June 26, 2014
Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert by Doris Fisher, illustrated by Julie Dupre Buckner
Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert
by Doris Fisher
illustrated by Julie Dupre Buckner
In 1856, a ship carrying thirty-three camels sailed from North Africa to Matagorda Bay, Texas. The journey took 3 months and the camels withstood the stormy seas much better than did the two handlers who accompanied them. When they disembarked, there were even 34 camels since one of them had given birth on the journey.
The camels were brought to this country to act as desert transport for the military since the railroads were not yet completed. They could easily go for 3 days without water and feed on the scrub along the way.
That said, they also frightened horses, ate the cacti that had been planted to fence them, and no Army man could stay in the saddle once a camel reached a full gallop. Only their North African handlers could accomplish this feat.
To prove to the local people just how handy these animals could be, the Major in charge took a camel into town. He had his men strap two bales of hay onto the animal. People grumbled. Then he had his men add two more bales for a total of over 1200 pounds, the weight of 6 men. The weight didn’t kill the poor camel as many town’s people worried. It slowly stood and carried the load down the road.
The US Camel Experiment is one of those curiosities of American history. I’d heard about them growing up. After the Civil War, they were auctioned off but stories circulated then, and are told in the light of campfires today, about escaped camels roaming the desert.
Pick this one up for the history buff in your life or the young animal lover. This little known bit of American history is sure to stir the imagination.