in Texas On May 10, 1855, Maj. H.C. Wayne received the special
presidential assignment. The naval store ship Supply, in command of Lt.
D.D. Porter, was placed at Wayne's disposal. Wayne traveled ahead to study continental
use of camels.The
U.S. Army's Camel Corps by C. F. Eckhardt
After trafficking down the North African coast and spending
$12,000 for desirable beasts, he returned with thirty-three camels, three Arabs,
and two Turks. Thirty-two of the camels plus one calf born at sea, arrived at
on April 29, 1856.
On June 4, Wayne started his caravan westward. They
stopped near Victoria, where the animals were clipped and Mrs. Mary A. Shirkey
spun and knit for the president of the United States a pair of camel-pile socks.
The camels were finally located at Camp Verde, where several successful
experiments were made to test the camels' utility in the pursuit of Indians and
the transportation of burdens.
Wayne reported that camels rose and walked
with as much as 600 pounds without difficulty, traveled miles without water, and
ate almost any kind of plant. One camel trek was made to the unexplored Big Bend.
During the Civil War eighty camels and two Egyptian drivers passed into
Confederate hands. The camels soon were widely scattered; some were turned out
on the open range near Camp Verde; some were used to pack cotton bales to Brownsville;
and one found its way to the infantry command of Capt. Sterling Price, who used
it throughout the war to carry the whole company's baggage.
In 1866 the
federal government sold the camels at auction.
The failure of the camel
in the United States was not due to its capability; every test showed it to be
a superior transport animal. It was instead the nature of the beasts which led
to their demise — they smelled horrible, frightened horses, and were detested
by handlers accustomed to the more docile mules.
Two private importations
of camels followed the government experiment. On October 16, 1858, Mrs. M.J. Watson
reported to Galveston
port authorities that her ship had eighty-nine camels aboard, and claimed that
she wanted to test them for purposes of transport.
One port official,
however, felt that she was using the camels to mask the odor typically associated
with a slave ship and refused her petition to unload the cargo.
two months in port, Mrs. Watson sailed for the slave markets in Cuba after dumping
the camels ashore in Galveston,
where they wondered about the city and died from neglect and slaughter around
the coastal sand dunes.
A second civilian shipment of a dozen camels arrived
at Port Lavaca in 1859,
where it met a similar fate.
February 7, 2013 column
History's most successful
by Mike Cox