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The camels, even though overloaded with corn, never looked back. As the horses and mules ate the corn—the camels didn't get any—the camels' performances got better and better. They lived off the desert, eating the thorny mesquite and bitter greasewood that the other pack animals wouldn't touch, and they could go for days without water. The dogs grew footsore on the rocks and whimpered to be taken aboard the wagons, but the camels plodded on without damage to their unshod feet and without complaint. They passed through Albuquerque and the place that was to become Flagstaff, Ariz. The camels swam the Colorado River into California, though Beale had thought they might refuse to. Camels feared water, he had been told. Some of the horses and mules were carried away by the current and drowned, but all of the camels made it.
In his long report to John B. Floyd, who had replaced Davis as Secretary of War, Beale wrote, "This noble and useful brute has spared us many hardships.... I am convinced of their entire adaptation and usefulness in the exploration of the wilderness." Floyd recommended to Congress that the Army buy 1,000 camels, a request that was never acted upon.
Two more long experimental journeys were made from Camp Verde, both of them in the deserts of western Texas, including what is now Big Bend National Park. The water holes were often as many as 110 miles apart. On one march the expedition reached the point of no return, so far as water was concerned, and didn't know where to find the next spring. The men and mules suffered horribly and would have died except for small amounts of water that the camels carried—and which they drank none of. The camels were unaffected by rattlesnake bites. They ate sagebrush, thistles and creosote bush and went three days in the summer desert without drinking. (A camel does not store water. It stores fat in its hump, and this is converted to energy as needed. Nearly all the Army's camels were one-humped Arabians, but some were shaggy two-humped Bactrians.)
Local businessmen eyed the camels and saw a good thing. "We look forward to the time when vast herds of these animals will be in use in our state," said a San Antonio newspaper. Several dozer Asian camels were imported from China to San Francisco. More Arabians were brought to Galveston from the Near East The owners were civilians who believed they had found an ideal new beast of bur den, cheap to feed and all but indestructible. But the camels were mistreated and overworked, and none of the enterprise prospered.
Beale was transferred East in the early 1860s, ending the Army's active experimentation with camels. The Confederate soldiers who took over Camp Verde in 1861 made little use of the camels during the Civil War. Those that had been marched to California were never marched back. They remained at Fort Tejon, near Bakersfield, packing supplies for the Army on short hauls.
The Camel Corps was officially disbanded in 1863, but it wasn't the camels' fault. After the Civil War the frontier quickly disappeared and railroads pushed across the Southwest. Only a few men ever believed in the camels or took them seriously. Many Army officers opposed them with closed minds—as others would oppose military aircraft 70 years later. The Camel Corps had been started by Jefferson Davis, that dirty rebel who later became President of the Confederacy, and that was a mark against it, too.
In the late 1860s, the Army sold both the Texas and the California herds, including many young camels born in the U.S. They were bought by carnivals, circuses, mining operations and even a few people who just wanted to own a camel. Some of them were worked to death hauling salt in Nevada. Others, abandoned in the deserts of Texas and Arizona, thrived and reproduced there until settlers moved in. They shot at the camels for fun, as men shoot at bottles and cans, and soon killed them off.
A few of the Moslem camel handlers went home. Others died in obscurity. An Arab named Hadji Ali accompanied the Beale expedition to California. He was known as Hi Jolly, a crude Americanization of his name. He became a wandering prospector in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts and died at Quartzsite, Ariz. in 1903 after nearly 50 years in the U.S. Near Interstate 10, Arizona has erected a monument to Hi Jolly's memory. It is a stone pyramid with a metal cutout of a camel on top of it.
A little traveling show came to San Antonio in 1903. With it was an Elderly camel that bore the U.S. Army brand. Camels live more than half a century; and this one had probably been born at the Camp Verde khan in the 1850s. Local newspapers ran stories, and people came to see the old camel and its brand. Then the little circus left town, and with its departure ends the recorded history of the U.S. Army's camels in Texas.