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The U.S. Army
Camel Experiment

"They Proved Efficient but
Suffered from Prejudice"

August 31-September 6, 2014
Historian Guides: Bill Sontag and Doug Baum

In the mid-1850s, the U.S. Army would employ the oddest recruits ever seen in this country. From the Middle East came a cavalry mount that would fare better than the horse against the Mojave in the Arizona Territory, against the Mormons in Utah Territory, and during the early stages of the Civil War.

Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War during the Pierce administration and a veteran of the war with Mexico, had seen considerable service in the southwest. Keenly aware of the role camels had played in other desert conflicts, he envisioned American soldiers astride dromedaries on the hunt and chase. He imagined camels carrying small artillery cannon on their humps, advancing Manifest Destiny farther and farther into the west.

Congress appropriated $30,000 for the plan, and the Camel Experiment officially began. The beasts proved to be exceedingly strong and could move quickly across terrain that horses found difficult. They thrived on plants other animals refused to eat. Crossing the southwest, they made it to California, proving themselves as pack animals on expeditions, where they stayed and worked along the west coast. The experiment was a rousing success, but with the Davis name on the project, it all came to naught in post-Civil War politics.

Join HistoryAmerica on this new, innovative tour. The incomparable team of historian guide Bill Sontag and Texas Camel Corps founder Doug Baum is uniquely qualified to lead you along these little-known Texas trails.

7 Days / 6 Nights

Cost: $2,575 Single Occupancy, $2,250 Double Occupancy

Click to request a 2014 printed Travel Guide.


Sunday, August 31
Gather in San Antonio for a briefing and welcome dinner hosted by Bill Sontag, Doug Baum, and HistoryAmerica TOURS.

Monday, September 1
Travel to Indianola this morning. Once a shining star in Texas history, this was a landing place on Matagorda Bay for 17th-century explorers and for German immigrants. It was also a supply depot for frontier forts. In 1856 the strangest shipment ever unloaded, camels, came ashore. Hear about the government's task of acquiring the camels in North Africa and transporting them here for service in the desert. Six years later, in 1862, Indianola was the site of Union gunboat bombardments and looting. Overnight in Victoria.

Tuesday, September 2
Stop at the grave site of Mary Shirkey, known for knitting a pair of camel hair socks for President Pierce, and then visit with a descendant of hers, Joella Smith. Afternoon stops include Frontier Times Museum in Bandera, where oddities abound, and the Camp Verde General Store, offering goods and services since 1857. We see the site of Camp Verde, a cavalry post and the permanent home to the camels under the direction of Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee. It was from here the camels began their expeditions, carrying supplies over mountain ranges impassable for wagons. Overnight at the Cavalry Barracks hotel at Fort Clark.

Wednesday, September 3
The history of Old Fort Clark tells the story of Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts, Buffalo Soldiers, and Col. Ranald (Bad Hand) Mackenzie, who used it as his base of operations for punitive raids into Mexico. Continuing northwest, our journey takes us through the Davis Mountains, the "Alps of Texas", an isolated range of peaks rising from the desert -- sun baked, rocky terrain suited perfectly to camels. The day concludes at Fort Davis.

Thursday, September 4
Today we visit Fort Davis and Fort Stockton, bastions on the frontier that served as retreats for thousands of travelers along the most southern route to California. Established in the mid 1850's, they garrisoned troops who protected migrants on the trail in constant fear of raiding Apaches and Comanches. Camels passed through here on expeditions to survey new roads, proving themselves superior to all other army pack animals, even saving lives of their handlers. Overnight in Fort Stockton.

Friday, September 5
A stop at Fort Lancaster is the highlight of our tour and brings us face to face with the extraordinary animals that have been the focus of our study this week. Meet Doug's camels themselves for photo ops and more. Return to San Antonio for our farewell dinner.

Saturday, September 6
Depart at your leisure following breakfast.

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Updated on 18 February, 2014