In the spring of 1855, Congress appropriated $30,000 for the War Department to purchase camels for military use on the Southwestern Frontier. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, a recent convert to the idea, dispatched Major Henry C. Wayne, QMC, on an exotic voyage to the Middle East for that purpose.
After an exhausting journey from New York to Constantinople and Alexandria, Major Wayne delivered the first cargo of 34 camels to the Quartermaster Depot in Indianola, Texas, in May 1856. "I have established the camels at this post," he wrote in a letter to the Secretary of War on 30 August 1856. With that the great experiment had gotten underway.
In the months and years ahead small caravans trekked from San Antonio to El Paso, and throughout the region. Despite some reported liabilities -- regarding the animal’s strong, distinct odor, spitting and regurgitating tendencies, razor-sharp teeth, and occasional aggressiveness -- the experiment was generally deemed successful. Camels were praised for their speed, endurance, strength, and adaptability.
The advent of the Civil War a few years later, and the capture of Camp Verde by Confederates more or less ended the experiment. After the war all 66 camels were sold for $31.00 apiece. Five of them wound up going on tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus, others roamed freely till their dying days.
Compiled by Dr. Steven Anders, former Quartermaster School historian
Event: U.S. Camel Corps established
Date: August - September 1856
"A good soldier, whether he leads a platoon or an army, is expected to look backward as well as forward; but he must think only forward."
- General Douglas MacArthur