- Historic Sites
The Red Ghost
The huge, cloven-footed creature that terrorized southeast Arizona was no figment of the mind. The grisly story of its origin and fate was more macabre in fact than any fiction
April 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 3
The question, that is, was whether the man was still alive when lashed to the animal’s back. If he were still living, hatred of the camel presumably was not the sole motive for the exploit. It is a nice point and doubtless never will be settled. But whether the man was alive or dead, it is clear that whoever tied him on the camel was a white man. The Apaches and other Indians of the area had many practices that seem to us cruel, such as killing captured infants, but they would never have considered wasting such a supply of meat as a camel.
Whoever did the deed succeeded in making the camel suffer, but like most members of its species, it refused to suffer in silent resignation. Although it killed only once, it attacked human beings nearly every time it encountered them during the first months of its agony. One of the few occasions on which it fled instead of attacking was when it was fired on by the party of prospectors who sighted it near the Verde River. A few days later a freighter halted his string of wagons for the night on the banks of the Verde some miles to the north. There were several kegs of whiskey in the cargo, a fact that may help account for some of the details of the reports the freighter and his helpers later gave concerning the events of that night.
As they told it, they had unhitched and hobbled their mules and were bedded down for the night when the comfortable silence was abruptly rent by an unearthly scream. A great beast which they estimated to be at least thirty feet high flapped down into their midst on black wings that covered nearly the whole sky. Its landing jarred the ground like an earthquake and knocked over two of the wagons. Terrified men and mules scattered in all directions, including into the river. When the men crept back to their camp the next morning, the only bits of evidence they could find were the prints of huge, cloven hoofs and a few red hairs sticking to one of the overturned wagons.
It is possible that some other depredations attributed to the camel in the following months were the work of other animals, of pranksters, or of the imaginations of the victims. To it were laid such feats as breaking into isolated cabins, caving in mine entrances, and stampeding cattle or horses. Only the last seems likely: the sight or smell of a camel always panicked horses and mules even in broad daylight until they had spent enough time around the humped creatures to get used to them.
The last known occasion of a violent encounter between the Red Ghost and a man occurred nearly a year after the camel had trampled to death the woman at Eagle Creek. One evening just at dusk a cowhand employed on the Anchor-JOT ranch east of Phoenix happened to ride past a branding corral used only at roundup time. That time was a long way off, and the corral should have been empty. It wasn’t. The cowhand rode up to the corral’s open gate to investigate the odd animal browsing inside.
It happened that the man had his lariat out. When the animal in the corral caught sight of him and came charging out, he automatically lassoed it. Not until he had the rope around its neck did he realize that his quarry was a camel. There was no time then for regrets.
His horse either was extremely well-trained or simply had no chance to bolt. Instead, it reared on its hind legs and pirouetted as it had been taught to do in avoiding a roped steer. But the camel did not pass harmlessly by as any bovine would have done. It crashed head on into the off-balance horse, and mount and rider went down together. With scarcely a break in stride the camel passed over them and on into the night. But even in the moment of terror the cowhand noticed that the camel still bore on its back the remnant of a burden which once had been a man.
That was not only the camel’s last attack but also the last report of anyone’s noticing the grisly pack it bore. In all likelihood it was able to rid itself of the remainder soon after this. With it the Red Ghost lost the goad that had driven it to violence and the unmistakable evidence that distinguished it from others of its species. As the years passed, it faded slowly from terrifying reality into a story to frighten tenderfeet with.
If that had been the end of the matter, it probably would have been forgotten long since or classed as just another of the West’s tall tales. But almost ten years after first being noticed, the Red Ghost made a final appearance. The Mohave County Miner reported the incident on February 25, 1893.
Another ghost is laid. Another of the tribe of gaunt hobgoblins that keep the romance of the mysterious southern deserts is gone. Another of the unearthly dangers that the timid Mexican women used to pray against has departed.
Mizoo Hastings of Ore was the priest that exorcised this phantom. Mizoo has a ranch a little above the gold camp on the San Francisco River. He woke up one morning and saw through the window of his cabin a big red camel banqueting in his turnip patch. Mizoo took a dead rest on the window sill and blazed away. He got the camel.
When he went out to examine the beast, he found that he was all scarred up and had evidently had a very hard time. He was covered with a perfect network of knotted rawhide strips. They had been on him so long that some of the strands had cut their way into the flesh.