters was written by Si Dawson to his wife Lucy Anne McKean Dawson. Another group of letters was written by Si to Lucy during the stock drive from New Mexico to the Yukon in Alaska in 1898. Transcriptions of these letters are located in Series 5A. The CORRESPONDENCE series also contains letters from Lucy written to her daughters Delphine and Dorothy and to her sister Elizabeth Howard from the Fazenda Morungava in Brazil between 1918 and 1919. She describes aspects of their life on the ranch and her impressions of Brazilian culture, as well as the events leading up to Si's death on December 3, 1919. Transcriptions of these letters are located in Series 5A This series is arranged alphabetically by correspondent.
    The second series, DIARIES AND SCRAPBOOKS, is arranged in two subseries. The first diary, written by Si Dawson in 1897, contains a record of travels, business transactions and reports of day-to-day occurences. Si Dawson's 1898 diary documents events of a risky cattle drive he and two of his brothers led from New Mexico to the Yukon in Alaska. It describes in detail the areas they visited, some of the people they encountered and problems they confronted throughout the trip. The third diary was written in 1918 by an unidentified visitor to the Fazenda Morungava Ranch in Brazil.
    Transcriptions of these diaries are located in Series 5A.
    This series also contains two scrapbooks. One scrapbook (1890-1920), compiled by Della McKean Dawson (Lucy's sister), contains a letter written to Martha McKean (Lucy and Della's mother) by her brother from an unidentified battle field during the Civil War. This scrapbook also contains photographs of the McKean family, the Chase family, the Wilkins family and of the Dawson ranch in Colorado. The other scrapbook, compiled by Delphine Dawson, documents her trip to Brazil in 1934.
    The third series, PHOTOGRAPHS, is arranged in three subseries: A) Photograph Albums, B) People and C) Places. This series contains images of four generations (1852-1947) of Dawson family members, beginning with the parents of J. B. Dawson and extending to J. B. Dawson's grandchildren. Also included are photographs of the ranch homes in New Mexico and Colorado, along with the surrounding land and livestock. Photographs of the Fazenda Morungava and Sao Paolo are also found in this series.
    The fourth series, EPHEMERA, contains miscellaneous Dawson momentos and documents, including the Dawson family Bible, printed in 1852. This Bible is covered in a buckskin binding that was made from the shield of an Indian chased down by J. B. Dawson while he was a Texas Ranger. A detailed account of this incident is laid into the Bible. This series also contains a menu for Christmas dinner in 1897 at the New Mexico ranch, several documents detailing the sale of the Dawson's land in New Mexico to the Dawson Coal Company, and a transcript of the Supreme Court trial "The Maxwell Land Grant Company, Plaintiff in Error, vs. John B. Dawson." This material is organized alphabetically.
    The fifth series, WRITINGS, is arranged in three subseries: A) Transcriptions, B) Books, Drafts and Articles and C) Genealogical Materials. Most of the material in this series, arranged alphabetically by title, is the work of Delphine Dawson Wilson, J.B. Dawson's granddaughter and daughter of Si and Lucy Dawson.
    A) The first subseries, Transcriptions, contains Delphine Dawson Wilson's transcriptions of diaries and letters found in the collection, family papers not housed in the collection and newspaper clippings. Included are the love letters written to Lucy Dawson from Si Dawson in 1894-1896, Si Dawson's diaries, newspaper articles and obituaries of family members. In most instances, the transcriptions are bound and include an introduction by Delphine Dawson Wilson.
    B) The second subseries, Books, Drafts and Articles, contains mostly unpublished writings by Delphine Dawson Wilson. Titles include "An Index of Subjects from Old Mexican Newspapers, 1879-1918, "Early Western Horse Records," and "Si Dawson, Foundation Quarter Horse Breeder." The bulk of this series, however, includes writings and research material for Delphine Dawson Wilson's book entitled "John B. Dawson, Southwestern Cattleman and Rancher, 1830-1918." These materials are arranged by draft.
    C) The third series, Genealogical Materials, contains genealogical records for the Dawson, Stout and Wilson families. Most of the research was conducted by Delphine Dawson Wilson, but some genealogies were compiled by research firms or by other family members. These materials are arranged alphabetically by title.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Dawson family -- Archives
    Dawson family -- Portraits
    Dawson, John B. -- Archives
    Wilson, Delphine Dawson -- Archives
    Dawson, Siria M. -- Archives
    Cattle breeders -- West (U.S.) -- Biography
    Cattle trade -- West (U.S.)
    Ranches -- New Mexico -- Vermejo River
    Ranches -- Colorado -- Routt County
    Ranchers -- West (U.S.) -- Biography
    Haciendas -- Brazil
    Routt County (Colo.) -- Description and travel
    Yukon Territory -- Description and travel
    Vermejo River (N.M.) -- Description and travel
    Maxwell Land Grant (N.M. and Colo.)
    Photographic prints -- 19th Century.
    Photographic prints -- 20th Century.


    Wilson, Delphine Dawson, -- correspondent
    Dawson, John B., -- correspondent
    Dawson, Siria M., -- correspondent
    Dawson, Lucy, -- correspondent