One of the unique experiments in America’s military history was the U.S. Army’s Camel Corp. In 1855, after a good deal of urging by a number of people, the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, authorized the use of camels in the deserts of the southwest. Ships were sent to the Middle East and 75 camels were purchased and four herders hired to come to the United States. One of the herders was surprised that there were no camels in America and commented: “You must be years behind the times”. The camels arrived in Texas where a corral of prickly pear cactus was constructed – which the camels promptly ate.
At this same time President Buchanan appointed his friend, Edward Beale (the future founder of Tejon Ranch) to survey and create a road through the Southwest. Beale asked to use the camels for the work and then deliver them to Fort Tejon where they were to be stationed. Beale used 25 of the camels and they proved much more useful than horses or mules.
Camel – Fort Tejon – From the Ground up
The camels arrived at Fort Tejon in November of 1857 though the soldiers there would have little to do with them. They attempted to use them occasionally but with little success. The camels were very popular whenever they went to Los Angeles, however, and Harris Newmark wrote of them: “While headquartered at Fort Tejon, the camels came to Los Angeles every few weeks for provisions; each time creting no little excitement among the adult population and, as they passed along the streets, affording much much amusement to the small child.” Edward Beale probably made more use of the camels than the military did. The camels were eventually sold for work in the desert, to miners and to circus’.
Additional information may be found in “A View from the Ridge Route” series