We know very little about the camel corps from the date of the crossing of the Colorado to the arrival at the Tejon Ranch, near what is now Bakersfield, California. The last formal entry in Beale's Report concerning the westward part of the Wagon Route Survey is under the date of October 18, 1857. In a brief paragraph he tells of the trip across the Mojave desert, how he followed the United States surveyor's trail to Los Angeles, his wagons and trains taking the right-hand road directly from the Mojave River to Tejon.1
At Tejon, close to the fort bearing that name, was the magnificent estate acquired by Beale while he was an Indian Agent. It was on this ranch that young Stacey spent several weeks before going North to San Francisco en route to Chester, Pennsylvania. He returned to the East on a boat which went through the Straits of Magellan.
On the way to Tejon, from the Colorado, two of the camels were detached from the main party and were taken through Los Angeles, where they arrived on November 10, 1857, and remained two days. The camels had been brought through Cajon Pass, and made the journey from San Bernardino to Los Angeles, a distance of •sixty-five miles, in eight hours. One of the animals had been ten days without water, having refused a drink when it was offered to him.2
Rumor soon circulated in Los Angeles that Beale really p120 intended to survey the wagon road beyond the Colorado, terminating it at Tejon without coming to Los Angeles; in other words, "that Lieutenant Beale has used the national dromedaries to build a road to his own house, and that he will be alone benefited by the location of it." This action would exclude all of the southern California towns, says the Los Angeles correspondent of the Daily Alta California, but "this is probably all right, for if Lieutenant Beale does not build a road to his house, who will? Everybody in this county can't expect to have the government build a road to his house, and why should he find fault because some are more fortunate than others? The fact is Lieut. Beale is smart — he is active, energetic, untiring. He never rests — he is the last man to go to sleep, and the first to wake. — Lieut. Beale as a public officer has often both the subject for detraction by envious men, and he will, doubtless, survive these as he has other attacks."3
After his arrival at Tejon, Beale placed a group of the camels in a camp high up in the mountains on the estate in order to test the ability of the animals to withstand cold. There the camels lived "in •two or three feet of snow, fattening and thriving wonderfully all the while." During a severe snowstorm a wagon loaded with provisions for the camp was stalled in the snow. Several camels were sent to the rescue and brought the load through the snow and ice to the camp, and this in spite of the fact that six strong mules had been unable to extricate the heavily loaded wagon.4
About January 6, 1858, Beale commenced his winter p121 journey Eastward in order to test the practicability of the road he had just surveyed for winter transit. He took with him twenty men and fourteen camels. As has been stated, Stacey was not a member of this party. Beale stopped in Los Angeles, en route to the Colorado, and the following item appeared in the Los Angeles Star on January 8, 1858:
"Gen.º Beale and about fourteen camels stalked into town last Friday week and gave our streets quite an Oriental aspect. It looks oddly enough to see, outside of a menagerie, a herd of huge ungainly awkward but docile animals move about in our midst with people riding them like horses and bringing up weird and far‑off associations to the Eastern traveller, whether by book or otherwise, of the lands of the mosque, crescent or turban, of the pilgrim mufti and dervish with visions of the great shrines of the world, Mecca and Jerusalem, and the toiling throngs that have for centuries wended thither, of the burning sands of Arabia and Sahara where the desert is boundless as the ocean and the camel is the ship thereof.
"These camels under charge of Gen. Beale are all grown and serviceable and most of them are well broken to the saddle and are very gentle. All belong to the one hump species except one which is a cross between the one and the two hump species. This fellow is much larger and more powerful than either sire or dam. He is a grizzly-looking hybrid, a camel-mule of colossal proportions. These animals are admirably adapted to the travel across our continent and their introduction was a brilliant idea the result of which is beginning most happily. At first Gen. Beale thought the animals were going to fail, they appeared likely to give out, their backs got sore, but he resolved to know p122 whether they would do or not. He loaded them heavily with provisions, which they were soon able to carry with ease, and thence came through to Fort Tejon, living upon bushes, prickly pears and whatever they could pick up on the route. They went without water from six to ten days and even packed it a long distance for the mules, when crossing the deserts. They were found capable of packing •one thousand pounds weight apiece and of travelling with their load •from thirty to forty miles per day all the while finding their own feed over an almost barren country. Their drivers say they will get fat where a jackass will starve to death. The 'mule,' as they call the cross between the camel and the dromedary, will pack •twenty‑two hundred pounds.
"The animals are now on their return to the Colorado River for the purpose of carrying provisions to Gen. Beale and his military escort who, it is conjectured, will penetrate from thence as far as possible into the Mormon country. Afterwards Gen. Beale will return by the new wagon route that he has lately surveyed to verify it and so on to Washington. He is expected to reach the Capital before the first of March in order to lay his report before Congress."
The remainder of the camels were left at Fort Tejon and at the ranch. On July 21, 1858, the following item appeared in the Los Angeles Star: "The camels, eight in number, came into town from Fort Tejon, after provisions for that camp. The largest ones pack •a ton and can travel •sixteen miles an hour."5
Lieutenant Beale was accompanied from Cajon Pass p123 across the desert to the Colorado River by Major Blakea and an escort of one hundred soldiers. This party left Beale at the Colorado and returned to San Bernardino.6
A delightful surprise awaited Lieutenant Beale at the Colorado River for he found the new steamer, the General Jesup, Captain Johnson, which was to convey him and his party across the river. This event aroused in Beale varied emotions and he pens a vivid picture for us in his journal:
What a picture, too, must have been afforded to anyone who gazed upon the camels as they stood that day upon the banks of the river, as Beale tells us "surrounded by hundreds of wild, unclad savages, and mixed with these the dragoons of my escort and the steamer slowly revolving her wheels preparatory to a start."8
The Wagon Route Survey formally ended near Zuñi on February 21, 1858. In his last journal entry Beale says: "A year in the wilderness ended! During this time I have conducted my party from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores p124 of the Pacific Ocean, and back again to the eastern terminus of the road, through a country for a great part entirely unknown, and inhabited by hostile Indians, without the loss of a man. I have tested the value of the camels, marked a new road to the Pacific, and traveled •4,000 miles without an accident."9
Lieutenant Beale made his report in Washington, and it was succinctly summed up by Secretary of War Floyd in his report of December, 1858: "The entire adaptation of camels to military operations on the plains may now be taken as demonstrated." Floyd recommended that Congress authorize the purchase of one thousand camels at once. No heed was paid this plea, and in 1859 and 1860 Floyd again brought forward his recommendation, but to no avail. Then came the Civil War which was destined to administer the death blow to the entire experiment.
Meanwhile, Secretary Floyd placed twenty camels in the hands of Beale for use in surveying expeditions and wagon road construction during 1859 and 1860. Beale took very good care of these animals along with the others on Tejon ranch, and in 1861 turned over a herd of twenty-eight to the Quartermaster in California.10
As the story of the camel corps spread through the state of California, it aroused a great deal of interest. One result was the organization of the short-lived California and Utah Camel Association, in May of 1859, in northern California. p125 The incorporators were John E. Ager, E. G. Bryant, J. J. Cooper, Q. A. Clement, W. R. Tennent, C. S. Sholes, James Kane, S. W. Langton, and E. M. Gates. The object of the organization was stated as follows: "The introduction and employment of camels on the Pacific Coast." The principal office of this company was to be located at Downieville, Sierra County, California.11
On July 25, 1860, there arrived in San Francisco harbor the schooner Caroline E. Foote from the Amur River in Manchuria, China. Her cargo was a strange one — fifteen Mongolian Bactrians, the sole survivors of a group of thirty-two which had left China. The Caroline E. Foote had left San Francisco in September, 1859, and, arriving at the Amur, had unfortunately been caught in the ice and was kept there from November until the date of her departure for California in June. The demise of most of the camels was due to the intense cold of the ice‑bound port. This cargo was the first load of camels brought to the Pacific Coast from Asia, and this should be noted as distinguishing these camels in the West from the animals brought overland by Lieutenant Beale in 1857.
The San Francisco newspaper item reporting the arrival of the Caroline E. Foote requested that the people of San Francisco should make an effort to be orderly and quiet when the camels were landed and to line themselves along the sides of the streets up which the camels would pass. Speaking of the place of the camel in the development of the West, the reporter said: "The camel is the last institution necessary — before the advent of the Pacific Railroad — to bend the uninhabitable frontiers of the continent into p126 contact and annihilate the wilderness that separates the new from the old West."12
The camels were in charge of Otto Esche, a merchant, and were to be sold in San Francisco. As far as can be ascertained, the California and Utah Camel Association is not mentioned in connection with the activities of the Caroline E. Foote, although the camels may have been procured and disposed of by agents of that organization. For months the fifteen camels were exhibited about the Bay region, first under the auspices of the German Benevolent Society of San Francisco, and, later, at the Bay District Agricultural Fair, in October, 1860. On October 10, the poor animals were put up at auction by Poultere, De Ro, and Eldredge, at their salesroom, corner California and Front Streets. However, the bids received were too low (the highest was $475 per head), for the owners had placed a minimum price of $1,200 on each camel. The camels were withdrawn from the auction room and sold separately.13
Two reports state that these camels were purchased finally by a company in Nevada for use in carrying salt from a marsh in Esmeralda County, Nevada, to the Washoe silver mill, a distance of •about two hundred miles. A man who packed them stated that they performed their work satisfactorily, but that they suffered greatly from the alkali and were despised and neglected by their drivers. The discovery of salt at a point more accessible to the mill deprived them of their occupation. Some of the camels died, while others were used to carry ore in Arizona or escaped p127 into the desert.14 In 1865, a professor from Yale University reported that during a trip through Nevada he saw some of these same camels near Virginia City. "Their backs," he said, "had not been cared for, and they had been used in packing heavy loads of salt from the deserts. Salt water and alkali had accumulated in the long hair of their humps, their pack saddles had galled them, and great loathsome sores nearly covered the parts touched by the saddle." A newspaper in Virginia City as late as June 28, 1876, told of a train of eight camels which made its way to within •one hundred and fifty feet of the summit of Mount Davidson, an altitude of •about 9,000 feet.15
The camels of Nevada finally became so troublesome in that state that the Legislature passed the following Act in February, 1875, an Act that was not repealed until March, 1899.
"Chap. XII. An Act to prohibit camels and dromedaries from running at large on or about the public highways of the State of Nevada.
The People of the State of Nevada, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:
Section 1. From and after the passage of this Act it shall be unlawful for the owner or owners of any camel or camel, dromedary or dromedary, to permit them to run at large on or about the public roads or highways of this State.
Section 2. If any owner or owners of any camel or camels, dromedary or dromedaries shall, knowingly and p128 wilfully, permit any violation of this Act, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be arrested, on complaint of any person feeling aggrieved; and when convicted, before any Justice of the Peace, he or they shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five (25); or more than one hundred (100) dollars, or by imprisonment not less than ten or more than thirty days, or by both such fine and imprisonment."16
About 1860, during the intense excitement attendant upon the opening of mines in the Pacific Northwest, a man by the name of Joseph Trutch, who had been engaged in the work of building the famous Cariboo road, suggested the use of camels in that district.17 Mr. Frank Laumeister, a merchant, acting on this suggestion, sent a Mr. Callbreath from British Columbia down to San Francisco to make a purchase of camels.
Early in 1862 the Caroline E. Foote again put in at San Francisco, this time with a group of twenty‑two camels from Tartary. At first these animals were placed in a ranch near the city, but were soon brought to a corral on Frémont Street between Mission and Market. There they were sold to Callbreath, who engaged passage for them on board the Hermann, en route to Victoria, B. C. A San Francisco paper states that Callbreath had "engaged the services of the Turk who had charge of the government camels under Lieut. Beale."18 In order to guard the feet of the camels against injury on the roads of the northern country, a case of leather shoes was taken along by them p129 "to keep their hoofs from splitting." "Camels," said the reporter, "had been used in the Washoe region (of Nevada) where their unshod feet were much injured by the rough roads."19
The Hermann arrived at its northern destination on April 16, 1862.20 There the camels were turned over to their owner, who sent them at once to Douglas, B. C., for use in the pack trains of the Cariboo region. They were to pack on the portages of the Douglas-Lillooet road. For over a year the camels were thus employed, but with the usual confusion — horses and mules were frightened, and frequent accidents ensured. The train was finally disbanded, and the camels were soon wandering through the region.21
Meanwhile in southern California the camels of the Wagon Road Survey were becoming an increasing burden to their caretakers. Late in September, 1860, Captain W. S. Hancock of Los Angeles, desirous of establishing a new type of express between Los Angeles and Fort Mojave, sent out a camel in charge of "Greek George," who had been one of the drivers in Beale's corps. This trial trip was a miserable failure, and the ship of the desert "foundered at sea" and died of exhaustion en route to the fort. As a reporter on the staff of a local paper stated it: "This failure meant that the old mules still keep in favor."22
"Greek George" lived on to a ripe old age, and died at Whittier, California, on September 2, 1915. He had been p130 naturalized in Los Angeles County as George Allen in 1866. C. F. Lummis met this interesting character in 1903, and describes him as a "modest, well-mannered, sturdy man, with a homeric beard and a thatch of hair, both so dense as to seem almost bullet proof. As a matter of fact, an Indian arrow, in a fight near Camp Mojave, had struck him square in the jaw and barely scratched the flesh through that matted beard!"23
Another Oriental driver who accompanied Beale on the expedition of 1857 was Philip Tedro, better known as "Hi‑Jolly." This character died in Arizona, in 1902, after a particularly colorful career.b For decades he wandered as a prospector over the desert and once in a while would settle down in San Bernardino, California. During the many years of his experiences "Hi‑Jolly" (Hadji Ali) frequently reported that there were camels in the region of the Gila and Colorado Rivers, and he once saw a small band of them in the tules of the Colorado delta below the Mexican boundary. One story told about "Hi‑Jolly" concerns itself with a large picnic in Los Angeles of the German colony, an affair to which the camel driver had not been invited. Suddenly into the midst of the startled holiday crowd rode "Hi‑Jolly" in a high yellow cart drawn by two immense camels. Great was the confusion that ensured, and it was reported that the hills around that district were strewn for weeks after with broken bottles, wienerwurst, and fragments of halters and disabled vehicles.24
Lieutenant Beale, it will be recalled, had turned over to the Quartermaster in Los Angeles a herd of twenty-eight p131 camels, in 1861. These animals were kept at Fort Tejon until June of that year, when the fort was partially dismantled and a large part of the army property was moved into Los Angeles. Along with this baggage came the camels, and for several months they were corralled near the Quartermaster's Office on Main Street. In October they were moved to larger quarters in a yard on Second Street.25
We next hear of these camels stationed near San Pedro, California, and frequently they were used for transportation of freight between the harbor and Los Angeles, although remaining in possession of the Government. In January, 1863, another effort was made to use the animals for transportation between southern California and the East, and an express of camels was sent out from San Pedro with Tucson, Arizona, as its destination. This experiment was a failure.26
Lieutenant Beale was meanwhile complaining to the Government about the enforced idleness of the camels and, in 1862, wrote to Secretary of War Stanton offering to take all of the remainder of the herd in California and give a bond for their safe return whenever the Government should demand them. These camels Beale apparently planned to add to the little group then corralled on his ranch at Tejon. This offer was refused by the Government.27
As the year 1863 wore on, the United States Government grew more cognizant of the complaints concerning the camels in California and at Fort Yuma. In November of that year orders were received to transport the animals p132 to the arsenal at Benicia, California, north of San Francisco, where they were to be disposed of at a public auction. Thirty-four camels were driven northward to Benicia. A correspondent of the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, in the issue of January 8, 1864, writes as follows from Santa Barbara, California:
"The Government troop of camels passed through here from Los Angeles on December 30, 1863, on their way to Benicia, in charge of Captain Dempfill, U. S. A.,c with six men. . . . Ranchero hands run wild with fear when they see them."
The Government auction of the camels was held on February 26, 1864.28 The entire herd at Benicia was sold to a man by the name of Samuel McLeneghan. McLeneghan sold three of the camels to a friend for use in an outfit known as Wilson's Circus with headquarters near Sacramento, California.29 The remaining thirty‑one animals were taken to McLeneghan's ranch in Sonoma County, California. On April 2, 1864, McLeneghan appeared in Sacramento with ten of the camels for use in packing freight from Sacramento to the Nevada Territory.
For several days the animals were kept in town for exhibition purposes, and on April 7 a "dromedary race" was staged at Agricultural Park for the benefit of a poverty-stricken citizen. The race was one series of comic episodes after another, and the man who was leading the race on camel-back, after an hour or so of exasperating antics on the part of the stubborn camels, dismounted and rode the last lap of the race on a spirited mule! The event was given p133 quite a bit of publicity and brought $100d to the coffers of the cause. The camels were then driven on into Nevada.30
The camels left at Camp Verde, Texas, were used in various errands all over that state, and soon were universally known and ceased to arouse any curiosity. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Confederate forces took over the camel station but let it run down, the herd receiving very little attention from officers or soldiers. We know that at least three of the animals wandered away and were captured by Union forces and sent North to Iowa. In June, 1863, the local department in Missouri asked the War Department at Washington for directions concerning the camels in its care, and an order went out that the animals should be sold at auction.31 Other camels of the herds at Camp Verde no doubt escaped at this time and wandered off into the western areas of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, for soldiers and hunters frequently saw the animals and pursued them during the war period and a few years thereafter.
At the close of the war, Camp Verde again came under Federal control, and sixty‑six camels were facing their former masters. The Quartermaster at New Orleans received orders, on March 18, 1866, to sell the camels as soon as possible. Sealed bids were sent in, and the highest bid, $31 per head, was accepted. The animals were sold to Colonel Coopwoode of San Antonio, Texas, who kept the herd that city until December, 1866, when he drove them into northern Mexico. In January, 1867, the p134 Colonel began selling the camels to circuses and caravans, and soon they were all disposed of. As late as May, 1903, a newspaper account in San Antonio stated that a camel with the United States brand on it had been seen at a midway show. As Carroll says, "No doubt a search through the many menageries, traveling shows, and the zoölogical gardens of the country would reveal other survivors of the government camels, although their number is likely few . . . for the camel does not often, even with the best treatment, attain to more than forty years."32
For years many camels were seen in various parts of the Southwest, and, when met with, would frighten mules, horses, and drivers. The drivers would often shoot the camels or pursue them back into their desert home. One story persists through a series of narratives. It is reported that in 1877 a small party of Frenchmen rounded up between twenty or thirty of the animals near Tucson, Arizona, broke them to pack, and took them to Virginia City, Nevada. This experiment failed, and the camels were brought back to Arizona and turned loose again. Mixed in with these accounts are vivid descriptions of the "great red camel," and a "gray one still wearing a weather-worn saddle."33
The boundary commissioners, running the United States-Mexico line in the early nineties, reported that members of the party frequently saw camels in the region in which they were working.34 On June 8, 1907, the Journal of Hyolite, p135 Nevada, stated that a prospector had seen two camels in that year while on one of his prospecting jaunts. No doubt there are descendants of the original herds still wandering about the desert wastes.35
In closing, it is interesting to note that Truxtun Beale, son of General Beale,f told Stephen Bonsal, while that author was writing the life of his father, that one of his earliest experiences was that of driving from the rancho at Tejon to Los Angeles, a trip of •one hundred miles, in a sulky behind a team of camels, "with whom General Beale, when necessary, would carry on conversation in Syrian which he had with characteristic energy taught himself for this purpose."36
Thus endeth the story of the camels of the West. Many factors operated to bring the experiment to a disastrous conclusion, but no doubt the greatest factor was the advent of the Civil War. The war, first of all, took from the camels their best friend, Major Wayne, and even Beale was too busy to protect the animals against their many enemies. Few officers at the army camps understood them, and every Indian and mule driver did what he could to get rid of the camels. And at the close of the war came the railroads, a development that narrowly restricted the field in which the animals could be deployed. Idleness was fatal to these beasts, and they soon passed out of the pages of history, but not before they had aided in the solution of the problem of how to hold the new West for the Government.
p136 A well-known historian of the westward movement has said, "It is certain that the attempt to solve the problem was real, and that this (camel episode) was only one among many efforts to lessen the isolation of the scattered camps and to draw together the dispersed colonies of Americans throughout the West."37
2 Daily Alta California, November 26, 1857.
3 Daily Alta California, November 29, 1857.
5 Also see J. M. Guinn, "Camel caravans of the American deserts," in Historical Society of Southern California Annual Publications, 1901, V, 146‑151.
6 Los Angeles Star, January 16, 1858; Daily Alta California, January 25, 1858.
10 A good survey, although very cursory, of the measures undertaken by the Government concerning the camels after 1858 is to be found in C. C. Carroll, op. cit. Carroll had access to certain portions of the War Department archives.
11 Sacramento Daily Union, May 20, 1859.
12 San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, July 26, 1860.
13 Ibid., October 10 and 11, 1860. See also H. M. Newmark, Sixty years in southern California, 281.
16 Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, June 10, 1909.
18 Daily Alta California, April 8, 1862.
19 Ibid., April 18, 1862.
20 Ibid., April 20, 1862.
22 Los Angeles Star, October 6, 1860.
23 C. F. Lummis, Mesa, cañon and pueblo, 80‑81.
24 S. M. Hall, "The camels in the Southwest," in Out West, April, 1907.
25 H. M. Newmark, op. cit., 297.
26 Ibid., 316‑317. Several of these camels were kept at Fort Yuma.
28 Advertisements of the auction appeared in San Francisco and Sacramento newspapers from January 26 to February 26.
29 Sacramento Daily Union, March 7, 1864.
30 Sacramento Daily Union, April 2, 6, and 8, 1864.
33 S. M. Hall, "Camels in Arizona," in Land of Sunshine Magazine, February, 1898.
34 H. G. Tinsley, "Camels in the Colorado desert," in Land of Sunshine Magazine, March, 1897.
35 The editor, on a recent visit to Banning, California, on the edge of the desert, was told that a camel frequented that region, and that a party of hunters had been recently organized whose objective was to kill the animal, as he was proving to be a nuisance.
37 F. L. Paxson, History of the American frontier (students' edition), 460.
a George Alexander Hamilton Blake: born in Pennsylvania, appointed from Pennsylvania. First Lieutenant in the 2d Dragoons 11 Jun 1836; Captain 3 Dec 1839; Major in the 1st Dragoons 25 Jul 1850; Lieutenant-Colonel 13 May 1861; transferred to the 1st Cavalry 3 Aug 1861; Colonel 15 Feb 1862; retired 15 Dec 1870; Brevet Major 17 Aug 1847 for gallant and meritorious conduct in the affair at San Augustine, Mex., and Brigadier General 13 Mar 1865 for gallant and efficient service during the Gettysburg campaign. Died 27 Oct 1884. (Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army)
c There is no United States Army officer by that name listed in Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army; he may have been an officer once in the service of the Republic of Texas or even of the Confederacy, or it may have been a purely honorific title. According to A. A. Gray, "Camels in California", California Historical Society Quarterly IX.308, he is given the title in an article in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, Jan. 8, 1864.
The last name Dempfill does apparently exist, however, although it's very rare. Other than in connection with these camels, I found it online for a while in just a single webpage, but a relevant one: an index to pioneer files in Solano County (which county includes Benicia). With the continued shrinkage of the Web, the page has since disappeared.
d In 2015 money, roughly $1500.
e There is no United States Army officer by that name, of any rank, listed in Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army; during the war that had just ended, he had in fact been a Confederate officer, entering the service as a cavalry captain. A biographical summary is given in The Handbook of Texas.
f Lieutenant Beale, long retired from the Navy, was eventually commissioned a Brigadier General in the California State militia.
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