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BULLEThistory archive

History Archive Photo
Descendants of the Camel Corps were said to have roamed the Southern Arizona deserts until the early 20th century.

© Arizona State Library

For more information about Hi Jolly Daze, call 928-927-6159 or visit www.quartzsitetourism.com.

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Hump Days
Although horses and mules carried most of the load in the Old West, there was a time, in the mid-1800s, when camels were used as well, and the man in charge was a guy named Hi Jolly.

By Sally Benford

Quartzsite Deserts and camels are a likely pair, but in the mid-1800s, the humpbacked mammals were as foreign to the Arizona desert as humpbacked whales. That is, until the United States Army decided to experiment.

Before the Civil War, westward expansion was a challenge in terms of travel and transporting goods. Back then, horses and mules were the main beasts of burden, and watering holes were few and far between, meaning that transport by horse- and mule-drawn wagons was slow going.

But in 1856, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis came up with a novel solution: camels. Under Davis' orders, two shipments of camels traveled from the Middle East to the American Southwest. Along with the animals came camel herders, including Hadji Ali, who became known in the United States as Hi Jolly.

Around the same time, Army Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale was appointed to lead a survey team and build a wagon route through Arizona, from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River along the California border. Beale used 25 camels as transport animals while building the 1,000-mile-long road, and Hi Jolly served as the camels' chief handler. During the expedition, Beale was impressed with Hi Jolly, and also with the camels' ability to carry much heavier loads than horses or mules. What's more, they could travel farther with less food and water. In his official report, Beale wrote, "My admiration for the camels increases daily with my experience of them."

But not everyone was enamored with the animals. The horses and mules were terrified of the camels, and the soldiers didn't know how to handle the unfamiliar beasts that would kick and spit their cud with exceptional accuracy. Still, the outfit dubbed the "Camel Corps" was deemed successful, thanks to the camel-whispering skills of handlers like Hi Jolly.

By 1861, with the Civil War looming, the camel experiment essentially died, and in 1864, the Army auctioned off the remaining camels to zoos and circuses. For a few years, Hi Jolly cared for some of the camels, and he worked with the Army as a mule packer, guide and scout until he settled in Quartzsite, where he prospected until his death in 1902.

Lost to history for many years, the legend of Hi Jolly and his camels was resurrected in 1934, when the Arizona Department of Transportation erected a monument over the herder's grave in Quartzsite. This month, visitors can pay tribute to one of the Old West's most colorful pioneers during the town's Hi Jolly Daze celebration.

>> Back to History Archive


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