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Camels for Arizona (Part 2) Written by Dorothy Daniels Anderson



Initially, horses and mules stampeded at the sight of these strange animals. Handlers had to learn a whole different way to deal with them and often didn't care to learn. Nonetheless, by the end of the journey, the experiments appeared to be a success.

After such a promising beginning, have you begun to wonder why we don't see camels everywhere? Why are there no camel farms, camel shows and camel races in Arizona? Why are there no cowboys with their faithful companion, the camel? What Happened?

Everything changed overnight. The long years of conflict between the Northern States and the South Exploded into a Civil War. No longer could the military afford to keep isolated desert outposts for mail and supply service. Troops now needed for the war were withdrawn from the Southwest. Urgent military orders prevented Major Wayne and Lieutenant Beale from continuing to support these fascinating animals. In the confusion of war, camels were forgotten.

In time, a few were sold as pack animals, but the majority were simply allowed to escape into the desert. For many years they could be seen wandering in the foothills around Gila and Colorado Rivers. Eventually some were shot, some were captured, and some just disappeared.

Yet, the legacy of the camel experiment lingered on. About thirty years later, a camel was captured by a man from the Fort Yuma area. Here, he thought, was a way to make a little easy money. His scheme was to take the animal to Phoenix and sell it to the highest bidder. Surely someone would want to buy this exotic beast. But no one wanted to purchase his dromedary. Having invested considerable time and money into his venture the man became desperate. What was he to do?

He owed money to a man in Phoenix and tried to give him the camel as payment for the loan. Knowing some information the other did not, the Phoenix man happily took the animal. A circus was scheduled to come into town in the next month. Te new owner was certain that he could sell the camel to the circus and realize a handsome profit. Now all he had to do was take care of the animal until the circus arrived.

That task proved more complicated than anything he had imagined. He asked a friend if he could board his camel in the alfalfa field where the friend kept his mules. The man agreed and that evening the camel was put in the field. the next morning disaster met their eyes. Every mule, frightened by this uncouth alien, had tried to escape. Each was caught up in the barbed wire fence, while the camel was happily eating all the alfalfa in sight. The owner of the field promptly demanded that the camel be removed.

Next the man decided to leave the camel in his own back yard. But that didn't work either. Every time the lady next door would attempt to drive by in her horse and buggy, the horse upon seeing the camel, would rear up and try to jump into the buggy with the lady. She complained to the officials . The camel had to go.

The owner needed to come up with a new plan. Another friend of his owned a popular saloon next to which he kept a stable. Why not put his camel into the barn until the circus arrived? The animal could entertain the saloon's customers and hopefully stay out of mischief. But the barn door was not tall enough and no amount of pushing and shoving could persuade the camel to go inside. Eventually, the barn door had to be enlarged. None of this helped the disposition of his friend, or of the camel, who stayed sulking in the barn for a week refusing to eat or drink. Then one night, the camel proceeded to eat everything in the barn, including some bailing wire, kick open the door and escape down the street. After all these difficulties the owner congratulated himself on being relieved of a major nuisance.

But the night had only begun and before it was over that camel would be remembered in Phoenix for dozens of years.

The first incident occurred in the early morning hours. A rancher was bringing into Phoenix a wagon heavily loaded with hay. He had decided that he would test out a skittish new team of four mules. One moment he was quietly riding along the road, next to the canal, congratulating himself on his smooth handling of the team. The next moment he noticed some strange shambling object coming swiftly down the center of the road. That was the last thing he remembered until he awoke to find his miles hightailing it off in all directs and his wagon in the canal sinking fast.

A few minutes later, a little farther up the road, a butcher was driving a large herd of hogs to market. After months of carefully feeding and fattening his animals, he was dreaming, in the stillness of the early morning, of his impending profits. Suddenly, he caught a fleeting glimpse of something coming down the middle of the road like a stampeding tornado. Mare moments later, the butcher was left standing along on the bank of the canal, viewing a hog-less landscape. Distant grunts and terrified squeals came from all direction. For weeks afterward, the local newspapers ran articles of hog sightings all over Phoenix.

Was it over? Not yet. Before the camel disappeared into the desert he left a trail of upset buggies, frighted horses and irate citizens. A for the hapless owner, he quickly left town.

Are there any camels still left wandering our vast desert area? Probably not, but the legend lives on.

Some say their ghosts remain. Occasionally, at twilight one can see a huge red camel wandering out on the desert. On its back sits the bleached skeleton of a man, who many years before, dying of thirst, strapped himself onto the camel, hoping that even if he became unconscious, the camel would eventually lead him to water.

Others say that the ghost of crazy old prospector can still be seen roaming the hills with his three faithful camels, loaded with a treasure of gold.

After the Civil War, the army never resumed its experimenting with camels. Railroads eventually solved the transportation problems across the Southwest. Time makes recollections vague, but until his dying day, the Turkish handler, Hi Jolly swore there were camels out there. Are some of their descendants still wandering in our desert? I don't know, do you?

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