We’re all familiar with the presence of camels in Egypt, but did you know these creatures once roamed the desert in Arizona?
Don’t start planning a safari to the Southwest just yet, though.
Today, we’re digging into the history of these animals to determine if they’re still on the loose and whether or not you can hunt them.
Let’s saddle up!
Why Are There Camels in Arizona?
In the 1800s, surveyors began mapping out a route for the Transcontinental Railroad. Their only means of transportation at the time were horses and oxen, but folks were uneasy about trekking out into the desert without more capable companions.
That’s why US Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, appealed to Congress for a grant to purchase three dozen camels. The government approved his request, and $30,000 later, the US Army Camel Corps was born.
Major Major Henry C. Wayne and Admiral D.D. Porter traveled to Egypt and returned with 75 of the animals. They quickly adapted to their new environment in Texas.
After several years, some caravan members found their way to other parts of the desert Southwest.
However, not everyone was on board with the new livestock. The so-called “mule lobby” caused an uproar due to dwindling sales of their own pack animals. In turn, the Army canceled subsequent orders for imported camels.
By this time, the robust animals had gained a reputation for their strength and ability to survive on very little food and water. Several Arizona-based mining companies made their own purchases and employed camels to transport goods along the rugged terrain.
Although camels were far more capable than other livestock, they proved unnecessary once workers completed the Transcontinental Railroad.
The Story of Hi Jolly and the Camels of Arizona
When the military sent over the inaugural shipment of camels, they also hired a Syrian handler named Hadji Ali to tend to the flock. The experienced camel driver accompanied Texas Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale on a grueling mission.
The two men took a caravan of the animals from Fort Defiance, Arizona, to California and back around to Texas. Each animal carried between 600 and 800 pounds. At a pace of thirty miles per day, the camels lumbered through the desert, proving worthy of their reputation.
Sadly, with the US Civil War underway, the government refused to invest more resources into the project.
Ali, who had become popular among military troops and nicknamed “Hi Jolly,” found himself far from home without a job.
After auctioning off most of the herd, he attempted to start a transport service with the remaining creatures. It was a short-lived venture, and he set his last camel free in the desert near Gila Bend, Arizona.
Nonetheless, Hi Jolly ultimately found happiness. He married a local Tucson woman and had two children before passing away at 73. Locals memorialized him with a tomb in Quartzsite. The pyramidal crypt is made of quartz and petrified wood and includes an inscription describing the beloved resident.
Visiting Quartzsite? Here are 7 Ways to Make Your RV Trip to Quartzsite More Enjoyable.
Who Was the Red Ghost?
For years after the failed camel experiment, lone camels wandered the Southwest. However, not everyone had seen such a creature or even knew they existed.
Stories began to spread about the devil riding a gigantic red horse. He would terrorize campsites, tip over wagons, and generally wreak havoc.
For over a decade, reports of sightings came in throughout eastern Arizona. Any time there was a sighting, people attacked it out of fear.
But when a farmer finally killed him, it came to light that the beast wasn’t some sort of cryptid. And it wasn’t the devil on his back. Instead, the Red Ghost was a camel. Strapped to his back was the corpse of an unknown man.
It’s unclear whether the rider died of natural causes or his body was attached to the camel as a means of disposal. Regardless, we can understand why the poor animal was so distraught. We would’ve been upset, too!
Is It a Crime to Hunt Camels in Arizona?
When camels came to Arizona in the 1800s, state officials enacted laws that made hunting them illegal. After all, they were part of a military experiment.
While it appears no one faced charges for animal abuse in the Red Ghost case, we found one incident where officials enforced the rule. An unidentified game warden cracked down on a traveling circus with about a dozen camels.
Although the circus had no intention of killing the camels, the warden threatened them with excessive fines if any turned up dead.
Today, it seems those laws are no longer on the books. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can hunt them.
Although some swear that camels still roam the American Southwest, you’d be hard-pressed to find one in the wild. If you do happen upon one, we suggest that you admire it from afar and let it live.
Plan your Arizona trip with the Arizona Bucket List Adventure Guide.
Where Can You See Camels in Arizona?
Feral camels may not roam the Arizona desert these days, but there’s at least one place where you can get up close and personal with these creatures. At the Phoenix Zoo, you can do more than ogle these majestic animals. You can ride them, too!
Camel rides are one of the most popular attractions at the facility, and it costs less than ten dollars per person. You won’t want to miss out on this experience if you’re in the area.
Other animal encounters include Monkey Village, Stingray Bay, and giraffe feedings. You’ll also see Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, Bornean orangutans, and much more.
There’s more than just the zoo in Phoenix: 9 Best Things To Do in Phoenix, Arizona.
No Camel Hunting in Arizona
The fascinating history of camels in Arizona still astonishes people today. You can’t hunt the creatures, and it’s best to avoid pursuing them for sport. After all, the Red Ghost endured enough terror for the rest of the population. If you do see one, please treat them like the wild animals they are, giving them distance and respect.
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