Camels of the Wild West
The United States had a problem. Following the Mexican-American War large tracts of desert land needed to be occupied through army bases, supply lines, and mail routes, but lack of water in these areas made use of horses or mules prohibitive. The US Camel Corps came into being as an alternative method of transportation. The sum of $30,000 was designated by the government for purchase of camels on March 3rd, 1855. Since the army knew nothing about handling camels, several Middle Eastern men were also hired to come to America to take care of the creatures. One of them, Hadji Ali, was soon nicknamed Hi Jolly.
In April 1856, the first camels arrived in Texas. While use of the beasts gave the army definite advantages, the Camel Corps soon discovered that life with camels could be difficult. Unlike horses, which were fairly easy to manage, camels had a tendency to spit, bite, and kick. They also didn’t smell particularly pleasant, a smell that often panicked horses and mules.In a trial run, one Lieutenant Beale crossed into California with the camels. Beale was pleased with the camels’ performance, but not everyone agreed with him. In the end, it turned out to be a moot point. The start of the Civil War focused the nation’s attention elsewhere, and the advent of railways ended the need for the Camel Corps.
The California Camels were sold in 1863 and those remaining in Texas were sold mainly to zoos, circuses, traveling manageries, and to carry freight for Nevada mining operations. A few ranchers and private citizens also purchased camels. Other camels either escaped or were released into the wild by the soldiers who had cared for them. Sightings of feral camels in the southwestern deserts continued until the last confirmed encounter in 1941 near Douglas, Texas. They are thought to have died out, but reports of sightings continue and even a persistent legend of the ghost of a giant red camel.
What do you think? Do descendents of the U.S. Camel Corps wander the deserts of the American West or have these creatures been lost in time?