Camels in the West

camel-corps-blogBefore the coming of the railroads the task of transporting goods across the great southwestern deserts was never an easy one. The terrain was rough enough to tear up the feet of horses in a short time. Water was always scarce and suitable forage for the animals made it necessary to carry the feed on pack animals, taking up valuable space.

The first American to come up with the idea was 2nd Lt. George Crossman during the Florida Seminole Wars of the 1830s. He pitched the idea to Major Henry Wayne who in turn pitched to Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis. When Davis became Secretary of War 1853-1857, he pitched it to President Franklin Pierce for an appropriation. After Congress appropriated the money Major Henry Wayne accompanied Lt. David Porter on the USS Supply to the Middle East to purchase some camels and as it turned out some camel drivers, perhaps the first Muslims to immigrate to America.

On February 15th, 1856 the ship set sail for America with 33 camels on board. On the way one died and two were born so they arrived on May 14 with a net gain of one camel. The beasts proved amazing. They could carry 800 lbs. and travel 30 miles a day. The dromedaries could to as many as seventy-five. They could eat the grass along the way and go without water for longer intervals than mules and horses. Their feet were coarsely granulated and didn’t wear down on the rocky terrain.

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