Camels of the American Southwest / A Trip Into History

Why the army was interested in camels is a story in itself. Most historians attribute the camel idea, or at least the original one, to George H. Crosman who served with the army in the Seminole Wars in Florida.

george crosman camel corp

George Crosman

The Camel Idea?

Starting in the 1830’s Crosman promoted the use of camels to the federal government but not with much success. The American frontier in the 1840’s ran basically on a line from Minnesota down through Missouri and then through Arkansas and east Texas.

The arid regions of the desert southwest were outside the American domain and were explored and governed by Spain. When Spain was expelled in the 1820’s the region was ruled by Mexico. Because the U.S. frontier at that time was far from the desert southwest, the camel, which was associated with the desert regions of the Middle East, was not on the government’s radar to replace the horse or the mule. Nothing came of Crosman’s idea.

The Camel Experiments of Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis fought in the Mexican American War. He was aware about the problems of military and civilian communication and travel in desert regions. When the war ended the U.S. military would need to travel throughout the arid southwest not to mention future railroad survey crews.

Two HistoricTrips to the Mediterranean

In 1855 Jefferson Davis sent the U.S.S. Supply on a voyage to the Mediterranean for the purpose of bringing back camels to the U.S. The vessel made another trip to the Middle East in 1856.for the same purpose. The destination of both boatloads of camels was the Texas coast.

jefferson davis army camel corp

Jefferson Davis who authorized the U.S. Army Camel Corp

The U.S.S. Supply was one of the most active supply ships during this era and during the later Civil War. It’s exploits to the Middle East during the 1850’s made United States Naval history. Jefferson Davis arranged for the camels to be brought to an area near Victoria Texas and nearby Camp Verde and San Antonio. When the camels arrived the local populace was quite excited and amused.

The camels also created a stir among the horses and mules who picked up the camels unique scent. Both the horses and mules became agitated when the camels appeared. The situation was such that teamsters had to be told in advance when the camels were transported inland from the coast so they could make certain their horse and mule teams were out of the area.

Below are Three Interesting Trip Stops Regarding the Army Camel Corp

Hi Jolly and Quartzite Arizona

There’s a few unique sites you may want to add to your western trip planner that is part of this unique military camel experiment.

One of these unique sites is located in Quartzsite Arizona, about 80 miles north of Yuma Crossing and 129 miles west of Phoenix Arizona on the north side of Interstate 10.

hi jolly grave site quartzite arizona

Hi Jolly grave site in Quartzite Arizona

Today Quartzsite is very popular with winter RVer’s and there are many major gem and mineral shows scheduled during the months of January and February which bring in over one million visitors.

Quartzsite is also the final resting place of a man who was referred to as Hi Jolly, a man much involved with camels in Arizona. Hi Jolly was a name given to him by the military men he worked with. His real name was Hadji Ali and he was also later known as Philip Tedro. Born in the Ottoman Empire of Jordanian parentage Hadji Ali (pictured with Gertrude Serna below right) was the first ever camel driver hired by the U.S. Army. His job was to drive camels through the American Southwest during the army’s experiment using camels as beasts of burden.

hi jolly quartzite arizona

Hi Jolly Monument plaque

The story of Hi Jolly and his work with the U.S. Army during the mid 1800’s is an interesting tale of experiments and American exploration into a new region…the arid desert southwest…this new land taken over by the Americans as a result of the Mexican-American War.

Camel Treks and Historic Reenactments and Exhibits

The Texas Camel Corps guides camel treks through the Big Bend region of Texas. Camel trekking is like backpacking, only without having to carry anything. When you tire of riding, you can walk.

Led by Texas Camel Corps owner Doug Baum, participants must be able to walk 5-7 miles per day and provide their own sleeping bag, water container, small duffel bag or backpack and change of clothes. Camels, all other camping gear, and meals are provided. The location is Gearhart Ranch, Scenic Fort Davis Loop, Fort Davis, Texas. For more information about Texas Camel Corps events see website www.texascamelcorps.comThe Camel Stables at the Old Benicia California Arsenal

The Camel Barns which were built in 1855 can still be seen at the old Benicia Arsenal whose grounds now house the Benicia Historical Museum in Benicia California. Benicia is located northeast of San Francisco along Suisun Bay. Benicia is about a 35 mile drive from San Francisco.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Southwest Expedition

The expedition in Texas was in-part conducted by a Major Henry C. Wayne who was quite familiar with the southwest having served with General Kearny in California during the Mexican War. Also recruited was Edward Fitzgerald Beale who was a former lieutenant in the Navy. Beale also recommended the appointment of one of his relatives, Navy lieutenant David Dixon Porter, to join the group. Porter went along with the U.S.S. Supply in it’s two voyages to find camels and drovers in the Mideast.

trans pecos region texas

The Trans Pecos Region of Texas

After the end of the Mexican-American War, the Army was needed to produce further surveys and construct additional wagon roads. Edward Beale was of big importance in this endeavor having ridden with Kit Carson throughout the southwest during the war.

The camels were brought to San Antonio on June 21, 1857 to be loaded. Beale set out across the south Texas plains and desert on June 25th and arrived in El Paso on July 27th.  A stop was made at Fort Davis along the way. The journey passed through the dangerous Camanche lands, referred to as Comancheria, but without incident. When the caravan passed near to Mexico many of the locals came out to see these strange animals. On the trip up the Rio Grande to Albuquerque much the same occurred when the group passed through villages.

Performance of the Camels

Durring his travels with the caravan Beale made several interesting reports about the camels. He reported that the camels could travel continuously in a country where other barefooted beasts couldn’t last but a week. He further noted that the animals could live on anything and thrive. Beale said that on an extremely hot day the animals didn’t take a drink of water for over twenty-six hours.

Westward Toward California

When the group reached Albuquerque, Beale rode up to Santa Fe to make his report to the military authorities there. On August 13th the group headed out west to Ft Defiance where they were to meet a detachment under the command of a Colonel Loring.

From Fort Defiance the caravan followed the 35th parallel where their real work would start. That was a survey for a wagon road westward to the Colorado River. The expedition was not actually the very first to traverse this region since they did have a map with them drawn up during a 1853 expedition to survey a railroad route. This route today somewhat follows Interstate 40 through the northern part of Arizona.

The caravan continued westward from the Zuni Pueblo and did encounter some Pueblo Indians and Apaches along the way but all meetings were peaceful. Upon reaching the Colorado River, the crossing, while a bit difficult because the camels could not swim, was not as hard as predicted. The camels were roped together in gangs of five and were able to cross.

fort tejon california

Old Fort Tejon Barracks exhibit today

Moving further westward they split up and a group went to Los Angeles and another to Fort Tejon. The Mojave Desert crossing seemed to be uneventful since Beale only devoted a few sentences to it in his journal.

Beale left the camels at Ft Tejon and started a long journey eastward to Washington to make his formal report to Secretary of War Floyd. Eventually the camels in both California and Texas were costing the government a lot of money but nobody knew what to do next with the camels and Congress began to stop funding..

The Experiment Ends

Secretary Floyd and others were proponents of camel usage throughout the military, however the majority were not. A few military commanders in the west wanted to do other experiments with the camels of a purely military nature. Could these sturdy beasts possibly replace many of the horses? They could subsist on almost nothing so could this help the army in it’s consolidation of the southwest? After much debate and the start of the American Civil War the funding for the camels decreased and for all practical purposes the use of camels by the government and by private industry came to an end in the 1870’s.

Wild Camels Roam the Desert Southwest

In 1891, nine camels roaming on the western edge of Death Valley appeared before the eyes of two gold miners who thought they were seeing ghosts.  This was decades after the camels were brought to North America. The miners, Shep Searcy and Charlie Fisher, were lying down at the time, trying to drink from a mud puddle, when Shep said: “Do you see what I think I see?”  Fisher replied: “I don’t know what you see, Shep, but it looks like Barnum’s circus to me.”  Shortly after that, the camels snorted, and ran away.  When the miners reported their brief encounter to residents of a nearby town, people thought they were crazy. The camel experiment as long forgotten.

benicia arsenal

Benicia Arsenal in 1878

In October 1891, camels caused a cattle stampede outside Harrisburg, Arizona.  Men stood around, amazed, not knowing what to do, when Harry Wharton, one of the original camel teamsters, approached to stroke one of the camels across the knees.  The camel readily knelt.  Harry then shot the animal dead.  Two Mexicans stripped the carcass and sold the meat to an unsuspecting butcher.

In the 1890s, passengers on Southern Pacific trains reported seeing camels pacing the sands of Arizona Territory.  In 1901, in western Arizona, a Southern Pacific train ran over and killed one of the animals.

(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History)

The Mountain Howitzer

 

Mountain Howitzer at Sutter's Fort, Sacramento California

The Mountain Howitzer was one of the most effective weapons employed by the U.S. Army Cavalry during the latter part of the 1800’s. The Mountain Howitzer was essentially a compact cannon that could easily be taken along by cavalry units on the field. Ironically, it was the Mountain Howitzer that was not taken along by George Armstrong Custer during the Sioux War of 1876. If he had not declined bringing along this weapon the history books may have been written differently. The Mountain Howitzer’s compact size and portability was ideal for such cavalry expeditions.

The Mountain Howitzer was built in several styles, with the 12 pound gun probably the most used in the frontier west. Being first designed in Sweden during the latter 17th century, the practical utility of this weapon goes back to Europe and the Peninsular War when the Spaniards used these weapons against Napoleon. That war began in 1808 and ened with Napoleon’s defeat in 1814.

You’ll also enjoy our article and photos of Military Cannons used at our old west coast forts.

Mountain Howitzer at Fort Union New Mexico

In America, the Mountain Howitzer saw action in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and during the various western Indian wars. The Mountain Howitzer got it’s name because the original cannons were taken apart for transport into the mountains and then reassembled when needed. The weapons were designed to be portable. The twelve pound designation means that the cannon shot a twelve pound cannon ball.The Mountain Howitzers were often referred to as “Bull Pups”. The barrel was 38 inches long with a 4.62 bore. These small yet powerful cannons had a range of from about 900 to 1,000 yards.The first models were made in bronze. The later models of the howitzer were affixed to small carriages and these could be pulled along by horse or mule with little trouble.

An interesting story comes from the two Mountain Howitzers on display in Old Town Albuquerque’s plaza. The howitzer’s made there way to Albuquerque during the Civil War when the confederates made a push north into New Mexico. At one time, the Confederates occupied Albuquerque on their way further north. Their advance was stopped at the historic Battle of Glorieta Pass just to the east of Santa Fe. There are two Mountain Howitzers located on the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque just a few miles west of the modern downtown location. These are exact replicas of the cannons that were in place there during the Confederate occupation in 1862.

Mountain Howitzer exact replicas in Old Town Albuquerque

The Howitzer barrels were buried when the Confederates retreated. In 1889 all eight barrels that were buried were unearthed when an officer returned to the site and showed where they had been buried. Because of the great historical value of these eight barrels they were eventually place in the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History which is located only three blocks northeast of the Old Town plaza. The museum is a great addition to a trip planner for anyone visiting or vacationing in Albuquerque. The exact replica Mountain Howitzers on the plaza today are mounted on “Prairie” gun carriages which were thought to be the type utilized by the Confederate troops.

You may be interested in these related articles…The California State Military Museum and a Tour of Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento.

When you travel around the United States you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see these historic Mountain Howitzer cannons at many locations. In addition to the cannons located on the Albuquerque Old Town plaza is an authentic Mountain Howitzer on the grounds of the Fort Union National Monument in northern New Mexico between Raton and Las Vegas. You’ll also see a Mountain Howitzer on display at the Fort George G. Meade Museum in Maryland, Sutters Fort in Sacramento California, Fort Sill Oklahoma, the Sheldon Prairie Museum in Sheldon Iowa, Fort Laramie in Wyoming, Fort Concho in San Angelo Texas and at many other historic sites and old military forts.

The California State Military Museum and the State’s Volunteer Union Company

The California State Military Museum is a gem of a military museum. This venue is the official state of California museum for everything military. California has a very extensive military history. From the early Spaniard colonization, to the Mexican rule during the early 1800’s, to the occupation of United States troops in 1848. Because of this centuries old era of European occupation, California has in it’s possession countless artifacts of each era. One of these collections involves Civil War firearms, uniforms and flags. If you are traveling to the Sacramento California area, this is a military museum not to miss.

california state military museumCalifornia became a state in 1850 during the frenzy of the great California Gold Rush. When the American Civil War broke out, California was in a very remote region in regards to the fighting. In fact, there were no official battles fought on California soil. The Blue and the Gray did not meet in California. All the same, California was quite involved if only on a undercover basis. Regular army troops were largely called back to the eastern battlefields. This was the case throughout the west. The first California Volunteers were formed to guard against a potential Confederate takeover. Battles were fought in both Arizona and New Mexico. One of the most reported on was the Confederate defeat at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico not far east of Santa Fe. The outcome of the Battle of Glorieta stopped the Confederate advance into Colorado and the southern plains. During the Civil War the southern section of New Mexico Territory actually seceded from the Union when the Confederates set up in Tucson.A significant battle there was the Battle of Picacho Pass. The defeat for the Confederacy at Picacho stopped their western advance. This battle is often referred to as the westernmost battle of the Civil War involving regular Confederate forces.

california volunteer sergeants uniform

California Volunteer Sergeants Uniform

California, aside from being geographically remote from the rest of the U.S., was inhabited by a large variety of people, mostly due to all of the different people the Gold Rush attracted. People from the midwest had settled in California as well as people from the south. Democrats were a majority in the state, but southern Democrats a minority. Regardless, in 1861, a group of southern Democrats made an attempt to get California and Oregon to secede from the Union. That attempt met with failure. The largest threat was in the southern part of California. Many southern Democrats, sympathizers, and discontented Californios posed the real problem and it was in that part of the state that southern sympathetic volunteers organized militia units. The term Californio is a Spanish term for a Californian. This distinguished a Californian from the Native Indian population. That southern threat was eventually put down by Union forces still in the region. The southern question had reared it’s head back at the time of original statehood in 1850. From the outset California had declared itself as a non slavery territory. When the issue of granting statehood reached Congress there was opposition from southern lawmakers. The northerners in Congress obviously were able to overcome this largely because of the vast gold wealth in California and because of it’s enormously increasing population. There were several attempts by many southern Californians to push for secession from the Union during the 1850’s, and one measure actually reached Congress. After Lincoln’s presidential win in 1860 that measure was quickly set aside and died. The war of secession in California went nowhere.

civil war california cavalry hat

California 100 Cavalry hat

While President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to join the Union side and imposed a draft, he didn’t apply this executive order to California. A state like California was asked to form a volunteer force to take over the responsibilities of the regular army. These duties were essentially to protect wagon trains, stagecoaches and to try to keep the Indians in check. Many volunteers in the case of California much preferred to fight the war in the east as imposed to local service. While patriotism influenced the volunteers who wished to fight the Confederacy on the eastern battlefields, the volunteers who stayed in the west to replace the withdrawn regular troops no doubt were also making a large contribution. It’s a well known fact that after the regular troops were sent east, Indian depredations increased. While many may have thought that service in the far west was not quite as glamorous, if war could be considered glamorous, as serving in the east, there is no question that the California volunteers who stayed in the west were providing a very necessary service to the Union. They also were on hand if thoughts again rose for a war of secession in that state.

A group contacted the governor and offered to raise a company of 100 volunteers to go east. Californians had been well aware of the war going on thousands of miles away and many wanted to enter the conflict. The governor accepted the offer and the California unit was formed as a separate company of a cavalry regiment from Massachusetts. Officially they became Company “A” of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, but they were more popularly known as the “California Hundred’. This Civil War regiment would ultimately travel to Boston by ship through the Panama Isthmus. Their passage was paid by the bounty they received for joining the Union Army. Everything worked out so well with this first company from California that another 400 men went east in 1863 again via ship through Panama. The second contingent of volunteers were referred to as the California Battalion. There was also a group known as the California Battalion that served during the Mexican American War of 1848.

civil war rifles

Civil Wat era vintage rifles

The three vintage Civil War rifles on display at the California State Military Museum pictured right are a 1863 Springfield Percussion Musket .58 Caliber. Below it is a 1860 Springfield .52 caliber short barrel and on the bottom is a 1855 Springfield Percussion .58 caliber rifle. The Springfield rifles were heavily used during the Civil War.

The Californians formed Company A in the Massachusetts regiment that was headquartered in Boston. The entire Massachusetts regiment was then sent south to the Baltimore area and then into Virginia. For about a year between 1863 and 1864, the Califonia 100 saw a lot of action against John S. Mosby’s Confederate Rangers. Sending troops back east from California was only one of the state’s contribution to the Union war effort. Much needed gold was shipped back east. Troops from southern California entered what is today the state of Arizona via Yuma to confront Confederate forces who had taken over much of the southern part of the New Mexico Territory. The most significant action was at Picacho Pass in April 1862.

During the Civil War, the California company’s casualty total were eight officers and eighty-two enlisted men killed. Another one-hundred and forty-one were lost to disease. Many more were lost to sickness as opposed to deaths during battle.

spanish spurs

Spanish or Californio style spurs

Many artifacts of this era are on display at the California State Military Museum. In 1993, Civil War artifacts, on display at in the State Capitol were moved to the California Citizen-Soldier Museum to exhibit, maintain, and preserve. In 1994 the California Citizen-Soldier Museum was made the official military museum for the state. In 1995 the museum was renamed the California State Military Museum. The museum today boasts over 33,000 military artifacts. These include weapons, uniforms, unit records, battle flags, photographs, personal letters, newspaper articles and medals.

In addition to California Civil War artifacts are large displays of Spanish and Mexican era artifacts as well as exhibits pertaining to World War Two. The California State Military Museum is located in Old Town Sacramento California. As military museums go, this is one you’ll want to visit during your next California vacation or western road trip.