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Camel Caravans - Page 3

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All of these little eccentricities did not endear the camel to the soldiers 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 soldiers 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 Davis imported him -- that of chasing the Apache to his stronghold and shooting the Indian full of holes from light artillery strapped on the back of a camel.




A teamster by  Edwin Forbes, 1863.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!


Instead of the camel hunting the Indian, the Indian hunted the camel, as they had learned to love camel steaks and stews. So, whenever an opportunity offered the Apache killed the camels; but the camel soon learned to hate and avoid the Indian, as all living things learn to do. Some were allowed to die of neglect by their drivers; others were surreptitiously shot by the troopers sent to hunt them up when they strayed away -- the trooper claiming to have mistaken the wooly tufts on the top of the twin humps of the camel as they bobbed up and down in the tall sage brush, for the topknot of an Indian, and in self-defense, to have sent a bullet crashing, not into an Indian, but into the anatomy of a camel.


When the Civil War broke out, some 35-40 of the camel band were herded at the United States forts -- Camp Verde, Fort Bliss, Fort Yuma and some of the smaller posts in Texas. When the eastern forts were abandoned by the government, the camels were turned loose to take care of themselves. Those at Fort Yuma and Fort Tejon were taken to the Benicia Arsenal, condemned and sold at auction to the highest bidder. They were bought by two Frenchmen who took them to Reese River, Nevada, where they were used in packing salt to Virginia City. Afterwards they were taken to Arizona and for some time, they were used in packing ore from the Silver King Mine down the Gila River to Yuma, Arizona. But, even the Frenchmen's patience gave out at last. Disgusted with their hunch-backed burden bearers, they turned the whole herd loose upon the desert near Maricopa Wells.


Free now to go where they pleased, instead of straying away beyond the reach of cruel man, the camels seemed possessed with a desire to linger near the haunts of men. They stayed near the line of the overland travel and did mischief. The apparition of one of these ungainly beasts suddenly looming up before the vision of a team of mules frightened the long-eared quadrupeds out of all their senses; so they ran away, scattering freight and drivers over the plains.


The mule drivers, out of revenge, shot the camels whenever they could get in range of them. In 1882 several wild camels were caught in Arizona and sold to a circus, but a few survived to roam at large on the desert regions of Southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. For years afterwards boundary officials would report seeing wild camels on the alkali plains amid sage brush and cactus. These are probably descendants of the imported ones, as those seen appeared to be in their prime.


Occasionally the soldiers in the garrisons of New Mexico and Arizona would catch sight of a few wild camels on the alkali plains. All reports agreed that the animals had grown white with age, their hides having assumed a hard leathery appearance and they are reported to have hard prong hoofs, unlike the cushioned feet of the well-kept camel.



Army camel in California

The only known photo of an Army camel in Los Angeles, California.



Also See:


Beale's Wagon Road From New Mexico to California

Ghost Camels in the American Southwest



Written by James M. Guinn, 1901. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, January, 2010.



About the Author: A teacher by profession, James Miller Guinn was extremely active in the Historical Society of Southern California in the 1880’s, filling every office the society. Over the years, he contributed a number of valuable historical papers to magazines and newspapers, as well as editing the Historical Society’s Annual for more than ten years. He wrote several historical and biographical records regarding California. Camel Caravans of the American Deserts was included in Pioneers of Los Angeles County Register, 1900-1901, Vol. 5. Though the content is essentially the same as Guinn wrote it in 1901, the text as it appears hear has been edited for ease of the modern reader.



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From Legends' Photo Shop

Unique Greeting Cards Exclusive to Legends of AmericaCustom Greeting Cards - Combining our great vintage photographs with words, wisdom and proverbs of the Old West, these photo cards are unique to the Legends of America.


Unique Greeting Cards Exclusive to Legends of America


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