- Early California
- The Camel Experiment
- by Colonel Herbert
M. Hart, USMC (Retired)
- Executive Director,
Council on America's Military Past
Passed by the 33rd
Congress and signed by the President, March 3, 1855.
"And be it further
enacted, that the sum of $50,000 be, and the same is hereby appropriated
under the direction of the War Department in the purchase and
importation of camels and dromedaries to be employed for military
- If camels can work in
the deserts of Africa, why can they not do as well in the American
West? That was the question, more or less paraphrased, posed
during the Seminole Indian War of Florida by Army Major George
H. Grossman and presented ultimately to Secretary of War Jefferson
From that thought came about one of the strange tales of the
Western Army, the Camel Experiment that seemed to have everything
in its favor, yet went nowhere. When these humped-back creatures
arrived in Texas. the reaction was akin to the arrival of the
first gas buggy many years later. Horses bolted, Indians disappeared
into the brush, and strong men rushed to the nearest bar for
a liquid bracer.
Tales are told that the camel business failed because the soft
pads on their feet could not take the rough rocks and foliage
of the American West. Not so. They could march cross-country
with the best the Army had to offer, and leave them behind. They
could go days without water and tote
a load that would have foundered a mule. Their swaying gait presented
a smoother platform than a horse's from which to fire a rifle.
And in every impartial test patrol they made, they passed with
flying colors, and usually, a few riders.
- Camels served in California,
mostly at Fort Tejon.
But it all came to naught, Jefferson Davis was the man behind
the scheme and in post-Civil War America anything with his tag
was hopeless. The camels were sold (mostly at Drum Barracks or the Benicia
Arsenal) or permitted
to "escape." Some wound up in circuses, some in ill-fated
private transportation schemes.
- To find out more about
the U.S. Camel Corps, we suggest the following websites:
- This page was
reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Southwest,
published in 1965