United States Camel Corps

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United States Camel Corps
Active 1856–1866
Country United States of America
Branch U.S. Army
Type Quartermaster
Role Experimental
Post Camp Verde, Texas
First commander Major Henry C. Wayne

The U.S. Camel Corps (possibly a retronym) was a mid-nineteenth century experiment by the United States Army in using camels as pack animals in the Southwest United States. While the camels proved to be hardy and well-suited to travel through the region, the Army declined to adopt them for military use. The Civil War interfered with the experiment and it was eventually abandoned; the animals were sold at auction.


In 1836, Major George H. Crosman, United States Army, who was convinced from his experiences in the Indian wars in Florida that camels would be useful as beasts of burden, encouraged the War Department to use camels for transportation. In 1848 or earlier, Major Henry C. Wayne conducted a more detailed study and recommended importation of camels to the War Department. Wayne's opinions agreed with those of then Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.[1]:391–392 Davis was unsuccessful until he was appointed as Secretary of War in 1853. When US forces were required to operate in arid and desert regions, the President and Congress began to take the idea seriously. Newly appointed as Secretary of War by President Franklin Pierce, Davis found the Army needed to improve transportation in the southwestern US, which he and most observers thought a great desert. In his annual report for 1854, Davis wrote, "I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels and dromedaries for military and other purposes..."[2]:10 On March 3, 1855, the US Congress appropriated $30,000 for the project.[1]:393–394

In later years Edward Fitzgerald Beale reportedly told his son, Truxtun that the idea of using camels came to him when he was exploring Death Valley with Kit Carson. Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, sympathized with Beale and Beale convinced his friend and kinsman Lieutenant David Dixon Porter to apply for command of the expedition to acquire the camels. The account is not supported by Beale's diaries or papers.[3]


Drawing of loading a camel

Major Wayne was assigned to procure the camels. On June 4, 1855, Wayne departed New York City on board the USS Supply, under the command of then Lieutenant David Dixon Porter. After arriving in the Mediterranean Sea, Wayne and Porter began procuring camels. Stops included Goletta (Tunisia), Malta, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. They acquired thirty-three animals (nineteen females and fourteen males), including two Bactrian, twenty-nine dromedary, one dromedary calf, and one booghdee (a cross between a male Bactrian and a female dromedary).[2]:11 The two officers also acquired pack saddles and covers, being certain that proper saddles could not be purchased in the United Stastes.[1]:397 Wayne and Porter hired five camel drivers, some Arab and some Turkish, and, on February 15, 1856, USS Supply set sail for Texas.[2]:12 Porter established strict rules for the care, watering and feeding of the animals in his charge; no experiments were conducted regarding how long a camel could survive without water.[1]:398–399 During the crossing, one male camel died, but two calves were born and survived the trip.[2]:12 On May 14, 1856, thirty-four camels (a net gain of one) were safely unloaded at Indianola, Texas.[1]:401 All the animals were in better health than when the vessel sailed for the United States. On Davis' orders, Porter sailed again for Egypt to acquire more camels.[2]:12 While Porter was on the second voyage, Wayne marched the camels from the first voyage to Camp Verde, Texas by way of San Antonio, Texas.[2]:12 On February 10, 1857, USS Supply returned with a herd of forty-one camels. During the second expedition, Porter hired "nine men and a boy," including Hiogo Alli.[1]:403[4]:28 While Porter was on his second mission, five camels from the first herd died.[2]:13 The newly acquired animals joined the first herd at Camp Verde, which had been officially designated as the camel station.[1]:403 The Army had seventy camels.[2]:13

Use in the Southwest[edit]

Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California (1863 or earlier)

Wayne attempted a breeding program for the camels but his plans were put aside when Secretary Davis wrote that the animals were to be tested to determine if they could be used to accomplish a military objective.[1]:401–402[4]:30

In 1857, James Buchanan became President, John B. Floyd succeeded Davis as Secretary of War, and Wayne, who was reassigned to duties with the Quartermaster General in Washington, DC, was replaced by Captain Innis N. Palmer.[4]:36 Also in 1857, in response to a citizen petition to establish a road connecting the East and West, Congress authorized a contract to survey a wagon road along the thirty-fifth parallel from Fort Defiance, New Mexico Territory to the Colorado River on what is now the Arizona/California border.[2]:13 Former Navy lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale won the contract learned afterward that Secretary Floyd required him to take twenty-five camels with him.[2]:14 The first part of the trip required traveling from Camp Verde through San Antonio, Texas; Fort Davis, Texas; El Paso, Texas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory to Fort Defiance. The expedition left San Antonio on June 25, 1857 and twenty-five pack camels accompanied a train of mule-drawn wagons. Each camel carried a load of 600 pounds. Beale wrote very favorably about the camels endurance and packing abilities. Among his comments was that he would rather have one camel than four mules.[4]:38 Beale's comments led Floyd to report to Congress that camels had proved to be successful as a mode of transportation and to recommend that Congress authorize the purchase of an additional one thousand animals. Congress did not act. Beale and his party reached the Colorado River on October 26, 1857. After crossing into California, Beale used the camels for various purposes on his ranch near Bakersfield. Beale offered to keep the Army's camels on his property, but Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rejected the offer.[1]:405[4]:39–40

On March 25, 1859, Secretary Floyd directed reconnaissance of the area between the Pecos River and the Rio Grande using the camels still available in Texas. Lieutenant William E. Echols of the Army Topographical Engineers was assigned to conduct the reconnaissance. Lieutenant Edward L. Hartz commanded the escort. The train included twenty-four camels and twenty-four mules. It set out in May 1859. The expedition arrived at Camp Hudson on May 18. The group remained at Camp Hudson for five days then departed for Fort Stockton, Texas, arriving on June 12. On June 15, the expedition set out for the mouth of Independence Creek to test the camels ability to survive without water. The distance traveled was approximately eighty-five miles at four miles per hour. The camels showed no desire for water during the trip but were watered upon arrival. The party then set out on a 114-mile, four day journey to Fort Davis near the Rio Grande. During this segment of the journey, one of the camels was bitten on its leg by a rattlesnake; the wound was treated and the animal suffered no ill effects. Upon reaching Fort Davis, the horses and mules were distressed but the camels were not. After a three-day rest the expedition returned directly to Fort Stockton. Hartz wrote that "the superiority of the camel for military purposes in the badly-watered sections of the country seems to be well established."[4]

Another reconnaissance began July 11, 1859 From Fort Stockton to San Vicente, Texas, arriving July 18. The expedition traveled approximately twenty-four miles per day for seven days over extremely rough terrain. After camping one night in San Vicente, the party returned to Fort Stockton, arriving July 28.[4]

Robert E. Lee had first seen the camels in 1857. On May 31, 1860, Lee, who was still a U.S. Army officer and temporary commander of the Department of Texas, ordered Echols on another reconnaissance between Camp Hudson and Fort Davis; part of Echols' mission was to locate a site for a camp near the Comanche . The train consisted of twenty camels, off which only one was a male, and twenty-five mules. On June 24, the expedition, which was joined by an infantry escort commanded by Lieutenant J. H. Holman, marched from Camp Hudson toward the Pecos Rover. The camels again performed better than the mules did. As the march continued through extremely dry country, Echols feared for the lives of his men and the animals. On the fifth day the party reached San Francisco Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande, with almost no water left. Three mules died on this leg of the journey; all of the camels survived. After resting for a day at a waterhole, Echols led his command to Fort Davis. Echols decided that one man and nine mules had to be left at Davis because they were unable to continue. On July 17, the expedition arrived at Presidio del Norte near the Rio Grande. Echols found what he believed to be a suitable location for a camp. The expedition returned through Fort Stockton to Camp Hudson, arriving in early August. The detachment was released to its home post and the camels were returned to Camp Verde. Lee wrote to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper "...of camels whose endurance, docility and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed." The reconnaissance ordered by Lee was the last long-range use to the camels. before the outbreak of the Civil War.[4]


Early in the Civil War, an attempt was made to use the camels to carry mail between Fort Mohave, New Mexico Territory on the Colorado River and New San Pedro, California but the attempt was unsuccessful after the commanders of both posts objected. Later in the war, the Army had no further interest in the beasts and they were sold at auction in 1864. The last of the animals from California was reportedly seen in Arizona in 1891.[1][4]

In Spring 1861, Camp Verde fell into Confederate hands until recaptured in 1865. The Confederate commander issued a receipt to the United States for twelve mules, eighty camels and two Egyptian camel drivers. There were reports of the animals being used to transport baggage but there was no evidence of them being assigned to Confederate units. When Union troops reoccupied Camp Verde, there were estimated to more than a hundred camels at the camp, but there may have been others roaming the countryside. In 1866, the Government was able to round up sixty-six camels, which it sold to Bethel Coopwood. The U.S. Army's camel experiment was complete. The last year a camel was seen in the vicinity of Camp Verde was 1875; the animal's fate is unknown.[1][4]

Among the reasons the camel experiment failed was that it was supported by Jefferson Davis, who left the United States to become a rebel and President of the Confederate States of America that the U.S. Army was a horse and mule organization whose soldiers did not have the skills to control a foreign asset.[4]

One of the male animals at Fort Tejon was killed by another male during rutting season. Lieutenant Sylvester Mowry forwarded the dead animal's bones to the Smithsonian Institution where they were placed on display.[1]

One of the few camel drivers whose name survives was Hi Jolly. He lived out his life in the United States. After his death in 1902, he was buried in Quartzsite, Arizona. His grave is marked by a pyramid-shaped monument topped with a metal profile of a camel.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Have Gun - Will Travel episode "The Great Mojave Chase" (Season 1, Episode 3, 1957) features a camel retired from the US Camel Corps.
  • The Maverick episode "Relic of Fort Tejon" (Season 1, Episode 7, 1957) features a camel presumably retired from the US Camel Corps.
  • In 1976, Joe Camp directed and released a comedy loosely based on the U.S. Camel Corps titled Hawmps!.
  • A Confederate Camel Corps exists in Harry Turtledove's alternate history series of novels, the Southern Victory Series, set in a world where the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War. The book portrays the Confederacy fighting three additional wars against the United States in 1881, 1914 and 1941. Parts of the wars were fought in New Mexico, where the CSA used the "camelry".
  • Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert children's picture book, 2013, Doris Fisher (author), Julie Dupre Buckner (illustrator), published by Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana
  • Daughter of the Earth, young adult adventure ebook,2013, Stacy Bourns (author); the arrival of the U.S. Camel Corps to the Texas Hill country sets off the chain of events in the novel. The story features the Camel Corps before it left Texas for California.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Carroll, Charles C. (1903). "The Government's Importation of Camels: A Historical Sketch". Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Animal Industry, United States Department of Agriculture, Volume 20. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agtriculture. pp. 391–409. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hawkins, Vince (Summer 2007). "The U.S. Army’s "Camel Corps" Experiment". On Point (PDF) (Arlington, Virginia 22201: The Army Historical Foundation) 13 (1): 8–16. 
  3. ^ Bonsal, Stephen (1912). Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a pioneer in the path of empire, 1822–1903. G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 199–200. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lammons, Bishop F. (1958). Carroll, H. Bailey, ed. "Operation Camel". The Southwestern Historical Quarterly (Texas State Historical Association) 61: 20–50. Retrieved 6 September 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Beale, Edward Fitzgerald, Laurence R. Cook, and Andrew F. Rolle. Collection Related to Edward Fitzgerald Beale. 1940. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA 91108 United States. Abstract: The collection contains source material about Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1822–1893) which was gathered by Laurence R. Cook and later by Andrew F. Rolle. It contains original manuscripts which date from 1940 to 1983 (mainly student theses), correspondence (1951–1983), notes, copies of other materials, audiotapes and photographs.
  • Beale, Edward Fitzgerald. Wagon Road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River. 1929.
  • Beale, Edward Fitzgerald. With Uncle Sam's Camels. 1939.
  • Lockett, H. Claiborne, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Milton Snow, and Willard W. Beatty. Along the Beale Trail: A Photographic Account of Wasted Range Land Based on the Diary of Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, 1857. [Washington, D.C.]: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, 1940.
  • Faulk, Odie B. The U.S. Camel Corps: an army experiment, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1976
  • Fleming, Walter Lynnwood, "Jefferson Davis's Camel Experiment," Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 174 (Feb. 1909), pp 141‑152
  • Fowler, Harlan D. Camels to California; a chapter in western transportation, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 1950
  • Froman, Robert. "The Red Ghost," American Heritage, XII (April 1961), pp. 35–37 and 94–98
  • Lesley, Lewis Burt (ed.). Uncle Sam's Camels: the journal of May Humphreys Stacey supplemented by the report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1929. (reprint also available from Huntington Library Press, San Marino, CA, 2006).
  • Nichols, Harman W. 1956. "Army Recalls, Without Regrets, Camel Corps of 100 Years Ago." The Washington Post. December 15, 1956, Page B10.
  • Perrine, Fred S. (October 1926). "Uncle Sam's Camel Corps". The New Mexico Historical Review I (4): 434–444. Retrieved 15 July 2009. 
  • Stacey, May Humphreys, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, and Lewis Burt Lesley. Uncle Sam's Camels; The Journal of May Humphreys Stacey Supplemented by the Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1857–1858). Cambridge: Harvard university press, 1929.
  • Tinsley, Henry O. (March 1896). "Camels In The Colorado Desert". The Land of Sunshine 6 (4): 148–444. Retrieved 15 July 2009. 
  • United States. Reports Upon the Purchase, Importation, and Use of Camels and Dromedaries to Be Employed for Military Purposes, According to Act of Congress of March 3, 1855 Made Under the Direction of the Secretary of War, 1855-56-57. Washington, D.C.: [publisher not identified], 1857.
  • Yancey, Diane. Camels for Uncle Sam, Hendrick-Long Publishing Co., Dallas, TX, 1995

External links[edit]