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US Camel Corps

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US Camel Corps

The U.S. Camel Corps (possibly a retronym) was a mid-nineteenth century experiment by the United States Army in using camels as pack animals in the Southwest United States.

While the camels proved to be hardy and well-suited to travel through the region, the Army declined to adopt them for military use. Horses were frightened of the unfamiliar animals, and their unpleasant dispositions made them difficult to manage.


On April 26, 1843, Captain[1] George H. Crosman encouraged the United States Department of War to use camels for transportation.[1][2] His report was ignored. In 1847[2] or 1848,[1] his arguments, augmented by those of Major Henry C. Wayne,[2] won the attention of Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Davis was unsuccessful until he was appointed as Secretary of War in 1853. When the US forces were required to operate in arid and desert regions, the President and Congress began to take the idea seriously.

Newly appointed as Secretary of War by President Franklin Pierce, Davis found the Army needed to improve transportation in the southwestern US, which he and most observers thought a great desert. In his annual report for 1854, Davis wrote, "I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels and dromedaries for military and other purposes..."[2] On March 3, 1855, the US Congress appropriated $30,000 for the project.[3]

Major Wayne was assigned to procure the camels. On June 4, 1855, Wayne departed New York City on board the USS Supply, under the command of then-Lieutenant David Dixon Porter.

After arriving in the Mediterranean Sea, Wayne and Porter began procuring camels. Stops included Goletta, Malta, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. They acquired thirty-three animals, including two Bactrian, twenty-nine dromedary, one dromedary calf, and one booghdee (a cross between a male Bactrian and a female dromedary). The two officers also hired five camel drivers. On 15 February 1856, USS Supply set sail for Texas.[2] On 29 April 1856, Supply arrived at Indianola, Texas. Large swells made the transferring the camels to a shallow draft ship for landing impossible; Supply and a shallow draft vessel had to go to the mouth of the Mississippi River to find calmer waters for the transfer. The shallow draft vessel arrived at Indianola and unloaded the camels on May 14, 1856.[4] During the transit of the Atlantic, one male camel had died, but two calves were born and survived the trip. The expedition therefore landed with a net gain of one camel. All the animals were in better health than when the vessel sailed for the United States.[2]

On Davis' orders, Porter sailed again for Egypt to acquire more camels. In late January or early February, USS Supply returned with a herd of forty-one camels.[5] While Porter was on his second mission, five camels from the first herd died, leaving the Army with seventy camels.[2]

Use in the Southwest

During the early summer of 1856, the Army loaded the camels and they were driven to Camp Verde via Victoria and San Antonio.[2][4] Reports from initial tests were largely positive. The camels proved to be exceedingly strong, and were able to move quickly across terrain which horses found difficult. Their legendary ability to go without water proved valuable on an 1857 survey mission led by Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. He rode a camel from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River and his team used 25 camels on the trip. The survey team took the camels into California, where they were stationed at the Benicia Arsenal.

During a 1859 survey of the Trans-Pecos region to find a shorter route to Fort Davis, the Army used the camels again. Under the command of Lt. Edward Hartz and Lt. William Echols, the team surveyed much of the Big Bend area. In 1860, Echols headed another survey team through the Trans-Pecos that employed the Camel Corps.[5]

End of the experiment

With the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Camel Corps was mostly forgotten. Handlers had had difficulty with their camels spooking the horses and mules. Beale offered to keep the Army's camels on his property, but Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rejected the offer. Many of the camels were sold to private owners; others escaped into the desert throughout the West and British Columbia. Beale's favorite, the white camel "Seid", fought with another camel during rutting season and was killed by a crushing blow to the head. Seid's bones were sent to the Smithsonian Institution.[6] Feral camels continued to be sighted in the Southwest through the early 1900s, with the last reported sighting in 1941 near Douglas, Texas.

Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), an Ottoman citizen, came to the US as the lead camel driver. He lived out his life in the US. After his death in 1902, he was buried in Quartzsite, Arizona. His grave is marked by a pyramid-shaped monument topped with a metal profile of a camel.

Attempts in Canada

Main article: Cariboo camels

Frank Laumeister, a veteran of the corps, bought several camels from the Army. He took his herd to the new Colony of British Columbia in 1862–1863, where he used the animals to carry freight on the Douglas Road, Old Cariboo Road and other gold rush-era routes there. Between the region's rocky trails and roads, which cut up the camels' feet, and the hostility between camels and mules, the experiment was a failure.

Laumeister put his camels out to pasture, from which some escaped. The last sighting of a feral camel in British Columbia was in the 1930s. Their presence in local history is reflected in the name of the Camelsfoot Range near Lillooet, and in a local basin called "the Camoo", though the camels used in British Columbia were mostly Bactrian camels, not the dromedaries used by the USCC.

See also

In popular culture

  • In 1976, Joe Camp directed and released a comedy loosely based on the U.S. Camel Corps titled Hawmps!.
  • A Confederate Camel Corps exists in Harry Turtledove's alternate history series of novels, the Southern Victory Series, set in a world where the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War. The book portrays the Confederacy's fighting three additional wars against the United States in 1881, 1914 and 1941. Parts of the wars were fought in New Mexico, where the CSA used the "camelry".
  • The Have Gun - Will Travel episode "The Great Mojave Chase" (Season 1, Episode 3, 1957) features a camel retired from the US Camel Corps.
  • "Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert" 2013 release childrens picture book by author Doris Fisher, illustrated by Julie Dupre Buckner, published by Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.


External links

  • U.S. Camel Corps Established, 30 August 1856, Quartermaster History Museum
  • The Camel Experiment – The Journal of Lieutenant William H. Echols, June 24 – August 15, 1860,
  • The U.S. Army Camel Corps, 1855–1866, Fort Eustis, Transportation School
  • "The ill-fated U.S. Camel Corps and the legend of 'Hi Jolly' ", Out West
  • "Camels", Handbook of Texas Online
  • "US Army Camel Corps", Drum Barracks

Further reading

  • Beale, Edward Fitzgerald, Laurence R. Cook, and Andrew F. Rolle. Collection Related to Edward Fitzgerald Beale. 1940. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA 91108 United States. Abstract: The collection contains source material about Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1822-1893) which was gathered by Laurence R. Cook and later by Andrew F. Rolle. It contains original manuscripts which date from 1940-1983 (mainly student theses), correspondence (1951-1983), notes, copies of other materials, audiotapes and photographs.
  • Beale, Edward Fitzgerald. Wagon Road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River. 1929.
  • Beale, Edward Fitzgerald. With Uncle Sam's Camels. 1939.
  • Lockett, H. Claiborne, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Milton Snow, and Willard W. Beatty. Along the Beale Trail: A Photographic Account of Wasted Range Land Based on the Diary of Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, 1857. [Washington, D.C.]: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, 1940.
  • Faulk, Odie B. The U.S. Camel Corps: an army experiment, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1976
  • Fowler, Harlan D. Camels to California; a chapter in western transportation, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 1950
  • Froman, Robert. "The Red Ghost," American Heritage, XII (April 1961), pp. 35–37 and 94–98
  • Lesley, Lewis Burt (ed.). Uncle Sam's Camels: the journal of May Humphreys Stacey supplemented by the report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Huntington Library Press, San Marino, CA, 2006
  • Stacey, May Humphreys, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, and Lewis Burt Lesley. Uncle Sam's Camels; The Journal of May Humphreys Stacey Supplemented by the Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1857-1858). Cambridge: Harvard university press, 1929.
  • United States. Reports Upon the Purchase, Importation, and Use of Camels and Dromedaries to Be Employed for Military Purposes, According to Act of Congress of March 3, 1855 Made Under the Direction of the Secretary of War, 1855-56-57. Washington, D.C.: [publisher not identified], 1857.
  • Yancey, Diane. Camels for Uncle Sam, Hendrick-Long Publishing Co., Dallas, TX, 1995
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