The smell of wet sawdust, hay, and old manure is pungent. Your eyes water and your nose runs, but your saddled mount is waiting. Powerful legs stomp at the ready. You swing up, loosen the reigns, and click your tongue. A walk becomes a lope and a lope becomes a gallop. The wind steals your breath and tears your eyes until you pull the leather straps and call “Koosh.”
Riding a camel instead of a horse wouldn’t be that far-fetched today if a few powerful men had their way in the mid-1800s.
By 1853, the Mexican War and the Gadsden Purchase had added 934,670 square miles of open territory to America. California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming were no longer under Mexican rule. Thousands of settlers, pioneers, and immigrants eager to own a piece of the new land or to make their fortunes traveled through the great American Desert of the southwest. It was a dangerous unknown region with little water and even less vegetation inhabited by native tribes who resented the new trespassers.
A public cry for protection erupted. The Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, had to respond, but here was only a spattering of forts in the new frontier. Transportation and communication between them was almost non-existent. There was no railroad, no pony express, and no stage coaches. In addition, the territory was inhospitable to horses and mules. What could he do?
He could use camels!
In 1855, Congress agreed and an outlandish enterprise to substitute the camel for the horse and mule in the southwest began. Now it was up to a few men to determine if the “Great Camel Experiment of the Old West” would solve the transportation and communication problems of the military and win the hearts of a nation.