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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Chronicle of the Old West: The Great Camel Experiment of 1855

Today people use horses and mules to pack provisions back into the wilderness… However, because of an experiment that started on March 3, 1855, and a twist of fate a few years later, packers could quite possibly be using… camels.

Were it not for a twist of fate today you could quite possibly be seeing camels being used for packing and transportation. It all started back on March 3, 1855 when then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis got Congress to approve $30,000 for checking out the possibility of using camels as pack animals.

About 75 camels were imported into Southern Texas. One of the officers involved in the camel unit was Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee. Even though local citizens didn’t like the camels because they smelled awful, and horses were scared to death of them, Robert E. Lee was very impressed with their performance.

Two years after the approval of funding by Congress, a caravan of 25 camels headed from Southern Texas to California. It arrived four months later with many of the soldiers crediting their survival to the camel’s ability to carry extra water. The men in the field praised the experiment as a success.

This is where a twist of fate enters the picture. During this period of time the southern states began succeeding from the Union. Both Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee left the army to become a part of the Confederacy.

Their replacements were not fans of the camels. And then along came the Civil War and the army’s attention was directed elsewhere, and what was called “the great camel experiment,” became a thing of the past.

Some of the camels were later used to transport goods in the Los Angeles harbor area. But several of them got loose and started wandering around.

You know, even today people visiting the southwest deserts report hearing strange and eerie sounds and ghosts in the image of camels.

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