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A member of the Texas Camel Corps. (Image: mlhradio)

The United States Army Used Camels Until After the Civil War

When the first American settlers started moving west, their horses and mules weren't cut out for the long, dry treks

smithsonian.com

Camels aren't an animal most people associate with the vast plains of the United States. But the camel has a long, mostly forgotten history in this country. At NPR, Wade Goodwyn reports that, up until the end of the Civil War, camels were a key part of the United States military strategy.

It all started in the 1850s, when the first American settlers started moving west. Their horses and mules weren't cut out for the long, dry treks between water sources, and many settlers realized that they needed a different animal. General Jefferson Davis shipped in camels, Doug Baum, a camel-trekker in Texas, told Goodwyn:

"The U.S. actually sent a sailing ship, the USS Supply, twice. And they bought camels in the modern countries of Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and what's now Turkey," Baum says.

Eventually, hundreds of camels would be in use in the Big Bend by the Army and private owners. What happened to them all? After the Civil War, everything that the Confederate traitor Davis had touched was scrubbed away — and that included the Army's camels. The railroads finished them off. By the 1870s, they were mostly gone.


Today, Baum and his colleagues are trying to bring the camel back. The Texas Camel Corps, as they're called, takes groups through Texas's Big Bend on their camels' trusty humps. And according to Baum and his partner Jason Mayfield, all the things we think about camels are totally wrong. "They aren't mean, they don't spit (it's the camels' cousin, the lamas, who spit), and they're every bit as smart as a horse — if not smarter," writes Goodwyn.

So next time you're considering a road trip, perhaps consider adding camels to the itinerary.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Camels May Have Transmitted a Deadly Virus to Humans
Clovis People Hunted Canada’s Camels

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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