Wild Camels in the Desert: Legacy of the U.S. Army Camel Corps

Wild camels once roamed American’s southwest. Oh not the original ones. The first camels that evolved on this continent traveled the land bridge to Asia, leaving only their cousins the llamas behind in the New World.

The camels I’m talking about were part of the U.S. Camel Corps, brought over as ancamel-loading-gh-heap.jpg experiment in controlling transportation costs for supplying military outposts of the American southwest. The army had to maintain posts a days journey apart and keep them supplied with forage , or alternatively carry forage in separate wagons. The cost was astronomical. So in the 1850’s about 75 camels were brought to Texas and used to carry freight.

In the meantime these camels were also being used privately on ranches. It was while moving some of these camels that the nation’s first and only “camel cavalry charge” took place. In 1849 they were trying to cross the Colorado River into California with camels when a large war party of Mojaves showed up and looked ready to attack. The civilian laborers mounted the camels and charged, routing the Mojaves.

In 1860, experiments were made with racing camels. It was hoped the camels could be used to carry “camel express” mail. The racing experiments proved unsuccessful. Camels excelled at heavy loads carried slowly.

After 1860, Siberian camels were imported to San Franscisco, and ended up in Canadian mining operations. Eventually these were turned loose and became wild herds. In 1864 the decision was made to sell off the army’s remaining camels. Mules and horses could be used with less expense, and while the camels were good in the sand of the Middle East, the rocky terrain of the southwest damaged their feet and made them less reliable. These camels too were turned loose or escaped into the desert. Camel sightings were reported across Texas, Arizona, and California.

In the meantime, camel races and historical reenactments have become popular in towns that want to remember their historical camel roots and attract tourists during the winter months.


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