The Red Ghost

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During and after the Civil War he was to serve as a Union general and as minister to Austro-Hungary. He was the sort of man to whom new ideas appealed, and having resigned his Navy commission in 1851 to devote himself to western exploration, he accepted, at Wayne’s urging, an Army lieutenancy and appointment to the Camel Corps.

After several months of training with the camels, Beale was assigned to survey a route from Fort Defiance, New Mexico, to the eastern frontier of California, across the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. For the expedition he chose twenty-five of the best camels from Wayne’s herd and from the additional forty-four brought in on the second trip by Porter. By the time he had completed the survey of what is now approximately the route of the western half of the famous highway, U.S. 66, he was convinced that the camel was the solution of the Southwest’s transportation problem.

“My admiration for the camels increases daily with my experience of them,” he wrote in the official report of the survey which he submitted in the spring of 1858. True, in his report Beale allowed his affection for the animal to influence him. He had become so fond of camels that he even learned a bit of Arabic on the theory that they might be homesick for that language. One big white camel, which stood eight feet high at the hump and which he called Seid, was his favorite mount, and he gave it more care than most frontiersmen gave their horses. But there was also undoubted justice in his claims for the camels. By careful experiment he had established that in nearly any kind of terrain to be found in the Southwest, three camels could carry on their backs as much as six mules could pull in a wagon and cover the ground nearly twice as fast. Furthermore, when the expedition forded the Colorado River from Arizona into California, all the camels swam it with ease, but a dozen horses and mules were swept away by the current and drowned. And, as a final test, at the end of the journey Beale took a dozen camels north from Los Angeles into the Sierra Nevada, and found them readily adaptable both to high altitudes and to cold weather.

All this finally convinced the War Department. In December, 1858, John B. Floyd, who had succeeded Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War, formally declared the experiment a success and recommended to Congress the importation of a thousand more camels. By then, however, Congress was too busy with the preliminaries to the Civil War to give the matter any consideration. This was fortunate for the animals that might have been brought over, since the camels already on hand were finding themselves strangers among men for whom strangeness justified utter barbarity.

Major Wayne and Lieutenants Beale and Porter seem to have been very nearly the only Americans who understood and valued the animals, and when war neared, all three were transferred to duty in the eastern part of the country. They left behind only three others who had any appreciation of the camels’ potential usefulness. These were three remarkable Levantines who had been signed on by Lieutenant Porter during his second and final camel-buying trip to the Near East. All of them apparently knew at least a little about camels when hired, were able to leafri more, and eventually became the Army’s most expert camel handlers. One was a Turk named Elias, who ultimately settled across the border in Sonora and whose son, Plutarco Elias Galles, was to become Mexico’s president and strong man in the igao’s. The other two, Georges Xaralampo, a Greek, and Hadji AIi, a cheerful Arab who came to be known affectionately as Hi Jolly, stayed with the Army for many years and tried repeatedly to convince others of the camel’s value. They had little success, but Hi Jolly became so widely known and so closely identified with his charges that Arizona officials eventually erected a commemorative monument over his grave and topped it with an effigy of a camel.

This was many years after the little Arab’s death, when the camels had become only a vague, colorful memory. Such a monument would have been inconceivable to the men whom Wayne, Beale, and their Levantine helpers tried to train as camel drivers. To nearly every cowhand and mule skinner who came in contact with them, the camels were incomprehensible abominations, and the feeling was mutual. Camels are among the most thoroughly domesticated animals, but they take knowing. To their North African and Asiatic owners they are of such value that they are treated with care and respect. Unlike the horses, mules, and cattle to whom the southwestern cowhands were accustomed, they have highly effective means of retaliating when they do not receive such treatment.

The legend of the old-time cowboy’s affection for his horse is in large part a Hollywood invention. Owen Wister included in the first draft of one of his stories an incident in which an enraged cowhand gouged out the eyes of a horse. He was begged by Theodore Roosevelt to delete the scene, not because it was unrealistic but because it might “encourage cruelty to animals.” Even sane riders often brutalized their mounts unmercifully. And mule skinners were so called with good reason; they were quite capable of removing bits of the animals’ hides with the weighted whips they used. But when anyone tried to treat camels in this way, he got back as good as he gave. There were many repetitions of a little set-to which took place at Camp Verde in Texas soon after the first camels arrived.