CHAPTER XXII. EXPLORATIONS FOR WAGON ROADS—CAMELS.
Felix Aubrey—Appropriations by Congress for Camels—Major Henry C. Wayne and Lieutenant D. D. Porter Bring Camels to United States—Habits, etc., of Camels—Lieutenant E. F. Beale's Expedition—Use of Camels—Lieutenant Beale's Route—Abandonment of Camels—Capture and Exportation—Greek George and Hi Jolly.
Felix Aubrey, who was identified with the Santa Fe Trade, was the first explorer of a wagon route over the 35th parallel, he having driven a wagon all the way from San Jose, California, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1854. Aubrey was accompanied by sixty men, and brought with him to Peralta the wagon which was driven the entire distance, thus furnishing irrefutable evidence that both a wagon road and a railroad were practicable to San Francisco over the 35th parallel. His notes of the journey were printed in the Missouri Republican of September 26th, 1854, and it is to be regretted that they are nowhere to be found in the Government reports, as Aubrey was a private citizen. He also drove over this route a band of sheep into California, without loss.
Aubrey, whose name is thus identified with the early history of Arizona, on his return from this last trip, met his death on the 18th of August, 1854, in Santa Fe, at the hands of Major Weightman in a personal encounter.
Jeff Davis, the Secretary of War, appointed Major Henry C. Wayne, of the United States Army, and Lieutenant D. D. Porter, of the United States Navy, to visit Cairo, Smyrna and other points in the East for the purpose of selecting the best camels and bringing them to the United States, to be used in transportation across what was then called "The Great American Desert." The camels were to be used as beasts of burden, their usual load being from six hundred pounds up to eight hundred pounds; the dromedaries to be used for express purposes. A daily journey for the camel was about thirty miles, but the dromedaries would go seventy-five. The advantage in substituting these animals for horses and mules over the desert country was that they did not require anything like the care of a horse or mule; that they could go for days without water and would subsist on the coarsest of grass and the sprouts of young trees. The camel was a hardy animal that could do good
Upon the first expedition, Major Wayne brought over thirty-three of these animals, nine dromedaries or runners, twenty-three camels of burden, and one calf. Among them were two humpbacked Bactrian camels for use in breeding with the Arabian female. This cross breeding produced a hybrid something like our mule, with only one hump, but much stronger and more serviceable than the ordinary camel. Six Arabs, one of them a Bedouin of the Desert, and a professed camel doctor, came over with the herd, which was successfully transported from Smyrna to Indianola, Texas, where they were landed on May 14, 1856. After they were rested up from their journey, they were driven by easy stages to San Antonio where experiments were made by Major Wayne who was in charge, all of which were very satisfactory. 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.
In the fall of 1857 Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, U. S. Topographical Engineers, was ordered to open a wagon road from Fort Defiance, New Mexico, to the eastern frontier of California, and a part of the herd of the camels was put at his disposal for this expedition. The journey was through a wilderness of forest, plain and desert, and occupied forty-eight days, when the Colorado River was reached on October 18th. Lieutenant Beale, in speaking of the work performed by the camels on this trip, declares that they saved the members of the expedition very many hardships, and excited the admiration of the whole party by their ability and willingness to perform the tasks set them. Being determined to give a most thorough demonstration of the practicability of using camels on such expeditions, he subjected them to trials which no other animals could have endured. They carried the water on the desert for the mules; they traversed stretches of country covered with the sharpest volcanic rocks without injury to their feet; with heavy packs they climbed over mountains where mules found it difficult to go, even with the assistance of their dismounted drivers, and, to the surprise of all the party, the camels plunged into rivers without hesitation and swam them with ease. Lieutenant Beale left San Antonio June 25th, 1857, and, on July 11th, he says:‘‘The camels are now keeping up easily with the train, and came into camp with the wagons.
In several places in his diary, Lieutenant Beale speaks in the same laudatory terms of the use of the camel, but it is significant that in his report to the Secretary of War, bearing date April 26th, 1858, there is no allusion made to these beasts. He speaks, however, in high terms
To do this he recommended that water dams be constructed at short intervals over the entire route, and that a few military posts be established, and a few bridges constructed, as he was of the opinion that if this were done, the whole emigration to the Pacific Coast would pursue this one line, instead of being divided and scattered over a half a dozen different routes.
In order at all times to produce a sufficient quantity of water, he recommends a system of dams across the ravines and canyons. He says that during the year he was engaged upon this work, he had not lost a single man, nor was there the slightest case of sickness in the camp, that the medicine chest proved only an incumbrance. Continuing, he says:‘‘My surgeon having left me at the commencement of the journey, I did not employ, nor did I have need of one on the entire road. Even in midwinter, and on the most elevated portions of the road, not a tent was spread, the abundant fuel rendering them unnecessary for warmth and comfort.’’
Lieutenant Beale's route led through the Zuni Villages to Navaho Springs, passing south of the San Francisco Mountains and crossing the Colorado about one hundred and twenty-five miles above The Needles.
After this expedition, the camels were used in various capacities during the time of the overland stages, but proved to be utterly useless, probably because inexperienced men were left to handle them. The true Westerner had no use for camels; horses and mules had an unconquerable fear of them; packers and soldiers detested them. In or about the year 1863, the remainder of the herd, about 14, was turned loose in Arizona, and left to make their own living without the aid or assistance of man. At this writing it is believed they are extinct.
In the year 1876, two Frenchmen gathered together thirty odd head roaming over the desert section north of the Salt and Gila rivers, and took them to Nevada for the purpose of packing wood and salt into the Comstock mines. These ungainly beasts, however, so frightened the freighters' mules and became such a nuisance that the old Comstock freighters notified the Frenchmen to take the animals out of the country, or else they would be shot. The Frenchmen then took them down to some mining camp in Sonora, which was the last ever heard of this particular band of animals.
In 1879, according to the Expositor of September 26th of that year, a great many camels were running wild along the banks of the Gila in Arizona. They were a source of much annoyance to the teamsters, sometimes making their appearance on the highway and frightening mules and horses. ‘‘We understand,’’ says that paper, ‘‘that arrangements are being made to collect the animals together and take them to Colorado where it is thought they can be sold at good prices.’’
It was one morning about five weeks ago, as I lay in my tent, that I saw the head of an animal peeking at us over the mesquite trees, which stood 15 feet high at the least. It could not have been a horse.
From this last statement it would appear that there are still some roving bands of camels along the deserts of the Lower Gila in the Ajo country. That part of the state is almost exclusively desert, and would make a fine home for these animals, if any remain, but the probabilities are that the camels not accounted for, have long since been killed by the Indians, and made into "jerky."
This is not the first time camels were introduced as beasts of burden into Western America. The same plan was tested in Spanish America three centuries before Jefferson Davis' time. The first animals imported into the New World were six females and a male, for which Pedro Portocarrero, of Truxilo, paid 8,400 ducats. They proved as useless in the deserts of Peru as they did later upon the sand dunes of the Gila.
Greek George, who accompanied Lieutenant Beale in his wagon road expedition, and, with Hi Jolly, had charge of the camels, when the Civil War commenced, left Arizona, and settled in California, where he died only a few years ago. Hi Jolly made his home in Arizona, being employed in various capacities by the military, several times as scout. He made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a pension from the United States Government, and died in poverty about the year 1902.