|Library of Congress, only surviving photo of Camel Corp|
Major Henry C. Wayne and Lieutenant David D. Porter departed for North Africa, where they were met by a third American, Gwinn Harris Heap, whose father had been the U.S. consul to Tunis for a number of years. They acquired thirty-three camels and dromedaries before departing for home in February 1856 on board the ship aptly named Supply.
Writing to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, Navy Lieutenant Porter said, “We have lost on the voyage but one of those we purchased…and she died from no want of care, but because she was unable to produce her young one…We still have more than we started with, some young ones having been born on the passage, and are in fine condition. All the other camels I am happy to say have not received a scratch…They are looking a little shabby just now, most of them shedding their hair…but they are fat and in good health."
Three weeks later, the animals began first leg of the trip that would take them to San Antonio, Texas, on to El Paso, Albuquerque, and across the arid Southwest all the way to Fort Tejon, California. The camels performed extremely well. Capable of carrying loads of up to twelve hundred pounds—larger than a horse or mule could carry—the beasts lumbered along at a slow but steady pace.
The chief camel driver used for this experiment was Hadji Ali, known as Hi Jolly to the soldiers. Originally Hi Jolly's name was Philip Tedro, but the Greek-Syrian man converted to Islam and made the trip to Mecca. After the conclusion of the camel experiment, Hadji Ali used some of the freed camels for a freight business for a while, prospected, and tried various other occupations. Later he married a woman and settled down. He died in Quartzite, Arizona in 1902 at the age of 73. At his death, he still believed there were camels roaming loose in the desert. A monument to Hadji Ali in Quartzite AZ is shown below right on the site of his last camp.
What do you think? Do you believe small families of camels still roam the Desert Southwest? I like to think so, but then I'm a romance author.
Portions of this article came from James A. Crutchfield's bool, IT HAPPENED IN TEXAS, from Two Dot Press, Helena, Montana, published 1996.
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