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  • Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

    When Camels Came to Texas

    by Murray Montgomery
    Murray Montgomery
    Some Texans may not be know that once upon a time the Lone Star State was home to not only longhorns and buffalo, but another ornery and smelly beast the North African camel.

    Information obtained from The New Handbook of Texas Online reveals an interesting story of how the camel happened to find its way from the African coast all the way to Texas.

    The story goes that in 1836 the United States was already looking into the possibility of using camels in Florida because of the animals' ability to keep on the move with a minimum amount of food and water.

    When Texas joined the Union, it seemed that the tough old camel would be just what was needed to move supplies for the U.S. Army in its campaign against hostile Indians and Mexican bandits.

    On March 3, 1855, by an act of Congress, $30,000 was made available for the purchase of camels to be employed for military purposes.

    The following information was acquired from articles written by Chris Emmett in the book Texas Camel Tales (San Antonio: Naylor, 1932) and Odie B. Faulk's The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).

    The New Handbook of Texas Online compiled these selected passages.

    Camels 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.

    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 Indianola, Texas, 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.

    After 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.


    Murray Montgomery
    February 7, 2013 column
    More Lone Star Diary

    Related Articles:

  • The U.S. Army's Camel Corps by C. F. Eckhardt
    History's most successful failure
  • Camels by Mike Cox
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