Saturday, January 18, 2014

The U.S. Camel Corps

By Nancy J. Farrier
Imagine an 1800’s Cavalry charge. Men in blue charging full speed to rescue travelers in distress. Now, imagine those same cavalrymen on camels in the Southwest. This picture doesn’t have quite the same effect as the one with horses, yet for a short time, the Cavalry in the Southwest did experiment with the use of camels.

In 1855, Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, approved the purchase of camels to use in the Southwest as an experiment in traversing the arid areas where they had little water. The first shipment of thirty-three camels arrived in Indianola, Texas in 1856. They were accompanied by an Arab caretaker, Hadji Ali, whom the cavalrymen renamed Hi Jolly. (Today, Hi Jolly’s tomb can be seen in Quartzite, Arizona.) A second shipment of over forty camels arrived the following year.

The camels were a mix of the Arabian camel with one hump, the Bactrian camel, which had two humps and a few cross breed camels, a mix of the first two. The hybrid camel was much larger and could carry twice the weight the other camels could—over 2,000 pounds. The camels proved themselves in many ways. They could go two days without water and carry approximately four times the amount of goods a mule could pack.

On the down side, the camels were temperamental. They were known to fight among themselves, spit at their handlers, and they smelled horrible. The Cavalry men, used to using force to get a mules attention found that when they slapped a camel, the animal would strike back. They were not docile at all. Plus, they scared the mules, horses and cattle to the point of sending them running.

Despite many successful trips with the camels, when the Civil War started, the use of camels discontinued. Some camels were sold to the Ringling Brothers circus, zoos or traveling shows. Some were used to carry mail or freight. Others were turned loose in the desert. Stories abound about the wild camels in the Southwest with many sightings, the last documented sighting in the early 1950’s.

One of the best known legends about camels, and my favorite, is the story of Red Ghost. Red Ghost appeared in Southeastern Arizona in the early 1880’s where two ranching families lived. One morning the men were gone and one of the women went to the spring for water while the other wife continued cleaning and watching the children. At the sound of screams, the woman in the house peered out the window expecting to see raiding Apaches. Instead, she was horrified to see a huge red beast, ridden by the devil, running through the yard. She barricaded the door trying to protect the children. The other woman didn’t return.

When the men came home that night they found the missing woman at the spring trampled almost beyond recognition. In the morning they found cloven hoof prints beside her; prints the size of horse’s hooves. Nearby they found long reddish hairs.

Not long afterwards, two prospectors were awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of
thundering hooves. The beast trampled their tent and they were sure they would be killed. The beast ran off without them getting a good look, but they were both very frightened.

Other people reported seeing the camel with the skeleton rider on its back. The angry beast was accused of tramping people and killing animals. Prospectors who finally caught sight of the animal tried to shoot it, but missed. However part of the rider became dislodged as the camel ran away. When they investigated, the men found a skeletal head on the ground.

Finally, a rancher managed to shoot the camel as it ate in his vegetable garden. He discovered the skeleton of a man, tied to the camel’s back. The straps had worn deep grooves into the animal’s hide, probably causing much pain and the reason for his bad temper.

A sad story, possibly embellished, but probably containing some truth too. I recall first reading this story in an Arizona newspaper archive years ago. I am fascinated by the possibility of truth in there, and love to consider how legends such as Red Ghost might have started. Have you heard of the camel corps? Have you heard any of the stories surrounding this interesting bit of history?

Let's start off the New Year with a giveaway. Leave a comment and you will be entered in a random drawing for a copy of my latest release, The Immigrant Brides, a collection of novellas and a $10 gift card. If you already have The Immigrant Brides, you can choose one of my previous releases.

Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest and interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Nancy, My Civil War novel, His Steadfast Love, is set in Indianola, TX, so I had heard of the Camel Corps. Both Indianola and the camels are now a thing of the past, with only a few remnants left of those days.

  2. Wow, Nancy! Fascinating story. I was aware of the Camel Corps, but I had never heard of the Red Ghost.

  3. Wow, the story of the Red Ghost camel out in AZ is wild! I had not heard of either the Camel Corps or the Red Ghost.
    Brittany McEuen

  4. Nancy, what a fascinating story! I never heard about this before. Thanks for sharing!

  5. What a wonderfully informative post, Nancy! I had no idea of the Cavalry's experiment with camels and am interested in learning more. I love the intriguing story of Red Ghost and shared it with my husband and son who enjoyed it as well. At nine years old, my son was mesmerized and wanted to know more. Thank you for sharing such a fascinating bit of history with us today!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  6. What an interesting story. I must say I never imagined camels in the U.S. other than the ones we find in zoos. Thank you for sharing.

    I would love to be entered into your giveaway.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  7. Wow - that is a fascinating story - I can hardly imagine it. I think I was shocked most about the fact that something was tied to the camel - so interesting and something I didn't know - thanks for the fun post. Hope to win. truckredford(at)Gmail(dot)Com

  8. Interesting, Nancy. So I'm tweeting and FBing your post.

  9. Very interesting--I remember learning about the use of camels in the U.S. military at Fort Tejon. Thanks for sharing with us, Nancy! Blessings. :)

  10. What an interesting post. I had no idea camels were ever used. Thank you for sharing and an opportunity to be a winner.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  11. Several years ago when I wrote my novela "Christmas Gold" I used the camel corp in Big Bend area of Texas as part of the storyline. The whole topic is fascinating and you did a marvelous job of presenting it. Thank you.

  12. Several years ago when I wrote my novela "Christmas Gold" I used the camel corp in Big Bend area of Texas as part of the storyline. The whole topic is fascinating and you did a marvelous job of presenting it. Thank you.

  13. Several years ago when I wrote my novela "Christmas Gold" I used the camel corp in Big Bend area of Texas as part of the storyline. The whole topic is fascinating and you did a marvelous job of presenting it. Thank you.

  14. Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I was on the road today and had no internet access, so I couldn't reply to everyone individually. I do appreciate all the comments though. This was a favorite story of mine, so I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  15. Hi Nancy! I had never heard of the use of camels here in the US for ANYthing! It's very fascinating hear about them and why they didn't work out! I wonder how long they did last after being released out here? I'm very sensitive when I hear about any kind of animal cruelty and my eyes welled up with tears learning of Red Ghost with the too-tight straps w/ the dead guy stuck on his back. Bless his heart! The Immigrant Brides collection has been on the top of my: Gotta-get -my- hands -on -it list since it came out!

    1. Oops! I almost forgot: kam110476 (at) gmail (dot) com
      Thanks for the chance to win!

  16. Hello Nancy. this was a very interesting post. I had never heard this about the camels. I think I prefer the horses tho. This makes a very funny picture in my mind. Thanks for this information and also for the give-away sure hope I c an win this book. Bet it's good. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  17. I found this post fascinating. There was a movie made back in the 70s or 80s called Humps. It was a comical look at this bit of history. I never found enough info back then to satisfy my curiousity. Thanks for the interesting facts.
    Cindy Huff

  18. I have never heard of camel's being used before in the Calvary. I can't wait to tell my kids about this. Thank you for sharing that neat information! Would love to be entered in your drawing. Jumpforjoy at gmail dot com.

  19. I learn something new today! I never knew camels were used in the US. Great post!
    worthy2bpraised at gmail dot com

  20. Sounds like the camels have 'wild-hairs'! Interesting how Jefferson Davis used camels instead of horses to conserve on water. Love to win and read your book, Immigrant Brides Collection! sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  21. How very interesting, camels in the USA. I would have never imagined!