In December, 1854, Major C. Wayne was sent to Egypt and
Arabia to buy seventy-five camels. He bought the first lot in Cairo and
taking these in the naval store ship Supply he sailed to
where 30 more of another kind were bought.
These had been used on the
Arabian deserts. They cost from $75-300 each, somewhat more than had been
paid for the Egyptian lot. The ship Supply with its load of camels
on the Gulf of Mexico, on February 10, 1857. Three camels had died during
the voyage, leaving 72 in the herd.
About half of these were taken to
where an expedition was fitted out under command of Lieutenant Edward
Beale for Fort Tejon,
The route, which became known as Beale's Wagon Road
lay along the 35th parallel, crossing the Mojave Desert. The
expedition consisted of 44 citizens, with an escort of 20
camels carrying the baggage and water.
The expedition arrived safely at
Fort Tejon and the camel caravan made several trips between
Fort Tejon and
The other half of the herd was employed in packing on the plains of
and the Gadsen Purchase, as Southern
was then called.
The first caravan to arrive in
reached the city on January 8, 1858. The Star thus notes its
"A drove of fourteen camels under the
management of Lieutenant Beale arrived in
They were on their way from
to the Colorado River and the Mormon country, and each animal was packed
with one thousand pounds of provisions and military stores. With this load
they made from 30 to 40 miles per day, finding their own subsistence in
even the most barren country and going without water from six to ten days
at a time."
Again, the Star of July 21, 1858, made
note that "the camels have come to town." It said:
"The camels, eight in
number, came into town from
after provisions for that camp. The largest ones pack a ton and can travel
sixteen miles an hour."
would seem that a beast of burden that could pack a ton, travel sixteen
miles an hour, subsist on sage brush and go from six to ten days on one
drink would have supplied most effectually the long-felt want of cheap and
rapid transportation over the desert plains of the Southwest. The
promoters of the scheme, to utilize the camel in America, made one fatal
mistake. They figured only on his virtues; his vices were not reckoned
into the account.
Another mistake they made was in not importing
Arab drivers with the camels. From the very first meeting of the camel and
the American mule-whacker, who was to be his driver, there developed
between the two a mutual antipathy.
To be a successful camel driver, a man must be
born to the business. Indeed, he must come of a guild or trade union of
camel drivers at least a thousand years old; and, better still, if it
dates back to the days of Abraham and Isaac. The first disagreement
between the two was in the matter of language. The vigorous invective and
fierce profanity of the former mule-driver irritated the nerves and
shocked the finer feelings of the camel, who never in his life, perhaps,
had heard anything more strenuous than "Allah, el Allah" lisped in the
At first, the mild submissiveness of the camel
provoked his drivers. They could appreciate the vigorous kicking of an
army mule in his protest against abuse. But the spiritless dejection and
the mild-eyed pensiveness of the Arabian burden-bearer was exasperating.
They soon learned that in pure meanness one lone camel could discount a
whole herd of mules. His supposed virtues proved to be his worst vices. He
could travel 16 miles an hour.
Abstractly that was a virtue; but when camp
was struck in the evening and he was turned loose to sup off the succulent
sage brush, either to escape the noise and profanity of the camp or to
view the country, he was always seized with a desire to take a walk of
25-30 miles before supper.
While this only took an hour or two of his
time, it involved upon his unfortunate driver, the necessity of spending
half the night in camel chasing; for if he was not rounded up there was a
delay of half the next day in starting the caravan. He could carry a ton
-- this was a commendable virtue -- but when two heavily laden "ships of
the desert" collided on a narrow trail, as they always did when an
opportunity offered, tons of supplies were scattered over miles of plain
and the unfortunate camel pilots had to gather up the cargo of the wreck;
it is not strange that the mariners of the arid wastes cursed the whole
camel race from the beast the prophet rode, down to the smallest imp of
The army horses and mules shared the antipathy of the drivers for the
Arabian Desert trotters. Whenever one of the humpbacked burden
bearers of the Orient came trotting along past a corral of horses and
lifted his voice in an evening orison to Mohammed or some other Turk,
every horse of the herd was seized with fright and broke loose and
stampeded over the plains.
of these little eccentricities did not endear the camel to the
of Uncle Sam's army. He was hated, despised and often persecuted. In vain,
the officers urged the men to give the camels a fair trial but no one
wanted anything to do with the misshapen beast. The teamsters, when
transformed into camel drivers, deserted and the troopers, when detailed
for such a purpose, fell back on their reserved rights and declared there
was nothing in army rules and regulations that could compel American
to become Arabian camel drivers. So, because there was no one to load and
navigate these ships of the desert their voyages became less and less
frequent, until finally they ceased altogether; and the desert ships were
anchored at the different forts in the Southwest.
It became evident to the army officers that
the camel experiment was a failure. Every attempt to organize a caravan
resulted in an incipient mutiny among the troopers and teamsters.
No attempt, so far known, was ever made to
utilize the camel for the purpose that
imported him -- that of chasing the
Apache to his
stronghold and shooting the
full of holes from light artillery strapped on the back of a camel.