Manual Story of the American West: Legends of Arizona

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Instead of submitting, the camel went berserk and trampled him to death before his friends could shoot it.

Famous Wild West Lawmen

This camel was the most fortunate of the imported Bactrians. Many of the others had to endure months of mistreatment before succumbing. Some of the mistreatment, however, was the result more of ignorance than of malice.

To the camel handlers the legend that the animals store great quantities of water in their humps was a matter of unquestioned fact, and it meant that so long as the humps seemed intact the camels needed no watering. In all likelihood many of the Bactrians died of thirst. The legend about water storage in the hump was imported with the camels from their Asian homes. Apparently Beale accepted it, too, but he and the Asian camel owners did not permit that belief to overrule their common sense. Their camels were of great value to them, and they knew from experience that even when the humps were big and firm the animals sometimes still needed water.

Beale learned this through observation. His camels could go much longer than mules without water and on occasion would refuse it when offered, but at other times, even though their humps were in fine shape, they drank deeply. The hump legend, or the alternative one that a camel stores water in one of its three stomachs, still is widely accepted.

The History of the American West Gets a Much-Needed Rewrite

The latter is cited as fact in at least one recent and generally authoritative work on natural history. Only in the last decade have two young researchers in comparative physiology, Drs. Knut and Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen, a husband-and-wife team, finally uncovered the truth.

In hot weather and under exertion, most mammals must lose moisture via perspiration in order to keep their body temperatures within a certain range. Evaporation of sweat has a cooling effect. A human being, for instance, functions properly only when his body stays within about one degree of When outside temperature pushes it toward the upper limit, he perspires faster and loses more moisture to counteract the rise.

Its temperature varies from 93 degrees in the predawn coolness to degrees in midafternoon. It still may have to sweat to some degree, though at a far slower rate than most other animals, in order to stay within the upper limit. If it carries heavy burdens during the heat of the day, it may lose sizable amounts of moisture.

A man can stand losing water amounting to only about ten per cent of his body weight. A camel can lose water amounting to more than thirty per cent of its body weight without much accompanying loss of strength.

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It is because it is adapted in these ways to desert life that the camel is able to carry heavy loads for as long as four days without water, as Beale accurately observed. Given lush, moist pasturage and comparatively cool weather, the animal has been known to go as long as four months without a drink, being able to obtain all the necessary water from the grass. But under the conditions in which they worked in Nevada, four days probably was near the limit.

Pushed beyond that, some of the Bactrians fought wildly for their lives and were shot; others plodded stoically on until they collapsed and died. With the death of the Bactrians, the dromedaries auctioned off by the Quartermaster at Benicia Arsenal in California and a few others that previously had strayed or been driven from army posts were the only remnants of the experiment still in Union territory. Another group of the animals somehow survived the war behind Confederate lines in Texas but was quickly scattered afterwards among circuses and zoos. The man who bought those auctioned at Benicia, Samuel McLeneghan, hired the little Arab, Hi Jolly, to help drive the animals to Nevada and tried to put them to the salt-hauling the Bactrians had been doing, but the freighters who had regained the contract for the work wanted no more camel competition.

The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy

At their behest the state legislature outlawed the use of camels on public roads on the grounds that they frightened horses and mules. Thereafter, the more fortunate of the camels were on their own. Since they were the product of several thousand years of domestication, being left to fend for themselves in the desert was a hard fate, but it was far better than what happened to those that occasionally were recaptured. Every now and then a group of prospectors or cowhands would run across a camel.

In most cases they simply used it for target practice. Sometimes an enterprising freighter would make an abortive attempt to put a few of the beasts back to work. But inevitably, some of the animals fell into the hands of sadists who found more imaginative uses for them. This was the apparent fate of the one which came to be known as the Red Ghost.

It seems the only possible explanation of the burden it bore on its back. But when it ultimately became possible to examine the animal, it was found that the rawhide strips which had held the burden in place could not have been tied the way they were by the man who was that burden.

If he were still living, hatred of the camel presumably was not the sole motive for the exploit. It is a nice point and doubtless never will be settled. But whether the man was alive or dead, it is clear that whoever tied him on the camel was a white man.

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The Apaches and other Indians of the area had many practices that seem to us cruel, such as killing captured infants, but they would never have considered wasting such a supply of meat as a camel. Whoever did the deed succeeded in making the camel suffer, but like most members of its species, it refused to suffer in silent resignation. Although it killed only once, it attacked human beings nearly every time it encountered them during the first months of its agony. One of the few occasions on which it fled instead of attacking was when it was fired on by the party of prospectors who sighted it near the Verde River.

A few days later a freighter halted his string of wagons for the night on the banks of the Verde some miles to the north. There were several kegs of whiskey in the cargo, a fact that may help account for some of the details of the reports the freighter and his helpers later gave concerning the events of that night. As they told it, they had unhitched and hobbled their mules and were bedded down for the night when the comfortable silence was abruptly rent by an unearthly scream.

A great beast which they estimated to be at least thirty feet high flapped down into their midst on black wings that covered nearly the whole sky.


Its landing jarred the ground like an earthquake and knocked over two of the wagons. Terrified men and mules scattered in all directions, including into the river.

When the men crept back to their camp the next morning, the only bits of evidence they could find were the prints of huge, cloven hoofs and a few red hairs sticking to one of the overturned wagons. It is possible that some other depredations attributed to the camel in the following months were the work of other animals, of pranksters, or of the imaginations of the victims.

To it were laid such feats as breaking into isolated cabins, caving in mine entrances, and stampeding cattle or horses. Only the last seems likely: the sight or smell of a camel always panicked horses and mules even in broad daylight until they had spent enough time around the humped creatures to get used to them. The last known occasion of a violent encounter between the Red Ghost and a man occurred nearly a year after the camel had trampled to death the woman at Eagle Creek. One evening just at dusk a cowhand employed on the Anchor-JOT ranch east of Phoenix happened to ride past a branding corral used only at roundup time.

That time was a long way off, and the corral should have been empty.

It happened that the man had his lariat out. When the animal in the corral caught sight of him and came charging out, he automatically lassoed it. Not until he had the rope around its neck did he realize that his quarry was a camel. There was no time then for regrets. His horse either was extremely well-trained or simply had no chance to bolt.

Instead, it reared on its hind legs and pirouetted as it had been taught to do in avoiding a roped steer. But the camel did not pass harmlessly by as any bovine would have done. It crashed head on into the off-balance horse, and mount and rider went down together. With scarcely a break in stride the camel passed over them and on into the night. Cowboys were illiterate and worked hard, dirty jobs. Few Americans did at all until an ingenious ad campaign popularized tooth-brushing in There were always men a few desperate women were virtually captive in sad prostitution and nearly starved , but they came from all over the planet: In Wyoming alone, with a population of 10, people, there were at least 56 nationalities, including Germans, Irish, Italians, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Chinese, Russians, and Slovakians.

Another truth was that the Native Americans who had populated the area and were pushed out were not savage killers but mostly peaceable and friendly, and notably cleaner than the settlers. And for some more myth-busting: One of the most defining scenes of the Wild West era—the Gunfight at the O. Corral at all. The famous gunfight occurred at about P. The shooting occurred near the current intersection of Third Street and Fremont Street, which is actually behind the corral.


Hosted by Mandi Wimmer. Oxford Press, Taylor Trade Publishing, Penguin Random House Publishing, Harvard University Press, All tracks courtesy of Pond 5. Society For American Baseball Research, Penguin Books, Biographies of players, coaches, managers and officials: SABR. Baseball statistics: baseball-reference. View Episodes. Season 2 — Tombstone A 5-part series on the events that led to the most famous gunfight in the American West, and the destruction that followed.