Saturday, July 15, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The US Camel Corps Part 1

   Bet you didn't know once upon a time, an Old West time, camels roamed the land like stray dogs. In the days and years following the Civil War, there they were, ornery and mistrustful, snarling at passersby like they owned the place.
   It started with an Army captain named George Crosman, who thought camels would make for good pack animals and transportation. His 1843 report was ignored for years, 'til a Major by the name of Henry Wayne took notice and made a recommendation to the War Department in 1848. This got the attention of future (sort of) president and then-Senator Jefferson Davis, who was on a military affairs committee.
   Davis then took the ball and ran to Congress in 1851 to get an appropriations bill for $30,000 to go get us some damn camels. He may have put a pillow up his back and danced around spitting on folks, but probably not. Truth is, that woulda made more sense to the Senators present. They said no thanks.
   Now understand, this was an Army Appropriations Bill. Meaning it was Discretionary funds. Unlike a Mandatory program, say these days, Social Security or whatever, where the funds get renewed every year no matter what. Discretionary is for a specific thing for a specific time. A department or committee or whoever comes over, asks for dough for this or that thing that year. This case, War Department asks for Army funds. New uniforms, weapons, new campaigns, etc.
   Davis wanted that kind of money. He wanted camel money, tacked onto the Army's yearly appropriations. Uniforms, weapons and maybe a few camels. Every year, Congress would decide what the Army (or whoever) got to spend freely on whatever came into their fool heads, based on these bills. I mention this, so we all know just how bad this man wanted damn camels walking around on American soil.
   Year later, 1852, he come back, but this time, said $20,000. No again, but Congress was split. House said camels sounds great, Senate said no camels. So, at least things were catching on for ol' Jefferson Davis. Public was even taking interest and several stand-up folks, eminent archaeologists and whatnot - who had experience with the animals - said in certain letters to maybe give the whole thing a try.
   (Jumping ahead to 1857, some thought it was such a hot idea, they formed "The American Camel Company" and actually imported a load of the things to Texas. There isn't much known what came of that, but it might explain a few of the brutes being seen near the town of Douglas late as 1941.)
   Back to 1853, Davis returned to Congress and made for another bill. Had his act together (he was Secretary of War, now) and brought Major Wayne and a few others with him and hit on the fact that the western frontier had expanded considerably.
   This, following the Conquest of California in 1846, and the Mexican American War following that. The Mexican Cession that came as a result of everything had given us California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Then the Gadsden Purchase on top, and, well: America was a whole lot bigger. Driving the frontier into this new territory, he said, establishing settlements, trade routes, sure as hell fighting Indians or Mexicans or even each other, was a certainty.
   And it was hard for folks to argue him. Far as most knew, this new territory was all mostly desert. Aside from the Texan-Santa Fe Expedition in 1841, no one had really been out there. There were immigrant settlements, sure, military outposts, but it wasn't a proper controlled or well-explored place. Davis was saying "Exactly, let's use an animal adapted to that environment, bring 'em over and try a few things. I'm sick of comin' here every ding-dang year. Just say yes."
   They said no, but he got his money anyway. Who knows how. The bill passed with no mention of camels, but a couple Senators managed to sock away 30 grand for 'The Camel Experiment'. Maybe they liked Davis' camel dance. Any rate, the paper went through and became law in spring of 1855 and ol' Jefferson was on his way.

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