Cowboys on Camels

camels-blogThe arrival of camels in the American Southwest in the 1850s failed to bring a chorus of cheers from the packers and muleskinners. They should have been welcomed as they could carry 800 pounds, live off the local forage, and go for long periods without water. Besides that they could travel anywhere from 35 to 75 miles in a day. Alas, the homely beasts had terrible breath and were known to be extremely temperamental. It seems the female only came in heat once a year while the males were perpetually horny, something that probably explains their irascible demeanor. Couple that with a spirit of intractable independence they were difficult to manage. The muleskinners hated them, packers and teamsters cursed them unmercifully while horses and mules shied when they ambled by. The language barrier presented no small problem. The Americans couldn’t speak Arabic and the camels wouldn’t learn English. Following the old adage “it takes a camel driver to drive a camel,” the government had the foresight to import camel drivers. They were a colorful bunch with names like Long Tom, Short Tom and Greek George. These weren’t their given names but had to do as the Americans couldn’t pronounce their Arabic names anyway. The most famous of these was Hadji Ali and since that one didn’t roll off the tongues of the Americans his name was corrupted into Hi Jolly.

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