In 1855 Congress tried an interesting experiment; they appropriated $30,000 to import camels to America to carry army equipment in the southwest and engage in military operations against the Indians. US Army Major Henry Wayne was sent overseas to purchase them.
A year later he landed on the Texas coast in Indianola with more than thirty camels and eight camel drivers. His arrival created quite a commotion. Crowds gathered on the pier to view the U.S. Camel Corps, but after being confined to a ship for weeks on end the beasts were in no mood for company. They bawled and kicked and broke their harnesses. Horses panicked and bolted, overturning wagons. Spectators screamed and ran for cover.
A camel looks like a horse planned by committee
The camels were quickly moved to Camp Verde, but even there they created havoc; They roamed the camp freely and ate their way through cactus fences onto private property, scaring livestock, chasing children and trampling gardens.
Containing them, however, was easy compared to loading them. Their humps required special saddles and pack frames. During placement cattle had to be made to kneel, stand and kneel again. The men were ill prepared for all the growling, spitting, bleating and snarling that went on during loading. Camels were not only vindictive they were also unforgiving and held a grudge. Some soldiers soon lost patience and tried to teach the animals a thing or two with whips. Used to working with relatively tame horses and mules they must have been shocked when camels fought back with sharp teeth and deadly jaws. Some men were even knocked to the ground and crushed.
Two things cannot be hidden:
being astride a camel and being pregnant–Lebanese saying
Once loaded, however, camels proved their weight in gold. They could carry six to eight hundred pound loads; more than four times what a mule could carry. They could easily travel up to forty miles per day and were happy to eat whatever desert brush could be found along the trail. While horses and mules would make frantic dashes to water holes, camels never drank a drop even after traveling days in desert heat. Camel humps are made of fat, a handy source of nutrition when food is scarce. They also proved to be good swimmers. During one expedition not one camel was lost crossing the Colorado River, though some horses and mules drowned.
Trust in God, but tie up your camel–Arabian saying
By 1858 camels were working throughout the Southwest and did much to help the westward expansion. They helped establish the Beale Road which allowed wagons, supplies and mail to travel to California. They also helped establish the Butterfield Overland stage routes.
The camel and his driver:
each have their own plan.-African saying
The Camel Corps came to an end with the first shot of the Civil War. Westward expansion was abandoned as Union soldiers were called back east and the US. Government’s experiment with camels officially ended in 1863.
Some camels were sent to circuses and zoos. Others were used to deliver mail. Some were believed to escape and for many years sightings of wild camels were reported in the southwest. The most famous was known as the “Red Ghost.” The camel was thought to have killed a woman and was rumored to roam the Arizona desert with a headless corpse strapped to its back. Stories of the Camel Corps offspring roaming the desert continued until the 1950s.
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