Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This webpage reproduces an article in the
Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Vol. 61 No. 1 (Jul. 1957), pp20‑50

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p20  Operation Camel
An Experiment in Animal Transportation
in Texas, 1857‑1860​a

Frank Bishop Lammons

As a result of the enormous territorial expansion caused by the annexation of Texas, the territory acquired from Mexico following the close of the Mexican War, and the settlement of the Oregon dispute, the United States by the early 1850's had become the owner of all lands between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. The new territory was a vast, largely unexplored, uncharted wilderness of plains, mountains, and deserts. When the frontiersmen of the late 1840's reached the Great Plains in their westward migration, they encountered a distinctive climatic and cultural situation which was markedly different from that of any land the American pioneer had yet traversed. This movement halted at the edge of the plains until the American people could meet exigencies of the new environment.

Transportation presented the most pressing problem. How to travel across this frequently treeless, grassless, waterless land was a question that bothered the travelers. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the frontier had pushed from the Atlantic Ocean westward for a thousand miles over one-third of the width of the continent. There still remained two thousand miles before the Pacific Ocean would be reached, and this stretch promised to be the most difficult of all to travel. Heretofore, in the eastern woodlands, the settler in his marches westward had followed routes which permitted an average speed of three miles an hour by horse or mule, or two miles an hour by slow-moving oxen. A good day's march of from fifteen to twenty-five miles depended on the animal and the condition of the trace. At the end of the day a good camp site could easily be found, for wood, water, and  p21 grass were abundant along the way. In the plains country, however, the traveler must regulate his march on the location and availability of water. In this arid land the animals must travel from water hole to spring in one day's journey or the camp would be a dry one. Dry camps required packing of water for man and beast on the backs of the animals.

Another serious problem on the new frontier was a different kind of Indian, a fierce fighter mounted on a horse, who could travel faster than the frontiersmen and strike before a pursuit could be organized. Particularly alarming was the mobility of the plains tribes, which was greater than that of any Indians the Americans had previously encountered. Wild, treacherous, courageous at times, they were the dreaded Comanche of the northern plains and the Apache of the western deserts, two tribes that could fight as well on horseback as they could on foot.

A highly mobile force was required on this frontier, not only to protect settlers in isolated sections, but to break up raids on villages and haciendas across the Rio Grande. The Indians had plenty of hiding places to head for and unknown trails to follow. They knew the terrain, the water holes, and the mountain passes; they could strike and then withdraw on swift-footed, seasoned horses faster than pursuers could follow.

By the terms of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States assumed responsibility for protecting the boundary and the crossings into Mexico. The United States Army thus acquired the task of policing the border in addition to protecting settlers, guarding wagon trains and emigrant parties, and interfering with hostile Indian movements. These tasks required a better system of movement than the army possessed.

In the twelve years following the close of the Mexican War, the United States inaugurated and conducted an extensive program of exploration in western Texas. The activities formed a phase of the general work carried on by the government over the entire Trans-Mississippi country in the interest of the settler, the immigrant, the soldier, the merchant and trader. Westward movement in the late 1840's necessitated the adoption of a definite policy for the Great Plains. The government acted promptly, for it contemplated the opening of the lands to trade and settlement, the location of routes for the transcontinental railroad, the survey  p22 of the southwestern boundary, and the defense of the frontier by establishing army posts along the routes.

Army officers and civilian engineers were sent out to explore and map the areas and locate roads. Parties of engineers were in the field working along four possible routes for the location of a transcontinental railroad. Reconnaissances were ordered to locate wagon roads. Peace treaties were negotiated with friendly Indian tribes, while preparations were made for the establishment of army camps and stations along the frontier.

In 1849, two detachments of topographical engineers were sent into the field to locate routes through West Texas, the first moving from Galveston and Houston via Austin and Fredericksburg, the second from Indianola and Corpus Christi via San Antonio, Tex. and San Felipe Springs (Del Rio). Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph E. Johnston (later a general in the Confederate States Army) supervised this work. In February, 1849, Lieutenant Walter F. Smith, who started at San Antonio, passed through Fredericksburg, then went on to El Paso via the head of the San Saba Creek. Still another reconnaissance was undertaken by Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.S. G. French in the spring of 1849. In his report, French mentions Sabinal, Las Moras Creek, San Felipe Springs, and Howards Springs.

In 1850, Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William H. C. Whiting, another army engineer, made a reconnaissance of routes between the Red River and the Rio Grande, and a study of the Indian situation. He recommended to the War Department that a chain of posts be established from the mouth of the Little Washita River (on the Red River) to the Rio Grande at Presidio del Norte, from which line a better observation of the movements of the Comanche of the plains and the Apache of the Trans-Pecos country could be maintained. Military posts were built along the San Antonio-San Felipe Springs line, as the government favored the locations recommended by Whiting because they would be on the route of the South Texas-California road. Stations were built at Fort Clark (Las Moras Springs) in 1852; Fort Davis in the mountains north of Presidio del Norte (near the Comanche Trail) in the fall of 1854; Fort Lancaster (at the junction of Live Oak Creek and the Pecos River) in the summer of 1855; and Camp Hudson (on the Devil's River about fifty miles northwest of San Felipe Springs) in the summer of 1857.

 p23  In the surveys of the southern routes, the engineers had noted in their reports the great scarcity of water in the country west of the Pecos River. When Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis became secretary of war in 1853, he tried to overcome this water shortage by having wells dug in some of the intervals where watering places were more than forty miles apart. Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Pope (later a major general in the Union Army) was placed in charge of well drilling. Although water was found in some places, it was seldom in sufficient quantities to meet the needs; consequently the experiment ended in failure.1

In April, 1854, a mail service using two-horse coaches was inaugurated between San Antonio and Santa Fe, the journey being made in about twenty-six days. Later a weekly mail service was started between San Antonio and El Paso with semi-monthly trips on westward to San Diego. The 1475‑mile journey to San Diego was made in twenty-two to twenty-six days.​1a Establishment of this service was an invitation to the Indians to increase their depredations. Rich booty in the mail coaches which moved over the lonely stretches west of San Antonio was too tempting to pass up.

Travel westward was stimulated and accelerated in 1849 by the discovery of gold in California and the spirit of adventure which spurred men on to search for a better place to settle "somewhere beyond the divide." Eastern newspapers advocated following the southwestern routes to California, one route being across Texas for travelers who might be able to pass New Orleans by the middle of March, and another route from Arkansas via Santa Fe for travelers who could pass Little Rock by the first of April.

Southern newspapers of the day advertised two main routes. The first was along the roads from Corpus Christi, Brownsville, and San Antonio through the Rio Grande Valley to Chihuahua in northern Mexico, thence to the Gila River, then on to San Diego. An alternate route was from San Antonio to El Paso or Chihuahua via Presidio del Norte on the Rio Grande. The second route was favored because of the presence along it of army troops who were laying out a military road.

 p24  Troop were to be stationed near the points where Indians would probably strike, but a means of transportation and communication better adapted to the rough, arid lands than the horse was needed. In the opinion of Secretary Davis, the key to the problem as well as to the economic control of the West was transportation. He believed that the use of camels, which had long ago proved such a valuable burden carrier on Old World deserts, would assist in solving the problem of transportation in the Southwest. In the past, military posts had advanced with the pioneer; while one furnished protection, the labor of the other produced supplies for subsistence. But in the new West the emigrant would pass the limits of general fertility. Posts were being pushed into regions where they could not be supported by an agricultural population, and the necessity for moving men and supplies over long distances increased the demands for better transportation.2

Davis, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, had commanded the Mississippi Rifle Regiment in General Zachary Taylor's army in northern Mexico in 1846 and 1847. As secretary of war, he could consider the use of camels for desert transportation. The idea was not a new one nor original with Davis, for in 1836 Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George H. Crosman,º who had served in the Indian War in Florida under Taylor, had urged the War Department to use camels for transportation purposes. Davis met Major Crosman in Mexico in 1846 and they had discussed the use of camels. George Perkins Marsh, a United States diplomat who had lived many years in the Levant where he had observed the work of camels, was in favor of using them in America. In 1856 he wrote a book about camels and furnished a copy of the publication to the War Department.​3 Another advocate of camels in the Southwest was George R. Gliddon, an archaeologist who had lived in the Levant for twenty-eight years. He wrote a lengthy memoir about the camel and in 1852 presented a copy to the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. Gliddon argued the superiority of camels to mules, pointing out that only when driven to great extremities will mules drink salty or brackish water. He had driven mules for sixty miles without water; then,  p25 upon reaching a saline lake, only one mule in ten would drink the water. Saline or brackish water, however, was as acceptable to camels as water from the purest fountain.​4 Further argument in favor of the use of camels was presented by John Russell Bartlett, a member of the United States Boundary Commission charged by President Polk with the survey of the boundary between the United States and Mexico, who was convinced through his experience in the Southwest that better communication in the arid country could be maintained by using camels. Because of the scarcity of foliage and the bad water in the desert lands, Bartlett said that horses would never be used to any practical advantage, but camels would be adaptable on the southern route from the Mississippi River to California by way of Santa Fe and the Gila River, on which there were no mountains to cross, and also on the great arid stretches of West Texas.5

In his annual report for 1853, Secretary Davis discussed the difficulties of transportation between the East and the West. He said that a transcontinental railroad, if built on any of the proposed routes, would only partly improve conditions. The railroad might transport troops and supply the depots along the line of operations, but there would be vast stretches in the interior too remote from the railroad to be benefited by its service. Animal transportation would necessity continue to serve these isolated places. Davis noted that camels were being used with excellent results in the older continents, in torrid regions as well as in frozen ones, over arid plains and high mountains covered with snow. Napoleon used them in Egypt to subdue the Arabs, a race whose habits and lands were quite similar to those of the mounted Indians of the western plains. Davis believed that the dromedary could be used on such missions in war as the carrying of expresses, making reconnaissances, and moving troops rapidly across the country. He recommended that "provisions be made for the introduction of a sufficient number of both varieties of  p26 this animal to test its value and adaptation to our country and our service."6

Although the secretary's report did not bring any results from Congress, it served to encourage many persons who believed that the camel would prove useful as a beast of burden in the United States. A year later in his report to Congress, Davis again called attention to the situation on the southwestern border. Early in 1855, Congress appropriated the $30,000 to be used for the camel experiment.

In order to initiate the project, Jefferson Davis directed Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry C. Wayne, United States Army, to proceed at once to the Levant and procure the animals. The Navy storeship, Supply, commanded by Lieutenant David D. Porter, United States Navy (later Admiral Porter in the Civil War) would be associated with Wayne in the camel mission.

During his travels in the Levant, Wayne gathered a good deal of general information about camels, and he made the knowledge a matter of record for the War Department. He found that, although the camel was among the earliest-mentioned domesticated animals in the history of man, because of its limited use to a small part of the earth, little was known about the nature, qualities, diseases, or anatomy of it. There were many vague and erroneous ideas prevailing even among those classes generally well-informed in zoology. Efforts had been made at times to extend the camel's usefulness to the western world, even to the state of Virginia, but all had proved unsuccessful.

Wayne commented on the Bactrian camel, which was found in southern Siberia, in a part of Tartary, and in the Crimea, and which was a much heavier built, stouter-limbed, and stronger animal than the Arabian type. Its use as a beast of burden was limited, however, by the difficulty of loading on a back with two humps. But by crossing the male Bactrian with the female Arabian, a powerful, one-hump hybrid could be obtained. The Arabian camel furnished a variety for both riding and burden. The dromedary was a term used for the saddle or riding variety of the Arabian camel. The animal belonged to the ruminant class, resembling the ox in general character and diseases; a hardy  p27 animal, it could stand much exposure and fatigue. It had two principal diseases, itch and inflammation of the lungs, the last a malady which was often fatal within a few days. Itch was usually caused by dirt, according to Wayne, and neglect; inflammation was brought on by exposure to extreme cold or chilly dampness when the animal was heated from exercise.

The hump, a particular characteristic of the camel, was composed of gelatinous fat that contributed a reserve of provision which by absorption furnished the animal with sustenance when it was deprived of a supply of future. The condition of the animal could be judged by the condition of the jump. After a long, hard journey the back would be almost straight and flat, showing little, if any hump. Unfitted by the formation of the nostrils and lungs for violent exertion, its long and regular stride gave it a capacity for continuous labor and enabled the animal to make extensive journeys in good time. It was recorded that a camel on emergency travel could continue at its regular gait for sixty hours without stopping. The camel traveled better on level land, but could do a fair amount of mountain and valley travel and could ascend or descend slopes of some length. The foot of the animal was clothed with a thick calloused sole which enabled it to move easily over sandy soils. In wet clay or mud it moved with difficulty, however, for it was apt to slip and slide without ability to check itself quickly, and the stony surfaces of broken uplands cut and lacerated the leathery soles, often necessitating the improvisation of foot coverings before the camels could proceed.

The flesh was good for food, resembling beef, though more delicate and tender. The milk was good to drink. Major Wayne used it in his tea for several weeks without perceiving any difference between it and cow's milk, either in taste or color. The beast grazed on almost every plant and shrub that grew, even the thistle, prickly pear, and other thorny vegetation. With it, a little food would go a long way, so that in comparison with other animals of burden or draught, it required much less forage, a circumstance which was not only an economy of time but an advantageous arrangement for a journey. The camel could travel six or seven days without water, but in normal conditions drank every second day. It was serviceable from the age of four to about twenty-five years.

 p28  Strong camels could carry loads of between 450 to 600 pounds; common camels could carry about 400 pounds. Both kinds could make thirty miles per day, and saddle animals, carrying a load of 200 pounds, could travel from eight to ten hours, or fifty miles per day. On emergency, they could make seventy to ninety miles a day, but only for a day or two and then over level country.

In addition to commentaries on the characteristics of camels, Wayne's report presented much general information that would be of value to the government project. Data were gathered on breeding practices, places where the best camels were found, prevailing prices, food for the animals, and other facts that would be needed to carry out the experiment in the American West.7

Major Wayne hired three Arabs in Egypt as camel attendants and two Turks in Smyrna as saddle makers to accompany the shipment to Texas and serve with the camels for one years. On February 11, 1856, with all equipment and thirty-three camels aboard, the Supply, bound for the Texas coast, headed westward across the Mediterranean Sea. After a stormy passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and several weeks on the Atlantic Ocean, the ship made Pass Cavallo on April 29 and anchored about eight miles from the bar. Because of heavy swells it was necessary for the ship to go to the mouth of the Mississippi River and there transfer the animals to lighters. They were finally landed at Powder Horn (Indianola) on May 14. Davis was eager to procure more camels as about $10,000 was unexpended from the appropriation. He sent Lieutenant Porter and the Supply back to the Levant to get more camels. Porter landed forty-one camels at Indianola, Texas, on February 10, 1857. These animals were sent to join the first shipment then in a corral northwest of San Antonio.

The animals were in good condition, considering their long confinement on shipboard and the unusual swinging and swaying they had undergone in the tossing of the vessel. With the exception of some boils and swollen legs, the animals were in good health. They demonstrated great pleasure upon feeling solid ground beneath them again by rearing, crying out, kicking,  p29 breaking halters, and tearing up the picket line. Only with difficulty were some of the males restrained from attacking each other.

The local inhabitants turned out in great numbers to see the show, and there was much excitement as the camels were landed, but the people fled in terror when the animals began to frisk about. Soldiers detailed to take charge of them would not come near the beasts, and for a while the whole scene was one of confusion. When the animals had had their fling, however, the Arab attendants were able to round them up and lead them off to a pasture, where they were saddled and led quietly to the corral in Indianola, three miles away.

During the three-week stay in Indianola, Major Wayne kept a close personal check on the animals. He gave them light marching exercises to restore the function of the legs and to quiet them down for road work. The camels improved so rapidly that early in June he considered them fit for the march to San Antonio, 150 miles away. Everything being in readiness, the journey started on June 4, the animals carrying light loads. During the first day, the saddles slipped and the loads shifted often, requiring much adjustment. After several hours on an extremely bad road, the party made camp at Chocolate Bayou. The next day the members marched over a worse road than they had the day before. As the animals were still frisky and some of them tired by noon, camp was made at Alligator Pond after a march of twelve miles. On the third day, after marching only five miles, the caravan reached a beautiful prairie covered with fine grass. The Major decided to camp for several days and turn the animals loose for rest and grazing. After five days of rest, the animals showed a good deal of improvement in appearance. Upon resuming the march, the party passed through the town of Victoria, where the animals were given a three-hour rest and then marched on to Wright's water-hole, making a total distance that day of eleven miles. On June 14, twenty-one miles beyond Pierpont's, the party made camp at Salt Creek. The next phase of the journey was an eighteen-mile march to a camp at Big Ecleto. On the following day the party crossed the Cibolo, and camped at Sulphur Springs after marching sixteen miles. About an hour after going into camp, one of the female camels, not even listed  p30 as pregnant and showing no evidence of it, gave birth to a female calf, which was full-sized but quite weak. It died a few hours after birth from a swelling in the throat which had choked it.

When camp was made at Grayson's the next day after a seventeen-mile march, Major went ahead to San Antonio to check on arrangements. He found that the city of San Antonio had donated a camp site at San Pedro Springs, about two miles north of town, where good grass, shade, and fine water were in abundance. On June 18, the caravan arrived in San Antonio, creating a good deal of excitement as it passed through the streets on its way to the springs (now San Pedro Park).

During the march the weather had been exceedingly hot and the roads unusually dusty and rough, yet the animals made the trip without suffering and they arrived in good condition. The distances covered daily were short because of the inability of the young ones to keep up for long stretches. The little animals stood the march well and improved in appearance.

San Pedro Springs did not prove to be a satisfactory camp site as it was too close to town for the good of both men and animals. After a few days, arrangements were made with Major George Thomas Howard to move camp to his ranch on the Medina River, twelve miles west of San Antonio, where the camels were to stay until arrangements for a permanent experimental camp could be made. Major Wayne was well pleased with the selection of the San Antonio area for the trials as the terrain appeared to be well-adapted to the acclimation and breeding of camels; also, it apparently offered more facilities for carrying on the experiments than any other southwestern area. The grazing and water were good, the climate was as suitable as any place between San Antonio and the Pacific Coast, and there were no Indian perils.8

Major Wayne was inclined to favor a breeding period of about five years in order to build up a herd. He informed Davis that he was not in favor of wearing out his present herd by hard labor. The Secretary replied that

. . . the establishment of a breeding farm did not enter into the plans of the department. The object is at present to ascertain whether the animal is adapted to the military service, and can be economically  p31 and usefully employed. When this is satisfactorily established, arrangements can be made for importing or breeding camels to any extent that may be deemed desirable.​9

About three weeks after moving to the Howard Ranch, a female camel, strayed from the herd, was found dead about two miles away. A physician living in the neighborhood who examined the body stated that death was caused by a heavy blow inflicted on the neck of the animal, fracturing the clavicles in several places and breaking two ribs. Pieces of bone driven into the lungs had caused an inflammation. The Arabs denied all knowledge of the brutal deed, although they were negligent in letting the animal stray. The responsibility could not be determined.

In November two camels died. The veterinarian who made a post-mortem in both cases found that one had died of an internal disorder of long duration, probably irritated by change of climate and food; while the other, a dromedary, had died from a deep inflammation on the thigh and leg caused by bites inflicted a few days before while the animals grazed near the corral.

Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. K. F. Mansfield, Inspector General, while visiting camps and stations in Texas in the summer of 1856, saw the camels a short time after they arrived in San Antonio but before they were moved to Camp Verde. His report to the War Department reads in part as follows:

Major Wayne has in his employ 9 civilians who are engaged in the charge of the animals, to wit, 1 clerk and overseer at 65 dolls and a ratio, 1 interpreter at 20 dolls and a ration, 3 Arabians at 10 dolls and a ration, 2 Turks at 20 dolls and a ration, 2 Americans at 20 dolls and a ration. These camels are kept on a ranch of Mr. Howard on the Medina about 12 miles out of San Antonio, at the rate of 30 dolls per month. I inspected these animals and have no doubt they were designed by the Creator for beasts of burden, but it is impossible to say at this time, before a fair experiment, whether they will be found the best means of transportation for great thoroughfares. They drink once in two days and can carry burthens from 3 to 9 hundred pounds, and as their cost of keeping is less than a horse or mule I doubt not that individuals who live off the frequented routes will find them very convenient and profitable. The hump on the back and the packing of them as they crouch on the ground makes it very easy to keep in the saddle and to load them. The present intentions as to these animals is to keep them for breeding  p32 which I think is the best disposition to be made of them for a limited period; and a set of men should be trained to the management of them in order to instruct others before the native Arabians leave the country.​10

Late in July, Major Wayne began to look over possible sites for the permanent camel camp which he planned to build. The department commander at San Antonio told him about a new army camp recently established in Green Valley about sixty miles northwest of San Antonio. He thought it might be a desirable place for the experiment as the camp already had accommodations for officers, men, and horses, and would require only a slight additional expense to make arrangements for the care of the camels and the men attending them. Wayne inspected Green Valley (Camp Verde) early in August and wrote Davis that the position was in every respect favorable for the animals, and for demonstrating their usefulness for burden, for expresses, and for scouting. An abundance of fine grass and good water, of lime to be had for the burning, of sand, stone, and timber, and of lumber and shingles, to be procured within a distance of five miles, gave every facility for keeping and sheltering the animals at a comparatively moderate cost.11

The camp was located three miles from Bandera Pass with direct roads and communication to all the other near-by frontier posts. It was planned to use the dromedaries as express between the frontier posts and settlements, also to use them as pack animals for fast-moving scouting parties. The other camels could be used to transport supplies from San Antonio to the camp. Not only would these experiments be conducted in order to show the value of the animals for burden and for riding purposes, but also to determine their relative usefulness in comparison with the horse, the mule, and the animal-drawn wagon. Prospects were that Camp Verde would be garrisoned for four or five years, or at least until the settlements in the vicinity had become strong enough to defend themselves against marauders. When the secretary of war promptly approved the site, the camels were moved  p33 to Camp Verde late in August. A month later Major Wayne reported that they were doing well but were beginning to show the effects of the climate and of the unusual heat and drought of the past summer. One of the Bactrians and four of the Smyrna camels had suffered from the heat. Shelters, then under construction, he said, should be completed within a few weeks for the second shipment of animals expected in December as well as for the ones already at the camp.12

The camel corral, or caravansary, called a khan in the Levant, built just east of the camp drill area, was in the shape of a rectangle, except that the north wall had an angle pushing northward with sides each 150 feet long, while the other three sides were each about 200 feet. Except on the south side, where it was lower, a 16‑foot wall of concrete and lumber surrounded it. For some reason not stated in the records, the timber was shipped at a cost of about $225 per thousand feet from Pensacola, Florida. A well, twenty-two feet deep and six feet across, was located within the open court in the interior of the khan. The sweep used for drawing water was of the sort customarily used in the East. As it was easier to get water at a spring in a ravine just east of the khan, the well was little used.

Upon consulting the old residents among the stockmen, Major Wayne found that they were of the opinion that no full-grown animal brought into Texas from foreign countries or from the older states was as vigorous and serviceable as it had been in its homeland. The process of acclimation apparently impaired its vital energy and endurance. This deterioration did not apply to native-born stock or to animals brought in when quite young.13

Late in August, three six-mule wagons and six camels were sent to San Antonio to get supplies. The camels could have made the sixty-mile stretch in two days, but had to regulate their march on the wagons, which were restrained in progress by a lack of water for the mules along the route. At noon on September 1, the camels, loaded with 3,648 pounds of oats, an average of 608 pounds per animal, started the return journey. Two days later, they arrived at Camp Verde after traveling leisurely with a lighter load than they might have carried. The wagons left San Antonio  p34 at noon on September 2, each wagon loaded with 1,800 pounds of oats (the load that experience had taught could be safely transported over this rough and thinly-settled country) and arrived at the camp on September 6. This test showed that the six camels transported over the same ground and distance the load in weight of two six-mule wagons (3,600 pounds) in about half the time. It is well to remember in this comparison that the keep of a camel was much less than that of a mule, and that there was no heavy outlay for wagons, harnesses, and other gear. Another test was made a few days later when a dromedary, loaded with 350 pounds of provisions and corn for the men and their horses, accompanied a mounted party of seven men on a field trip. During the one-day trip, the dromedary not only kept up with, but had to be held back to keep it from getting ahead of the horses.14

Still another test was undertaken in October when a caravan of twelve camels left Camp Verde and made a trip of eighty miles into San Antonio in two days. On the return journey, begun two days later, the roads were heavy with sticky mud in which wagons could not have moved. Each camel carried a light load of 325 pounds, the total weight amounting to 3,800 pounds of oats. The rains continued, sometimes in torrents, for the next two days, but the condition of the roads and the weather held the camels back little, if any, for the trip was made in about fifty-four hours. Experienced persons said that wagons could not have moved in the existing conditions. "The usefulness of the camel in this interior country is no longer a question here in Texas among those who have seen them at work or examined them with attention."15

One of the first records of the tests on American soil is that in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, October, 1857:

The prejudices, fears, and objections of all classes are to be met only by successful demonstration. And of this, Major Wayne relates an amusing example: At Indianola, and within the first month after the 'outlandish brutes' were landed, some hay being needed at the camelyard one day, a man was sent to the quartermaster's forage house with a camel to bring up four bales. When the submissive brute was made to kneel, and two bales, weighing together 613 pounds were packed on him, doubt was expressed by several bystanders  p35 as to the camel's ability to rise under them. When two more bales were added, making the gross weight of the load 1,296 pounds,​b the gasping crowd gave noisy expression of their astonishment and indignation, and gentlemen who had never been to camel-land were 'willing to bet considerable that the critter couldn't git up under the heft o' that.' But when the camel arose without a strain, and quietly walked away with his four bales, as one felt himself master of the situation, there was a sudden change of public sentiment, most flattering to the outlandish brute and encouraging to his military sponsors. A Texas poet chronicled the event in verse, and 'a Node' in honor of the occasion was given to the world in the columns of the Indianola Bulletin.​16

Toward the end of his interesting correspondence with Jefferson Davis, Major Wayne early in December, 1856, made a few suggestions for future administration of the experiment. He called attention to the fact that political changes during the next year might make a change in Davis' connections with the War Department. Wayne also had in mind the possibility that he himself might be ordered to other duties. Observation and experience with civilian employees in Texas satisfied him that successful accomplishment of the experiment could be attained only through military responsibility and accountability. An intelligent army captain should be put in charge, Wayne thought, someone who would take an interest and who would have complete military authority over all men handling the animals. He himself had been handicapped, for as a staff officer without command privileges, he could not exercise the necessary authority over the military personnel working with him.

He reported that the close of the year found the animals in excellent condition and fast becoming acclimated. All tests of speed, maneuverability, and burden-carrying had been highly satisfactory. The camels had been in Texas for more than seven months and in Camp Verde for four months, and were proving in every respect to be an improvement in animal transportation.17

It seemed desirable to Major Wayne that imported camels should have a fixed home for three or four years at some place on the frontier where they might be carefully tended, and from  p36 where they might be used occasionally for transportation and scouting. Camp Verde seemed to him to be the locality that presented excellent opportunities for all requirements of the experiment, and particularly for comparison with the other means of transportation through an arid and broken country with a range of service embracing journeys of sixty to six hundred miles. According to his ideas, twenty-five enlisted men, including three noncommissioned officers, would be needed to care for the animals. Rigid military responsibility, which could not be obtained from civilian employees, was necessary for the best results. And finally, the officer in charge of the experiment should be allowed to a considerable extent to use his own judgment and discretion.18

Major Wayne's last recorded letter to Secretary Davis was dated on February 21, 1857, and written in Washington, where he had been called. Davis, who would soon relinquish the position of secretary of war, had summoned Wayne to Washington to talk with him. In the letter Wayne reported that only five camels had been lost at Camp Verde, two by violent injuries, one by epilepsy, and two (the Bactrians) by what he believed to have been an acclimatory disease of Texas, known as "the Spanish fever." The two Bactrians were the only animals that showed any serious effects of the climate in Texas, which he attributed to the unusual and excessive heat of the past summer, to confinement on shipboard, and to an error in blanketing them too heavily on the voyage. The other animals were in healthy condition. He had been told by experienced Texans that his animals had been more fortunate than was usual with the same number of horses and mules brought from other states.19

Major Wayne, needed in the Office of the Quartermaster General in Washington, was relieved from further duty with the camel experiment in February, 1857. He moved to Washington where he served until, at the outbreak of the Civil War, he resigned from the United States Army to serve with troops from his home state of Georgia. After Wayne's departure from Camp Verde, Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.I. N. Palmer was put in charge of the experiment and served with it until the  p38 capture of the camp by the Confederate troops in the spring of 1861.


[image ALT: A schematic map of three marches conducted with horses, mules, and camels, in northern Texas in the 1850's.]

Operation Camel: Experimental Expeditions, 1857‑1860

Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, one of the great pathfinders of the American West, after reading Abbe Hue's Travels in China and Tartary, became interested in the possibilities of using camels in western America. When he heard of the experiment then being carried on in Texas, he called on the secretary of war and discussed with Jefferson Davis the use of camels in the Southwest. The War Department was ready to send a party of topographical engineers from Texas to California to make a wagon road survey from Fort Defiance, New Mexico Territory, to the Colorado River. Beale was selected to command the expedition. Davis gave him twenty-five camels to use with the train. The survey involved more than two thousand miles of travel over high plains, through mountain passes, through a country which had hardly been explored.

The column of engineers and assistants, with a train of mule-drawn wagons, and twenty-five pack camels from Camp Verde, left San Antonio on June 25, 1857. The camels, each carrying a load of six hundred pounds, tired for the first few days of marching, but after a hundred miles, became hardened to the trail and thereafter they often marched faster than the mule-train. The route followed was westward to Fort Davis, to El Paso, thence along the upper Rio Grande to Albuquerque, thence westward through the Zuñi country to Fort Defiance. Beale wrote in his journal concerning the Trans-Pecos terrain:

. . . the character of the road is exceedingly trying to brutes of any kind. My dogs cannot travel at all on it, and after going a short distance, run to the wagons and beg to be taken up. The camels, on the contrary, have not evinced the slightest distress or soreness; and this is all the more remarkable as mules or horses, in a very short time get so sore-footed that shoes are indespensable.º The road is very hard and firm, and strewn all over it is a fine, sharp, angular, flinty gravel — very small, about the size of a pea — and the least friction causes it to act like a rasp upon the opposing surface. The camel has no shuffle in his gait, but lifts his feet perpendicularly from the ground, and replaces them without sliding, as a horse or other quadrupeds do.​20

 p39  A few days later Beale wrote in the journal:

It is a subject of constant surprise and remark to all of us, how their [camels'] feet can possibly stand the character of the road we have been travelling over for the last ten days. It is certainly the hardest road on the feet of barefoot animals I have ever known. As for food, they live on anything, and thrive. Yesterday they drank water for the first time in twenty-six hours, and although the day had been excessively hot, they seemed to care but little for it. Mark the difference between them and mules; the same time, in such weather, without water, would see the latter wild, and render them nearly useless, if not entirely break them down.​21

After crossing the Colorado River on October 26, four months after the party left San Antonio, Lieutenant Beale sent a report to the secretary of war concerning the trip, including therein statements about the camels, in part as follows:

. . . an important part in all our operations has been acted by the camels. Without the aid of this noble and useful brute, many hardships which we have been spared would have fallen our lot; our admiration for them has increased day by day. . . . At times I have thought it impossible they could stand the test to which they have been put, but they seem to have risen equal to every trial, and to have come off every exploration with as much strength as before starting. . . . I have subjected them to trials which no other animal could possibly have endured. . . . Leaving home with all the prejudice invariably attached to untried experiments, and with many of our camp opposed to their use, and looking forward confidently their failure, I believe at this time I may speak for every man in our party, when I say there is not one of them who would not prefer the most indifferent of our camels to four of our best mules; and I look forward hopefully to the time when they will be in general use in all parts of our country.​22

The secretary of war wrote in his annual report in December, 1858, "The entire adaptation of camels to military operations on the plains may now be taken as demonstrated," and he recommended that appropriations be made for the purchase of a thousand camels so that the army could make general use of them for pack animals.

After reaching California, Beale used the camels on his ranch  p40 near Bakersfield and on various field expeditions. When the Civil War started, the camels were used for a while between army posts in California and Arizona to carry supplies and perform messenger work. Beale wrote to Secretary of War Edward Stanton offering to keep all of the animals on his ranch and give bond for their safe return whenever the government should demand them, but the request was refused. The wartime army in California took no interest in the camels; they were neglected and finally were sold at a public auction in 1864. Some of them were taken to Nevada and Arizona and used on various private projects. They strayed off on the open ranges and in time became wild. The last one of these animals was reported seen in Arizona in 1891. General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Douglas MacArthur said that as a boy, while living at Fort Selden, New Mexico, in 1885, he saw a camel brought in by a hunting party.23

On March 25, 1859, Secretary of War John B. Floyd, who succeeded Davis, directed Major General David E. Twiggs, commanding the Texas Military Department at San Antonio, to have a complete and thorough reconnaissance made in the country between the Pecos River and the Rio Grande. Camels should be used as a part of the transportation. It was the object of the expedition to discover a more convenient route for supplying army posts in the area, in addition to determining the practicability of the camel as a means of transportation. Reconnaissance was to include an examination of the great Comanche Trail from the point where it crossed the San Antonio-El Paso Road southward to the Rio Grande, and the location of a site on which to establish a military post on or near the Rio Grande, near the trail crossing.

Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William E. Echols, Topographical Engineers, United States Army, was detailed to make the reconnaissance. Early in May, he left San Antonio with an escort commanded by Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Edward L. Hartz. The train included twenty-four camels and a like number of pack mules. The members of the train reached their first objective, Camp Hudson, about one hundred and fifty miles west of San Antonio, on May 18. After five days at Camp Hudson, they set out for Fort Stockton, arriving there  p41 on June 12. The slow time on the march resulted from the fact that they left the road and went into the Pecos River Valley below the mouth of Howards Creek, then traveled up the valley, where the broken terrain, with high hills sloping down to the river bank, forced them to make several detours. Grazing being unavailable at Fort Stockton, it was necessary to draw forage for the mules, but the camels fed on mesquite, catclaw, and other mimosas, much like the mimosas and acacias found in Africa and Asia. On June 15, the train set out on a reconnaissance to the mouth of Independence Creek to try out the camels on a trip without water. The animals traveled at an average speed of about four miles per hour for the eighty-five miles, carrying 350‑pound packs. They were watered at the end of the trip, but had shown no desire for a drink while on the march.24

The party then started on a reconnaissance in the direction of Fort Davis, following a route south from Comanche Creek that led through a land destitute of springs or surface water. For four nights the party made dry camps with only the men and mules receiving water from the barrels carried on the camels. Each mule was given three gallons per day on the marches that were eighteen, twenty-five, twenty-seven, thirty-six, and eight miles, respectively, a total of 114 miles covered in ninety-six hours. At one camp when a rattlesnake bit a camel, the wound was scarified, then bound up after some liquid ammonia was rubbed in. No after effects were noted. At noon on June 24, when the party reached a beautiful spring in what was identified as the "Arroyo de las Vaccus," the horses and mules showed great distress, being nearly famished for want of water. When the expedition reached Fort Davis two days later, it rested and reoutfitted for the return march, which started three days later and was completed in four days without incident, for it was made over a direct route. The officers believed that "the superiority of the camel for military purposes in the badly-watered sections of the country seems to be well established."25

Another reconnaissance started from Fort Stockton on July 11, the train carrying rations for thirty-three days, about four hundred gallons of water, and baggage for a party of fifty men. Following  p42 the Comanche Trail, the party camped the first night near the foot of Glass Mountain at the mouth of A. B. Draw. Thousands of horses and cattle driven along the trail by the Indians on the way out of Mexico after their raids had made it smooth. The party traveled up the draw for two days to a spring, probably the Peña Colorado, passed Oja Basillo, turned west through Dog Canyon, then traveled over fairly level ground broken by numerous small ravines. On July 16, the members made camp at a fine water hole where each camel drank from fifteen to twenty gallons of water. The next day they traversed some difficult terrain, crossing no less than fifty-seven arroyos, some of them fifty to seventy-five feet in depth, and that night camped on the Rio Grande. The camp site was probably the one known as Paso del Chisos, which was up the river from San Vicente. It was the pass usually traveled by the Comanche on their return from raids into Mexico.

In seven days of marching, the party had traveled one hundred and sixty-eight miles, an average of twenty-four miles per day, over some extremely rough ground.

The patience, endurance and steadiness which characterize the performance of the camels during this march is beyond praise, and when compared with the jaded and distressed appearance of the mules and horses, established for them another point of superiority.​26

On July 18, the party camped at San Vicente, and the next day started the return trip. After following the Comanche Trail a few miles, the members turned eastward across the rolling prairies and there encountered one of the most formidable obstacles to the travel of the camel that they had yet met. For many miles the country was covered with a species of maguey, known as soap-weed, which had slim, narrow blades more than a foot long. The camels were able to walk over it by placing the foot against the side of a clump, then pushing the blades down to crush them. For five days the party wandered around looking for the Peña Colorado Springs.​27 After finding them, the group rested a day,  p43 then followed the trail to Fort Stockton, arriving on July 28. The report of the trip reads in part as follows:

The camels have encountered hills and mountains of the most difficult nature; crossed streams, traversed prairies, some smooth, others rocky and broken by rapid succession of deep arroyos or ravines, they have sustained an abstinence of nearly five days from water in one instance, and frequently of two or three days, with an allowance of food much inferior to that necessary for a horse or a mule . . . traversing the while the most difficult country in northwestern Texas, making marches laterally of over 20 miles per day and have arrived at their place of departure in the same condition in point of flesh which characterized them in setting out. With the horses and mules the case is different. . . . The camels carried water for them, an allowance of three gallons per day, which though not sufficient, is believed to have been the means of saving several valuable animals . . . the emaciation and jaded condition of many others shows an inferiority to the camel for this service.​28

In San Antonio, en route to his station at Camp Cooper in March, 1857, Lieutenant Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert E. Lee witnessed one of the camel experiments. He had seen the second shipment of camels some time before when it passed through San Antonio en route to Camp Verde. On that occasion he was amazed to see one of the animals rise from the ground, "packed with two bales of cotton."​29 Three years later when Lee became the temporary commander of the Texas Department, he watched other camel experiments. The reconnaissance into West Texas during the spring and summer of 1859 was the most severe test that had yet been undertaken. Colonel Lee wanted more positive proof of the feasibility of using the camel.

Secretary of War Floyd directed Lee to continue the tests which he thought advisable to extend into rougher terrain. On May 31, 1860, Lee ordered Lieutenant William Echols to make another trip into the upper Rio Grande country. According to the instructions, he should make a reconnaissance between Camp  p44 Hudson and Fort Davis, reaching out southward to the Rio Grande. He was told to look for a suitable site for a camp near the Comanche Trail crossing on the river. On this trip the party would traverse an unexplored country, very arid and broken. The train consisted of twenty camels and twenty-five pack mules.

Echols reported before the start that the camels were in excellent condition, and that he knew from the experience of the previous trip how to pack them. Only one male camel was taken on the expedition. While the males were much stronger and more serviceable than the females, they caused trouble for the attendants and often fought one another. The train had the capacity to carry nearly 500 gallons of water and was rationed from Camp Hudson for twenty days.30

On June 24, the party was joined by an escort of infantry commanded by Lieutenant J. H. Holman and marched westward from Camp Hudson for the Pecos River. The members saw much wild game, such as bear, deer, antilope, and turkey along the way, and found plenty of fish in the river when they reached it. The men caught a dozen fish weighing from fifteen to twenty pounds each. After crossing the river at the same place Echols had crossed the year before, they left the trail and headed in a northwesterly direction into a dry wilderness country, broken by mountains, arroyos, canyons, and buttes. As they marched on, the country became rougher, the grass was dry and dead, and there was neither forage nor water.

The mules will not fare well, the camels have performed most admirably today. No such march as this could have been made with any security without them. It is with difficulty that the mules can be kept from the water barrels, particularly when the water is being issued. I might say the same of the men.​31

During the march of nearly twenty-eight miles that day each mule was given less than three gallons of water.

They were getting into the heart of the rough, dry country where they marched for thirty miles on July 2, and made a dry camp.

 p45  We are uneasy, not to say a little frightened for our welfare. The mules must go without water tonight, are broken down now, and some are expected to be abandoned on the march tomorrow. We have only sufficient water for the men for thirty hours. The Pecos, Rio Grande, and Fort Stockton are too distant to reach and we may be unable to reach water on the Comanche Trail, San Francisco Creek, or Willow Spring. Our march today has been rough . . . we have sent a man to search for water . . . a canteen of water was issued to the men with enough to make a cup of coffee. This is the fourth day since the camels drank, which was at the Pecos. . . . The camels display quite a thirst.​32

They marched all the next day

. . . with much hope at heart but very little sign or prospect of success of our only object in life today, that of reaching water. The whole command is very uncomfortable with regard to its future prospects. The animals of burden are almost ceased to be talked of, and the topic has become one of self interest alone. Drought depresses the most buoyant spirit, and keeps the mind in full operation and anxiety. Some of the men are very weak, and have several times reported about to give up and no water to drink. All we can tell them is, if they stop, they must risk the consequences, that not a moment can be lost for anyone. We have some apprehensions for the safety of the command, and tomorrow a dispersion must take place in small parties to look for water according to individual judgment, to seek one another, if successful; if not, never to meet again but by chance. The men have a quart of water issued tonight, and have enough for two drinks tomorrow, but they are so feeble and thirsty that it would not last them an hour if they could get to it. The mules have stood it admirably, much to the wonder of everybody. All are in camp tonight, but cannot graze for their thirst. The camels are continually bellowing, which, I suppose, as it is unusual, is a sign of a want of water. . . . A part of our quartermaster and commissary stores were abandoned at camp this morning. The mules were too feeble to be laden; and fearing it too much for our camels, marched thirty miles, through good grass region, bleak and dreary.​33

On July 4, Echols entered in his journal:

Although the command was very weary last night, it did not rest as well as I have seen it; the whole conversation was 'something to drink.' We had to use our canteens for pillows to secure our water, as none of the most thirsty show much reluctance in emptying any one they may come across at a draught. This morning brought forth  p46 many serious and despondent countenances in the command as they prepared to march with their two drinks of water, and not knowing when or where the next was to be had, if at all. After marching four miles, one of these was given out [drink of water] with serious thoughts of dispersion, everyone to do the best he could for himself and comrade. When ascending a little rise, to my delight, I recognized looming up in the distance about fifteen miles, Camel's Hump Mountain, at whose base the head of San Francisco Creek lies, and all pushed eagerly on to taste the treasure. No one can imagine the feelings of a thirsty man till he sees one . . . the animals exhibited a remarkable knowledge of approaching water sometime before reaching it, particularly the camels, which made a remarkable change in their speed ten miles away from it. They had to be held back to keep them with the mules that before had been leading them. . . . This is the fifth day since leaving the Pecos. The men are on foot with half allowance of water, marched 120 miles, the thermometer about 100 in shade, intense reflection, no wood, over the most rugged country known, the last days made about thirty miles. The mules were watered only twice on half allowance, and on the sixth day from water. The camels stood it well. Today, however, four mules gave out before reaching camp, two of which managed to reach camp after the command; the others abandoned. It was strange to see how eagerly they would seize a canteen whenever they were near it, and try to tear it to pieces. I saw one take a cork from one that was hanging up, and was drinking water from it by turning it about and catching the water as it was spilled. The men were cautioned about permitting them to drink too much at a time, as it sometimes proves fatal.​34

For a day the party rested by the water hole. A patrol was sent out to recover the two mules abandoned two days before, but could find only one. One mule died in camp, while several men complained of sickness. The next day the party continued to rest in camp, for the mules appeared exhausted. One man was quite ill in the night, but improved during the day's rest. When the march was resumed two days later, the Comanche Trail was soon crossed. The camels revived quickly and began to perform admirably, but the mules were not doing so well. Three days later the party reached Fort Davis after passing through a heavy rain and hail storm. Echols wrote, "will remain at Fort Davis several days to recruit; several men and mules will have to be left there, unable to proceed."35

 p47  Three days later the party resumed the march southward along the Fort Davis-Presidio Road. One man and nine mules were left at the post as unfit for duty.

The camels are performing beautifully and heavily laden. In addition to their almost unlimited variety of food — bushes, briers, and grass — I can add the thistle and several species of cactus — the prickly pear is one.​36

On July 17, the men arrived at Presidio del Norte. The alcalde reported that the population of Presidio was about 3,100; and Echols added that "about half or less are a den of thieves." On July 20, the party marched down the Rio Grande valley for eight miles; then on the following day the men left the river and went up a canyon. On July 22, "we marched over the roughest ground I have ever seen, never conceived there could be such a country. I cheerfully agree with all who regard this country as impassable."​37 They marched down the Lates Lengua, then finding the Comanche Trail, followed it toward Lajitas Crossing and to San Carlos. When a point was reached on a mountain road unsurmountable for the camels, they had to return to the base, then attempt to pass around by an arroyo on the east, but were again stopped by the ruggedness. They finally found a passable road that led down to the Rio Grande. The party was reduced to sixteen mules, all in use as riding animals. The camels were getting on very well. The party continued the march down the river in search of a suitable site for a military post. A few miles farther down, Echols found a place with more timber and wood than a garrison would need, with plenty of grass in the valley. Believing that he had accomplished his mission, Echols with his party turned homeward and early in August reached Fort Stockton. After resting a few days, they marched on to Camp Hudson where the detachment was returned to its organization and the camels were sent to their home station at Camp Verde.

Colonel Lee considered the expedition a complete success and that the camel had proved its worth as a beast of burden, for he wrote to Adjutant General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Cooper ". . . of camels whose endurance, docility, and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of  p48 the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed."38

This long reconnaissance, conducted the year before the outbreak of the Civil War, was the last important test of the camels. Thereafter they were used on short trips around Camp Verde and to carry supplies between San Antonio and the camp. Rumors of secession kept the garrison excited and upset. There are few records of camel activities after that summer.

In the spring of 1861, Confederate troops captured Camp Verde, to hold it until Federal forces re‑occupied it in 1865. At the time that the Confederate groups took over the property and gave receipt to the United States for it, they reported twelve mules, eighty camels, and two Egyptian camel drivers at the camp. The Southern army officers and men did not know how to care for or how to exercise the beasts. Many of the camels wandered off into the hills or roamed at will over the neighborhood, frightening animals and people on the ranches when they made an appearance. The Confederate Army used some of them to pack cotton bales at Brownsville. One captain is reported to have used a camel to carry his company baggage. There are few reports, however, of their work with the Confederate forces.

When the United States troops again occupied Camp Verde in the spring of 1865, it was estimated that there were more than a hundred camels in the herd. But there was no interest in army circles to renew the experiment. The officers who had been interested in camels in the days before the war had passed on to other fields. In 1866, the government went out of the camel business when, after advertising the herd for sale, a roundup was conducted and sixty-six animals were collected and sold to Bethel Coopwood of San Antonio, the highest bidder, at a price of $31 each. How many more camels were left running wild in the hills around Bandera was not known. Coopwood sold some of the animals to circuses, while others were taken into Mexico for work in the arid lands. For many years after 1866, camels were seen in various parts of the Southwest. They showed up in cattle roundups in Jim Wells County, near Alice. They were seen in Arkansas soon after the close of the Civil War, and some of them  p49 were captured in Missouri. The last camel seen in Bandera was an old fellow who wandered into the village (near the site of Camp Verde) one day in 1875, and was captured by an old resident who knew how to handle the beast. What became of the animals is not recorded.

In 1869, troops at Camp Verde were withdrawn and the post was abandoned. The camel and the soldier of Camp Verde then passed into the records.

The success of the experiment would have been of greatest benefit to the South, for it would have tied the West to it until the railroads were completed. But in retrospect the bringing of camels to the United States appears as a bit of national humor. The leaders who conducted the experiment, although often prejudiced in the beginning, were well satisfied in the end with the results. They believed the animal was superior to the mule in speed, load-carrying, endurance, and cost of maintenance. Every person who observed the camel under field conditions was high in praise of the animal's adaptability.

There were several reasons for the ultimate failure of the experiment, which was so successful in its operations. There was a loss of interest in the project when Davis left the office of secretary of war early in 1858. He was its particular promoter, having worked on it as a senator and then as secretary of war. His successor, John B. Floyd, gave the experiment some support, but never with the enthusiasm that Davis had shown. The second most valuable supporter, Major Wayne, was ordered to other duties a few months after the trials got under way, and there was never thereafter an enthusiastic field director in charge at Camp Verde.

The second circumstance that interfered was the coming of the Civil War. After the spring of 1861 the camels were in the hands of Confederate soldiers, horse-and‑mule men from the South, who did not understand camels and did not care for them properly. The camels were left to shift for themselves; they were allowed to run wild. And after the war anything that Jefferson Davis, Southern rebel, had once favored was discredited in the North. And finally the "horse-and‑mule men" and the "horse-and‑mule army" did not favor the camel. The regular army was  p50 a "mule army" until a generation ago. The old stubborn army mule had plenty of friends; the camel had few. A mule would respond to a lot of "cussing," which was not effective with a camel. They always appeared never to "give a cuss" in the presence of a swearing driver. Rudyard Kipling once said you might as well lavish your affections on a baggage van as on a camel. And the same is true of expending one's wrath.

The camel never replaced the horse or mule in the West. The steam engine replaced them, as the motor car and the Diesel engine are currently making a museum piece of the steam engine. The camel had his fair trial as a beast of burden. He succeeded in every test, but in the end he failed to impress the Westerner. He passed on, and his bones bleached on the desert wastes of Arizona and in the Bandera Hills. "Operation camel" passed into history because the camel was a foreigner. He did not "belong."

The Author's Notes:

1 Dunbar Rowland (ed.), Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist, His Letters, Papers, and Speeches (10 vols.; Jackson, 1923), III.71‑73.

[decorative delimiter]

1a Henry T. Fletcher, "Old Fort Lancaster," West Texas Historical and Scientific Society Publications, No. 4, pp34‑35.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Walter P. Webb, The Great Plains (Boston, 1931), 140‑202.

[decorative delimiter]

3 George P. Marsh, The Camel (Boston, 1856), 41.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Charles C. Carroll, "The Government Importation of Camels, a Historical Sketch", 20th Annual Report Bureau of Animal Industry (Washington, 1904), 393.

[decorative delimiter]

5 John Russell Bartlett, Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents Connected with the United States and Mexican Boundary Commission (2 vols.; New York, 1854), II, 594.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Report of the Secretary of War, December 1, 1853, House Executive Documents, 33rd Cong., 1st Sess. (Serial No. 710), Document No. 1, p25.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Major Henry C. Wayne, U. S. A., to Jefferson Davis, Senate Executive Documents, 34th Cong., 3rd Sess. (Serial No. 881), Document No. 62, pp52‑54.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Wayne to Davis, June 28, 1856, ibid., 150.

[decorative delimiter]

9 Quartermaster General to Wayne, Washington, D. C., July 10, 1856, ibid., 152.

[decorative delimiter]

10 "Inspection Report, Department of Texas, 1856, by Colonel J. K. F. Mansfield, 1856," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XLII, 141‑142.

[decorative delimiter]

11 Wayne to Davis, August 12, 1856, Senate Executive Documents, 34th Cong., 3rd Sess. (Serial No. 881), Document No. 62, p155.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Wayne to Davis, September 24, 1856, ibid., 157.

[decorative delimiter]

13 Ibid., 157‑158.

[decorative delimiter]

14 Ibid., 158.

[decorative delimiter]

15 Wayne to Davis, November 5, 1856, ibid., 159‑160.

[decorative delimiter]

16 "Ships of the Desert," Harper's New Monthly Magazine (October, 1857), 577‑593.

[decorative delimiter]

17 Wayne to Davis, December 4, 1856, Senate Executive Documents, 34th Cong., 3rd Sess. (Serial No. 881) Document No. 62, pp163‑164.

[decorative delimiter]

18 Wayne to Davis, February 12, 1857, ibid., 196.

[decorative delimiter]

19 Wayne to Davis, February 21, 1857, ibid., 197.

[decorative delimiter]

20 Edward F. Beale, "Report of Wagon Road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River," April 26, 1858 (Beale's Journal), House Executive Documents, 35th Cong., 1st Sess. (Serial No. 959), Document No. 124, pp22‑23.

[decorative delimiter]

21 Ibid., 25.

[decorative delimiter]

22 Beale to the Secretary of War, October 18, 1857, Senate Executive Documents, 35th Cong., 1st Sess. (Serial No. 929), Document No. 43, pp3‑4.

[decorative delimiter]

23 Douglas MacArthur to Chris Emmett, January 26, 1931 (MS., Archives, University of Texas Library).

[decorative delimiter]

24 Diary of Lieutenant Edward L. Hartz, Senate Executive Documents, 36th Cong., 1st Sess. (Serial No. 1024), Document No. 2, pp425‑432.

[decorative delimiter]

25 Ibid., 432‑433.

[decorative delimiter]

26 Ibid., 436‑437.

[decorative delimiter]

27 The springs at Peña Colorado are located five miles south of Marathon, Texas. Colonel Martin L. Crimmins in the West Texas Historical and Scientific Society Bulletin No. 56, December 1, 1935, says: "From time immemorial, the site of Pena Colorado was a well-known landmark on the old Comanche Trail. The trail ran down from the Panhandle of Texas, crossed the Pecos at Horsehead Crossing, thence via Comanche Springs (now Fort Stockton) through Pena Colorado and thence southward toward the tip of the Big Bend, where it forked crossing the Rio Grande at two places. The springs must have been the camp ground for the Indians for a thousand years."

[decorative delimiter]

28 Senate Executive Documents, 36th Cong., 1st Sess. (Serial No. 1024), Document No. 2, p438.

[decorative delimiter]

29 Carl C. Rister, Robert E. Lee in Texas (Norman, 1946), 80.

[decorative delimiter]

30 Senate Executive Documents, 36th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Serial No. 1079), Document No. 1, p37.

[decorative delimiter]

31 Ibid., 40.

[decorative delimiter]

32 Ibid.

[decorative delimiter]

33 Ibid., 41.

[decorative delimiter]

34 Ibid., 41‑42.

[decorative delimiter]

35 Ibid., 44.

[decorative delimiter]

36 Ibid., 46‑47.

[decorative delimiter]

37 Ibid., 47.

[decorative delimiter]

38 Rister, Robert E. Lee in Texas, 137.

Thayer's Notes:

a See also Charles C. Carroll, "The Government Importation of Camels, a Historical Sketch", in 20th Annual Report Bureau of Animal Industry (Washington, 1904); Walter L. Fleming, "Jefferson Davis's Camel Experiment", Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 174 (Feb. 1909), pp141‑152; Fred S. Perrine, "Uncle Sam's Camel Corps", New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. I (Oct. 1926), pp434‑444; and a full-length book about Lieut. Beale's camel expedition to California, and including a complete reprint of Beale's diary which formed his official report, as well as the diary of a lesser participant, May Humphreys Stacey: Lewis Burt Lesley, Uncle Sam's Camels (1929).

[decorative delimiter]

b The figures (613 pounds, 1296 pounds) are as printed, and are almost certainly wrong. They are given as 613 and 1256 in Uncle Sam's Camels, p12, and I suspect those are wrong as well. One would expect 613 and 1226.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 23 Aug 15