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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
Uncle Sam's Camels

Lewis Burt Lesley

Harvard University Press,
Cambridge [Mass.], 1929
As republished by The Rio Grande Press, Inc.
Glorieta, NM 1970

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p144  The Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale to the Secretary of War concerning the Wagon Road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River
April 26, 1858
35th Congress, 1st Session,
House of Representatives
Ex. Doc., No. 124

June 25, 1857. Left San Antonio at 1 P.M., and encamped at the beautiful spring of the San Lucas, having made sixteen miles, the camels carrying, each, including pack saddles, near five hundred and seventy‑six pounds. This being the first day, and the animals not having performed any service for a long time, they seemed tired on our arrival at camp; but I hope, as we proceed, and they harden in flesh, to find them carrying their burdens more easily. Unfortunately, the only men in America who understand them, and who are thoroughly acquainted with the mode of packing and journeying with them, are some Turks, who came over with them, and who left at San Antonio, refusing to go so long a journey, and alleging that they had been badly treated by the government, not having received the pay due them since January. It seems the appropriation having been exhausted, no one is authorized to pay them, although they left their own country under special contract with officers of the government, and have performed their duties very faithfully. I have placed the  p145 camels under the immediate charge of Mr. Breckenridge, jr., assisted by Messrs. Morley and Via.

June 26. Called up the men at 3 o'clock A.M., and after breakfasting, started at quarter to 5. After travelling a few miles, Mr. Alexander was sent by Mr. Breckenridge to overtake me and the report that two of the camels had been taken sick and could not proceed. I sent back a wagon to relieve them of their loads, and hope to have them in camp by sundown. Thus far the camels have not been able to keep up with the wagons, but I trust they will prove better travellers as they become more accustomed to the road. Some of them have not been worked since their arrival, and are, consequently, very soft in flesh. Having travelled nineteen miles through a very pretty country, and through the village of Castroville, we encamped on the Hondo, at 1.30 P.M. Water good and abundant, and grass fair.

I met here Mr. McLanahan, of California, who has just returned overland. This gentleman having travelled by both overland routes, northern and southern, prefers very much that of the Central or Cochotope Pass. He followed on my trail, made in 1853, and carried through, with great success, thirteen wagons and a considerable amount of stock.

The camels arrived at 3 o'clock, with the exception of the two sick, which got in shortly afterwards.

Supper over, I went to the stream, which I found to be fine, clear water, in large pools, but not running at this time. The pools were filled with fish, and in a short time my creel was quite full of fine bass, which, in this country, are called trout.

June 27. Raised camp at 3 A.M., and started at 5.  p146 Travelled all day through a beautiful country. The prairies were covered with the most luxuriant grass and flowers. For stock raising or grazing purposes of any kind, the country we have seen today is decidedly the finest I have ever met with. Timber quite abundant, and the country sufficiently rolling to relieve it of the usual monotony of flat regions. Post oak and mesquite is the principal growth of timber. The former is useful as food for almost all quadrupeds, especially when the bean is plentiful, which is eaten with the greatest avidity by them, and is p16very sweet and nutritious. In the Great Basin, I have frequently eaten bread made by the Indians from this bean, and found it excellent. The pinole made from it is preferable to that of corn.

Encamped at 1 P.M. I was anxious to go on four miles further, to the Sabañal, but the camels not being able to keep up, I encamped here on the Comanche creek. The water, is only found in mud holes, is bad, and the grass only tolerable.

Today we have travelled twenty‑two and a half miles.

June 28. Raised camp at 1 A.M., and started before daybreak. Our early start was occasioned by an accident to the guard watch, so that we were called at 1 o'clock, instead of our usual hour, 3. The first part of our journey today carried us through a country very much like that of yesterday. After travelling five miles we came to the Sabañal, a fine stream of water in large pools, and very clear and sweet. I fished in it for a short time, but only caught two fine fish. There was abundant evidence that the pools were filled with fish; but I presume that my bait was not sufficiently attractive.

 p147  Passing over about fifteen miles, during which distance grass was very abundant, we arrived at the Rio Frio, and found the water not such as the name would indicate,​a and confined at the crossing to one large pool. Rising abruptly from the water to the height of about thirty-five or forty feet, and extending for the distance of a quarter of a mile, has a very remarkable rocky bluff, making the otherwise uninteresting appearance of the place quite striking and picturesque. After crossing the Rio Frio, the country seems to change in character very materially — the soil becomes gravelly, the mesquite less abundant, and the grass, though good, not so luxuriant. Encamped at 12 o'clock, about two miles from the river, there being no grass at the crossing. We find it better to keep our water kegs filled, and camp at a distance from the regular stopping places, on account of the grass.

The distance made today is twenty and a half miles.

The camels got into camp at half-past three, some of the most heavily loaded being quite tired. As soon as they arrive they are turned loose to graze, but appear to prefer to browse on the mesquite bushes and the leaves of a thorny shrub, which grows in this country everywhere, to the finest grass. They are exceedingly docile, easily managed, and I see, so far, no reason to doubt the success of the experiment.

June 29. Started at 5 A.M., and found the morning cool, with a fine, fresh breeze blowing. During the night the appearance of things promised rain, but it ended in clouds and lightning. We passed through the town of Blacksburg, a straggling village of some dozen inhabitants. About noon we watered the animals at the Nueces river,  p148 which exists here only in one pool of about thirty yards in length and eight or ten feet in width. The bed of the river indicates that at times it must be of considerable magnitude, though now, with the exception I have mentioned, entirely dry at the crossing.

At 2 P.M. we encamped on Turkey creek, where we found the best water I have seen in Texas. The country we have passed through today is much more rolling than that other previous day's travel, and the grass equally good. The road has been excellent all day.

p17 A detachment of dragoons from Fort Clarke,º which has been out on an Indian scout, passed, and encamped near us.

June 30. Started at 4.45 A.M., and travelled for the first ten miles through fine grass to Elm creek, where we found a very little water in a mud hole. After leaving Elm creek there was no appearance of grass, but the road was very fine. At 11 we arrived, hot and dusty, at the stream of Los Moros, and refreshed ourselves by bathing in the cool, clear waters of the creek. Encamped within a few hundred yards of Fort Clarke, where we were most hospitably received and entertained by the officers. Having replenished our provisions I shall start again in the morning.

Distance made today twenty-five miles.

Thayer's Note:

a Rio Frio is Spanish for Cold River.

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