The story dates back to 1836 during the second war against the Seminoles; Amerindian tribes of the Creeks who fled the Spanish conquerors to Florida. George Hampden Crosman an officer in the army referred to the role of camels as animals of burden that lived a thousand years ago in North Africa and Asia and advanced the idea of making use of them in the sweltering heat of Florida. In 1846, at the beginning of the American Mexican war George Crosman, became general of the division and at the end of the conflict decided to convince the senators concerning the project.
Among these senators Jefferson Davis, also a veteran of the American-Mexican wars, who later was nominated Minister of War in 1853, began to lead an active campaign with the members of the Congress to collect the required funds to import the camels. This campaign was a success and in 1855, the Congress dispensed 30 000 dollars to procure these animals for military function.
A year later the first camels arrived at the port of Indianola, in Texas and it was from 1857 to 1858 that these animals were deployed for the first time in a one year expedition to cover 6 500 kms with the aim of outlining a track for wagons between New Mexico and California. True to its reputation this “noble animal” impressed the officers by finding water supply points, and crossing streams with ease and also helped them to take a land survey of the Big Bend, the arid region in West Texas. These camels equally proved their excellence against an attack during a desperate charge while crossing a part of the Mojave Indian territory but when the war of Secession broke out, curiously enough the army forgot them. These animals were later sold at auctions and scattered among stockbreeders who also used them for different tasks of hauling and dragging.
During this time, the Texan herd that contained about eighty animals, fell among the Confederates and landing in the front line one of them Old Douglas, perished during the siege of Vicksburg in 1863. Others were scattered in the desert and some of them could still be seen in the south west part of the country for a few decades. The last of these survivors was Topsy that died in captivity in 1934, in the zoo of Griffith Park, Los Angeles.
Forrest Johnson’s work in fact provided surprising information, concerning the North American origin of this animal, its impressive speed and also its preference to the thorny trees of the desert than to grass. The author also reveals that their padded feet which enabled them to walk on the desert made them actually vulnerable to the rocky vegetation predominant in the south-west of the US.