U.S. Army Camel Experiment

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U.S. Army Camel Experiment (1855-1866) - The experiment to determine if camels were better suited than mules and horses for service in the southwestern United States was authorized by the Congress when they appropriated $30,000 for the camel project on 3 Mar 1855.

Old Camp Verde Preserved Officer's Quarters.
Benicia Arsenal 1854 Camel Barn.


In 1854 then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis wrote in his annual report to the U.S. Congress of the need to use of camels and dromedaries for military and other purposes in the desert southwest. Congress appropriated $30,000 for the camel project on 3 Mar 1855. Major Henry Constantine Wayne (Cullum 954) was detailed to procure the camels. The USS Supply, under the command of U.S. Navy Lieutenant, David Dixon Porter, took Major Wayne to the Mediterranean and Africa to procure the animals and hire some native handlers. They returned on 14 May 1856 with thirty-four camels and five handlers docking at Indianola, Texas. Porter was sent back for more camels and Major Wayne moved the existing herd to Camp Verde via San Antonio. Porter returned from his second trip with forty-one more camels and ten handlers. The herd at Camp Verde then numbered seventy camels and some fifteen hired handlers.

Beale Expedition

In 1857 Congress authorized a contract to survey a wagon road along the thirty-fifth parallel from Fort Defiance (4) to the Colorado River near Fort Yuma. A former Navy lieutenant, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, won the contract not knowing that he was required to take twenty-five camels with him. The first part of the trip required traveling from Camp Verde to San Antonio then to Fort Davis, El Paso, Albuquerque and ending at Fort Defiance. The expedition left San Antonio on 25 Jun 1857 with twenty-five pack camels and a mule-drawn wagon train, arrived at Fort Defiance and then continued on to the Colorado River near Fort Yuma arriving on 26 Oct 1857. Beale was impressed with the suitability of the camels for this kind of expedition. He continued on with the camels to the vicinity of Fort Tejon in California.

U.S. Civil War

During the U.S. Civil War camels were used in an unsuccessful attempt to carry mail between Fort Mohave and Drum Barracks, California. The commanders of both posts objected and the remaining camels were sold at auction in 1864. After the end of the war in 1866, the Government rounded up sixty-six remaining camels and the camel experiment was ended.

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