The Texas Camel Experiment

While visiting the Texas Ghost Town of Indianola, one of the last things you’d expect to find is a sculpture of a camel, but that’s exactly what we came across just feet from Matagorda Bay. Indianola, once one of the largest port towns in Texas, rivaling Galveston, was destroyed by a huge hurricane in 1886, not to be rebuilt. Today, little remains of the town except a small fishing village, bayside beach and camping, and various memorials to what once was.

One of those memorials is of the 1856 Camel Experiment, in which the U.S. Army imported camels to Texas, which they hoped could survive the hot weather and further the westward expansion. In all, 75 camels, both one and two hump, arrived in Indianola on 2 separate trips, after enduring a long, 3-month voyage from Egypt. They were taken to Camp Verde in Kerr County, South of Kerrville. The camels quickly proved their worth in the harsh Texas backcountry, besting both horses and mules as pack animals. While Camp Verde is also gone, what remains is the unique Camp Verde General Store and Restaurant, which pays tribute to both the history of the Texas Hill Country and the camels that lived at Camp Verde, and is a must if you are in the area!

The Camel Experiment included the Beale Expedition, in which 25 camel were taken to California. The project remained until the Civil War, when Camp Verde was taken by the Confederates and many of the camels escaped or were mistreated and even killed. Following the war, the remaining camels were disbanded and sold to individuals and circuses. Many of the escaped camels roamed the area, but a camel that made it to Arizona became something of a legend. Named The Ghost, an ethereal spectre was said to haunt the desert riding atop a hellish looking creature! Of course, most of these locals had never seen a camel, and those that did had no reason to see one. A farmer eventually spotted the animal and shot him, only to find that an injured rider had apparently tethered himself to the animal in hopes or staying on and reaching help, which he had not done. As the corpse slowly decomposed, his head eventually fell off, creating the West own version of the Headless Horseman!

However, this certainly wasn’t the first time camels were in Texas. During a visit to the Waco Mammoth National Monument, one of the best mammoth sites in the country, and features a the dig site of a family of mammoths who were suddenly buried during a flash flood of the Bosque River during the Ice Age, we were shown the remains of a prehistoric camel, also buried during the flood! Just as the mammoths went extinct, so did the North American camels. The Waco Mammoth National Monument offers a viewing platform for observing the dig site on guided tours, but they also have an Excavation Station for kids to learn the methods used by Paleontologist in uncovering the animal’s remains, as well as a chance for them to earn their Junior Ranger Badge!

Today the Texas Camel Corp., a private venture overseen by Zookeeper Doug Baum, travels the state giving visitors a chance to learn more about the animals and their history in Texas. In addition to seeing them at several historical reenactments, such as one of our favorites, Bethlehem Revisited in Waxahachie, which takes place the first two weekends of December, one of the many, many Nativity events they do during the month. Baum also offers overnight and 3-day tours of Big Bend on camels, following the trail of the historic 1857 Beale Expedition.

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