I may choose to ignore people who comment anonymously. I choose never to be anonymous online myself. I have little tolerance for this behavior.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What If The Mormon Pioneers Had Used Camels?

This idea is not as strange it may seem at first.  First, I'll explain about camels then I will evaluate them for Mormon Pioneer purposes.


Camels were brought to the United States as part of an experiment in the 1850s. The U. S. Camel Corps was an attempt to see if they would perform better than horses and mules in traversing the harsh southwest for military purposes. Congress finally decided to fund the idea and about 75 camels were bought in the Middle East and transported to Texas. One big problem was that the camels didn't speak English. So, they imported some camel drivers as well. Hi Jolly was the most famous. See also "Arizona's Camel Military Corps and Hi Jolly."


The imported camel drivers knew how to handle camels and the camels could understand their commands, like cushing. To see a live camel cushing, view the video below where Gil Riegler demonstrates with one of his camels from the Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona, California. Gil and his wife Nancy operate the only camel milk dairy in the United States.

Camels are so big, you have to have them lower themselves in order to ascend, descend or to put packs on them. It can be tricky as the video below illustrates.
The camel experiment was a success but the Civil War and official indifference put an end to it. In addition, horses, mules and men were frightened of the animals and their stench. The camels were eventually sold to private individuals, circuses and some roamed free. Naturally, reports of feral camels lingered into the 1900s. See links below for more resources:


The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment by Odie B. Faulk
THE US ARMY CAMEL CORPS from Drum BarracksThe Camel Experiment from Texas Bob
History of Arizona, Vol. 1, CHAPTER XXII. EXPLORATIONS FOR WAGON ROADS—CAMELS.

Chris Emmett and Odie B. Faulk, "CAMELS," Handbook of Texas Online

Camels demonstrated their usefulness in traveling over hostile terrain with little water, heavy packs and punishing conditions as the following illustrate:
In 1857, a former Navy lieutenant, Edward Beale, set out from Texas in command of the U.S. Camel Corps and seventy-five of the animals. Beale's experiment proved camels could pack a ton of goods--four times as much as a prime mule--cover forty miles a day and go ten days without water. They swam across the Colorado River and plowed through three feet of snow. Their drivers boasted that "camels would get fat where a jackass would starve to death." Despite Beale's success and then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis' hope that camel cavalry would frighten violent Apaches into submission, the Civil War put the Camel Corps out of business.
It was found that three camels could carry as much as six mules could draw in a wagon over that country, and could travel twice as fast as the mules. They could, upon occasion, for a day or two at a time, carry burdens of eight hundred to a thousand pounds. (p. 355) 
It was during the transfer to San Antonio that Major Wayne overheard a number of grizzled Texans comment with some cynicism on the camels; allowing that they would have a bleak future in the United States. They "walked funny" and didn't look as if they could tote much. Wayne ordered a kneeling dromedary to be loaded with two bales of hay, each weighing 300 pounds--more than triple what a prime mule could pack. The onlookers murmured in disbelief. "That hoss will never stand with that load." At the major's signal, two additional bales were cinched to the beast's pack saddle--the total: 1,256 pounds! "Impossible! Not a chance in h---!. Cain't be done!" . . . .Wayne nudged the camel, which obediently lurched upright and strode off with the load. The crowd broke into cheers. The dromedaries had won their first supporters. When the grand experiment was over, Beale would prove camels could carry enormous loads--some up to a ton--walk forty miles in a day for as many as eight to ten days without water over barren country. They could swim--and did, across the Colorado--and function in sand or snow. Their drivers swore "camels would get fat where a jackass would starve to death."

More importantly, the camels proved their mettle when the expedition became lost and its water supplies dwindled. Only the camels were fit to go on. They found a river 20 miles from camp, and led the expedition to it, then looked on with indifference as men, mules, and horses gulped the water they were desperate for. Triumphantly, the Camel Corps pushed on to the Colorado River, its mission a success. The camels had won over the skeptics among the party. There were others in Washington however, who had not seen the beasts in action, and who remained unconvinced of their worth.
Some of what I've read suggested the camels did fine in rocky terrain. However, the one hump dromedaries (Arabian) camel do not have a true hoof. Their foot spreads out to allow them to float on the sand. Two-humped Bactrians are better suited to rocky terrain and intense cold. This is why they do well in the Gobi desert.


It would appear than a small number of bactrian females were brought over to breed with the dromedaries which produced a type of camel mule, so to speak. They are the largest camels and the interbreeding would have produced a camel well-suited to the conditions faced by Mormon pioneers. (Hybrid camels aren't sterile, unlike mules.)


However, camels still frightened people, horses, mules and probably oxen although I can't find any evidence of that. Camels are remarkably versatile provided they are well-managed. Also, If you aren't used to the stench it would have been difficult to endure them.


Some military people complained the camels would spit at and hold grudges against those who mistreated them. (I guess other livestock accepts mistreatment more easily.) Camels aren't afraid of anything or anybody. Nothing rivals them in strength, size, tenacity or any other trait you want to think of. They really are gentle giants considering what they are capable of.


Camels could easily have held up on the trail since they can carry heavy packs, walk easily on rough terrain, carry people as well as cargo and go without water for long periods of time.


Camels have all the characteristics and traits the pioneers needed but I'm forced to conclude that simple unfamiliarity would have doomed any effort to utilize them.


If Arab converts had brought them with them then I am certain they would have been a phenomenal success. But primarily English and Scandinavian converts wouldn't have been able to utilize them properly.


We simply didn't convert enough Arabs, or perhaps . . .  any Arabs?

No comments:

Post a Comment