ONE HUMP OR TWO?WELCOME TO THE U.S. ARMY
Since there were no roads, soldiers and civilians were forced to travel on horseback with their supplies on pack mules. Railroads were still a generation away. After the end of the Mexican-American War, several million square miles of land were added to the United States, much of it desert and mountains. This took a dreadful toll on the horses and mules upon which the Army depended.
The following year, the U.S. Camel Corps was formed. Under the command of Wayne and Edward Beale, the Corps conducted a survey of unexplored territory between El Paso and the Colorado River. The skeptics among the party were won over by the camel’s performance.
Beale reported to Congress, “The harder the test they (the camels) are put to, the more fully they seem to justify all that can be said of them. They pack water for days under a hot sun and never get a drop; they pack heavy burdens of corn and oats for months and never get a grain; and on the bitter greasewood and other worthless shrubs, not only
subsist, but keep fat. . . I look forward to the day when every mail route
across the continent will be conducted and worked altogether with this
economical and noble brute.”
In 1858, the new Secretary of War John Floyd urged Congress to authorize the purchase of 1,000 more camels. Congress did not accept his recommendation, being preoccupied with the growing tensions between northern and southern states.
Among the many legends associated with feral camels is the tale of the “Red Ghost.” The first incident was in 1883, when a woman was discovered trampled by some beast, which left clumps of its reddish fur in a nearby thorn bush and huge hoof prints in the mud. Several days later, a large animal wildly careened into a tent in which two miners lay sleeping. It left behind hoof prints twice the size of those left by horses, and strands of red fur.
(note: Early camels actually originated in North America but were driven out by climate changes and hunting by early humans. They mostly migrated to Asia and Africa; some went to South America and became llamas. One hundred and fifty years ago they were reintroduced to North America by the U.S. Camel Corps.)