Ever heard of the U.S. Cavalry’s attempts at replacing horses with camels? Historian, author and podcaster Scott Rank joins me on this episode to learn more about this little-known event in U.S. history.
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Dan LeFebvre: [00:02:44] This week, I’m super excited to be joined by Scott Rank. Scott is a historian. He earned his PhD in history from the Central European University in Budapest. He’s also written a dozen history books and hosted numerous podcasts, including the scholar preneur. And history and five minutes, which got over 1.5 million downloads across 150 episodes over the span of five years.
And I’m sure those download numbers have gone up quite a bit since then, but that podcast made way for one of my favorite history podcast, which Scott now hosts called history unplugged. So before we begin, Scott, can you let us know a little bit more about your podcast and where people can find it?
Scott Rank: [00:03:22] Yeah, thanks.
so yeah, it’s called his history unplugged plugged. You can Google that or you can go to history and plug podcast.com. and also if you think about it a second, it doesn’t make any sense because by its very nature, a podcast needs to be plugged in. and I only realized that after the fact, but there’s like 50 other podcasts that have unplugged on their title.
So if you’re looking for a name for one great way to do it, yeah. So what got me going is a history unplugged. I have an episode every week, day on Monday, I do a long form interview with a book author or a historical consultant for movie TVs or video games. And then Tuesday through Friday, I take audience questions and I’ll answer literally any question they have.
So it can be high-minded high-minded stuff on world war II tactics and the Pacific theater all the way down to who had the worst gas in history. So I’m really up for just about anything. Who had the worst gas in history. Nice.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:16] I didn’t catch that one out.
Scott Rank: [00:04:18] Yeah, I had to do a lot of research. It really got my gears turning, but it’s a interesting topic to explore.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:25] All right. So today the movie that we’re going to be looking at is 1976 whomps that’s H a w M P S with an explanation point a it’s directed by Joe camp. And quite honestly, this one was a little bit tough to find. it’s not streaming anywhere. I had to actually purchase the movie. So I’m going to assume that most people probably haven’t seen this movie before listening to this episode with that in mind, I’m going to try to add a little bit more context to the questions when it’s relevant to the movie.
Does it sound good?
Scott Rank: [00:05:00] Sounds great. All right,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:02] let’s get started then. I’m going to. Start with kind of the overall believability of the film’s plot. So the movie kind of sets it up and then beginning it has some texts that talks about the, before the great civil war, Millard Fillmore was president and Jefferson Davis was secretary of war.
Abraham Lincoln was a young Congressman. And then it talks about an extraordinary experiment taking place that could have changed the face of the old West. If successful, the horse would have been replacing the us or the camel rather would be replacing the horse in the U S Calvary. And then the movie says, this is the way it happened, or at least essentially the way it happened, sort of.
So it kind of kicks off with a little bit of humor there. And I guess that kind of leads into the. First question was that essentially the way it happened?
Scott Rank: [00:05:54] Okay. So the general description is basically accurate. There was an attempt by the U S government to bring in camels and camels were brought in. And, there was an experiment to use them in place of horses.
Now it wasn’t to replace horses that is off, but, just a little bit of context about the movie. So I’ve done stuff like this before and like what you do, Dan, where I look into movies and see how historically accurate they are. And usually I hear about the movie, like. Kingdom of heaven about the crusades.
And then I’ll go back and research. This one was the opposite. I knew about the historical event of the U S Campbell Corp. And then somebody said to me, Oh, it’s like that seventies movie hops. I thought, Oh, what’s that? I’ve never heard of that. And it’s hard to find, like you said, it’s sort of a. It comes out of the seventies, live action, Disney wheelhouse with movies that usually start Jodie foster back in the day like that darn cat.
it’s also, and I realize watching the movie, it’s kind of the poor man’s blazing saddles. it came out a few years afterwards, so it’s trained to have like an irreverent take on the old West except blazing saddles, which is a hard our movie. And we can’t quote on here. On this podcast, we’ll probably get that E from iTunes for explicit content.
So it tries to be a PG version of blazing saddles. I don’t really know how you do that, but, okay. So that’s what the movie is. I was able to find it on YouTube. I don’t hope I didn’t fail it in copyright law, but that’s how people can see it. okay. So, but just in general, what happens? Okay. So it did happen and here’s the background context.
so in the mid 19th century, the U S army, once he use camels as pack animals in the Southwestern United States, camels were hurting and well-suited and to travel to the region, but the army didn’t want to use them for military use, the civil war interfered experiment and the project was abandoned and the animals were sold off at the auction.
Okay. That’s the short summary of the experiment, that here’s some more background context. So in the 1830s, America is continuing to expand westward. This is a few decades after Lewis and Clark, but once you get into the desert in the Southwest, the train gets inhospitable and the climates are really hard for pioneers and settlers.
There’s air deserts, there’s mountain peaks, there’s impassable rivers in the Southwest. So the first idea for using camels is by, a us army Lieutenant by the name of George Crossman. And he had the idea and he made a study of how to get through this difficult terrain. And he sends a report on his findings to Washington D C and I just, I have a quote here.
Here’s what he says. Restrengthened carrying burdens for patient endurance of labor and a privation of food, water, and rest. And in some respects speed, also the Campbell and Droman dairy. And that’s the one hunt Campbell you see in Arabia, the two humped one is the Bactrian camels. That would be like cold climate stuff.
he says that they’re unrivaled among animals. Your ordinary loads for camels are from seven to 900 pounds each. And with these, they can travel from 30 to 40 miles a day. For many days in succession, they will go without water and without, and with what little food for six or eight days, or to set even longer, the feeder like well-suited for traversing, grassy, or Sandy Plains or rough Rocky Hills and paths, and they require no shooting.
so just now. In hindsight, it seems very silly. And I think where this movie comes from is, well, how that sounds Dom and cheesy to in camels, you know, what were these people thinking? You know, bring the circus into town. But it wasn’t a bad idea because when Napoleon went to Egypt, the French successfully use Campbell’s there because there were so many in Egypt.
most people don’t know this, but in world war one, there were about 3 million camels used for different, military capacities to carry equipment. even up to world war II, the Germans used 50,000 camels when they were in, Southern Russia to carry gas tanks to their tanks. or, gas cans to their tanks, when their supply lines were overextended.
So, I mean, camels, they were the long haul, freight truck of the ancient world. The silk road worked because of camels. They could carry so much stuff. They could travel so long. they could go weeks without water and then once they find it, they gulp it down like crazy. but Campbell’s had been brought into new climates.
All over the world. And even in Australia, in the 1880s, when there was a gold rush, Afghany Muslims come along, they bring camels and camels successfully carry mining equipment into the Outback. So it was a pretty good idea in a lot of ways, but that’s the, that’s kind of the origin of it in the 1830s, when America is pushing to the Southwest.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:10:27] if I’m hearing this correctly and kind of, when I, when I watched the movie, I’m, I’m, I’m thinking of okay. In the U S Calvary. So it’s going to be a military purpose, but it sounds like from what you’re saying, it wasn’t really to do with the military as much. It really just kind of a, more for transportation of almost goods and things from long distances, but not replacing the horse.
As it says in the beginning of movie, it’s talking about replacing the horse, which in my mind is like, okay, they’re just going to get rid of all the horses and all of the warfare and all, you know, all the fighting that the Calvary’s doing is going to be done on Campbell now. But it sounds like that’s not the case at all.
Scott Rank: [00:11:06] Right. I mean, there there’s nowhere where there’s exclusively camels. I mean, even in Roman times when you got into Arabia, Romans preferred using horses, Because Campbell’s work well in certain situations, but in, when you get into cities are much longer, they’re much larger. the along the silk road, they would have special places for cameleers to stop.
They were called caravan Sariah’s, which means caravan, palaces. And there’d be a long interior courtyard where camels could be watered. But it’s sort of like they had to be specially constructed around camels and using them in a, for military purposes, Jefferson Davis, he’s the person who gets funding for this project as the movie’s title, Kroll mentions.
but he was just sort of. Contemplating, or he would write a little bit imagining soldiers chasing hostile Indians off the trails and maybe mounting some artillery on their backs, or even like small artillery cannons back then. But that was more just kind of wild speculation rather than, using them in combat.
I mean, there are cases of, Campbell cavalry where soldiers would ride them in some famous historical episodes, but horses are just more maneuverable. They’re better for combat. Campbell’s are a lot more expensive. and also in America at the time the economy is built around the horse. I mean, there’s millions of horses, there’s horse breeders, and Kimball’s are absolutely wonderful for carrying equipment as pack animals, but you need special training to be able to handle them.
If you don’t know what you’re doing with a camel, you’re in big trouble. so it’s not. The two could work in conjunction. And unless you get into the really, really in hospital areas of Arabia, you don’t see many places where it’s only, Campbell’s, it’s almost always a mix of different pack animals. Hmm.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:12:46] Now you mentioned of Jefferson Davis and he of course, went on to become the president of the Confederate States of America during the civil war. Do you know, if there was any sort of, an attempt by the Confederate States to actually use camels or were they, I mean, since they were just focused on the war itself, it kinda sounded like he was Jefferson Davis kind of being behind it.
Then if he’s the leader of this, quote unquote new country, you know, the Confederate States, he would be able to push it through if he really wanted to.
Scott Rank: [00:13:19] Yeah. It’s so. For him, was for Jefferson Davis. He was the guy behind the experiment. He was the one funding it, in terms of how it would have been used in the Confederacy, in the beginning of the civil war, there are some, there are some of these camels that are still around, especially since this experiment kicks off in Texas, no one really takes too kindly to, the camels, but.
Jefferson Davis, he’s not really hands on with the experiment. And, I guess I can talk more about that later of like, who’s all really involved on the ground, but he’s sort of, he’s more of the guy getting the funding and he’s the, he’s the public face associated with this. So that’s part of why after the civil war, people in the union, don’t like the project because they associate it with Jefferson Davis.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:00] No, that makes sense. You did mention it being in Texas. And I know in the movie they talk about it taking place in a place called, Fort Valverde, Texas. And now I know I did a little bit of looking up as far as the geography, there is a Velveeta County. but is, was there actually a Fort Belvoir days?
And is that where this experiment took place?
Scott Rank: [00:14:23] so the place where it takes place is there is a camp Verde where it gets off the ground, but the camel Corps takes place in different stages. And that’s about maybe like the second or third stage where it kicks in. so where this, kind of how it gets going, the person who’s really on the ground, and.
The major, the ringleader of the camel Corp, is an officer named major Henry Wayne. He’s a West point graduate. He’s really enthusiastic about the idea of using camels and different arid climates, because he thinks that Texas and New Mexico. Do you think it’s all in the same latitude is what he calls a camel lands like Arabia and all those places where you would see them in the middle East.
and he’s the one who makes the formal recommendation to the war department import camels. And he’s the guy who actually goes overseas to get the camels. So he submits a report to the, or department 1847. And this is where he gets the attention of Jefferson Davis. Who’s a Senator of Mississippi. And then.
he thought that Wayne suggestions were worthwhile. So we should look into that. And then in as 1853, I think that’s a period where, Jefferson becomes secretary of war, under Franklin Pierce. And, then in 1855, Congress passes an amendment to appropriate $30,000 to go get the camels. So this is where, Wayne or goes overseas.
He goes from New York to Constantinople. Alexandria, I think gets about 40 camels or, or 30 to 40 camels or so, and a few camel ears. And the cameleers themselves are colorful characters. I’ll mention them in a second. and they arrive in Texas in May, 1856. So when they arrive in Texas it’s, kind of like a, I don’t know, it’s like the circus comes to town basically.
So the, it drops anchor in 1856, and the camels are brought out of the ships and the care of native drivers. all these cameleers they’re referred to by the American soldiers as Arabs, even though they’re from all different backgrounds from the Ottoman empire, one of them is Greek. One of them is Syrian, a guy by the name of Haji.
Ali Haji is a guy who goes on the Muslim pilgrimage or the Hodge, but they couldn’t pronounce his name. So they just called him. Hi, jolly. And there’s a folk song about him. Hi, jolly that, you can, if you go to YouTube, you can find that pretty easily. so yeah, the, it’s a really funny story. When the Campbell’s first arrive, they’re on the ship for several weeks, they’re crossing the Atlantic.
When they first touched down, they rear up, they kick, they cry, they break their halters. And this is a scene in the movie where the Campbell’s run a muck and the story of the town and knock over all this different stuff. But once the Campbell’s are under control, the whole caravan, I guess you could call it as going through Houston.
The cameleers have bells on the camels to single their signal, their arrival, and people are going to their windows are watching they’re this they’ve never seen anything like this. You would never see a camel except in a circus. And. Circuses don’t come to the frontier, which is where this is taking place in the 1850s.
there’s a newspaper report that talks about the, what the spectacle this is. And it writes that there’s a woman who knits together, a pair of socks made out of camel hair and sends it to Franklin Pierce. And there’s a letter in the archives where you can find this, where she re he writes back to her, thanking her.
So this, Major Wayne who went to Constantinople and Alexandria to get these camels is even thinking, huh? I wonder if we can make a whole industry based off of, you know, knitting and producing Campbell hair never really works. But, so that’s like the first shipment and then the second cargo of camels, which are another 40.
They will also land on the Texas coast in 1857. And there’s a camp that’s established permanently, called camp Verde. It’s near San Antonio, where all these experiments are tried with the U S Campbell Corps. So this is where they get into the nitty gritty of testing. How much can they carry compared to a team of horses?
How far can they go? how long can they go without water and trained to train these different cameleers? So that’s the whole Veriday connection, that. You were mentioning about the movie.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:18:35] And I’m curious about that because taking place in Texas, and I know the, the Mexican American war there ended, right.
1848, was, did that play into that? To me, it seems like they’re kind of running this experiment almost on the front lines almost. was there anything in the relationship, I guess, between or the tensions rather between us and Mexico at the time that played a role in this,
Scott Rank: [00:18:59] do you think. well, yeah, it’s interesting now that like the U S Mexican war, like absolutely that factors into all of this and there, when all of this land is claimed by the U S there is a focus on settling it as quickly as possible.
And this drives a lot of domestic policy in America in the middle of the 19th century. I mean, you have the homesteading act that says land is available for you. If you go to it, you cultivate it, you make it productive. And most importantly, for the government’s perspective, you make it taxable. So that’s a great immigration boom to America where anyone can get land.
And throughout centuries of medieval and Renaissance European history land was the ultimate commodity and that land could be given to anyone. but from the U S government, they understand they have all this lands, but in the great age of colonialism, these great powers are eyeing South America, Africa.
Indochina all these different places to colonize and America understands. If we don’t take control of this area, then it could be open to others. settlers are being sent to Mexico in the Southwest. interestingly enough, before America even wins, they’re sent to Mexican territory as illegal immigrants from America to Mexico.
Nudge, nudge ha. so yeah, there, there is a mindset that, now what the, the purpose of the camels, it’s not a, there’s not really a vision that everyone is going to be riding a camel all over the place. It’s more of these different supply depots in these different forts in the Southwest. We need a way to be able to get equipment from one to the other.
When you’re in the Midwest of America or in the East, you have a network of rivers, rivers. There are forts and supply depots. You can get off. Then you can Mount, a horse. You can get pack animals, you can supply them with grain. You know, that every five or 10 miles or whatever, you can find stores where you can buy more feed.
You can get remounts depending on how urgent your trip is, but there’s nothing like that in the Southwest. You don’t have this whole transportation grid and network. So that’s what Campbell’s are primarily seen as is creating this, sort of Overland highway of goods that can at least set up Fords. If you at least have the matrix of military presence, that’s what we’ll put a foothold of.
U S military power there, and then later settlers can come in and fill it out with population. So American presence is secure. Huh?
Dan LeFebvre: [00:21:28] Interesting. It’s it’s interesting to me that the, kind of the relation not to get too political with it, but almost kind of seeing that again, that same sort of thing, I guess we never really learned from history.
So you’re talking about the shipment of cables coming in and in the movie, there’s a point where, They just, they call them Arabian Mount. So they assume that they’re going to be Arabian horses. Was there any sort of confusion like that around the camels that were coming in from the people that were actually involved in the experiment?
Scott Rank: [00:22:03] Yeah, that’s what they keep saying. Like these guys, Oh, I can’t wait to read Arabians. They realize it’s from that. I think that’s a scene that if you can look at a blatant ripping off of blazing saddles, that’s it? again, definitely can’t quote this on air, but when, a guy shouting the sheriff is near and he’s not saying near, but that’s what people think he’s saying.
And those who’ve seen blazing saddles. Know what I’m talking about? so yeah, I think it’s, that’s a big rip off there. but there is a little bit of truth because an Arabian horse is. What ambassadors would gift each other with these are treasured gifts. If you were, Gangas Kahn or Napoleon or Alexander, the great or George Washington, I think these different people rode Arabian horses, like all the way back to antiquity.
They’re seen as the finest of mounted animals and I’m not a horse guy, so I can’t drill down, but. Whatever breed of horse you would have. your average person would never ride an Arabian, may not even ever see an Arabian. So for many people on the frontier whose life is connected to the horse, I’m sure they would actually jump at the chance to.
Be able to ride one now. Okay. So that isn’t true. And I get it there. They’re just trying to have like a funny little thing here. people would have known far ahead of time. Of course, that it was Campbell’s coming, to the experiments because, the people associated with it actually had to travel all the way to Constantinople to get the camels and then bring them back here.
so far ahead of time, soldiers would have known of this, but. Anyway, that, that, that wasn’t something that happened.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:23:32] Okay. So then, then once the Campbell’s arrive, at least according to the movie, they pretty much determine their effectiveness by doing a race between the Campbells and the horses. of course, as, as we kind of learned earlier, They’re not really in truth.
They weren’t really intended to replace the horses. So was there any sort of truth to this came over as horse race that we saw in the movie? Or I guess the ultimate question then how did the cavalry determine the Campbell’s effectiveness and whether or not it was something we’re going to move forward with?
Scott Rank: [00:24:04] Yeah. now in the movie, there is this big race between these, Guys with these horses and the camel ears. And I can’t even remember in the movie what the contest was. So I think I forgot about like a third, this, all that, after it was done,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:18] the first of the finish line back, you know, wins pretty much that would determine the effectiveness.
Scott Rank: [00:24:23] Okay.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:24] Cause it was really that simple.
Scott Rank: [00:24:26] Yeah. You can explain the plot of the movie in about a paragraph on Wikipedia. It’s not very hard, but okay. So there wasn’t a test like this, but, well, okay. There was something sort of like this at a camp Verde when they’re running experiments to. let’s see the usefulness of camels compared to horses and weighing does devise a small field test Wayne as the person who’s running this whole experiment.
he sends three wagons each with a six mule team in six camels to San Antonio for a supply of oats. the mule drawn wagons, each carry to 1800 pounds of oats and they take nearly five days to make the return trip to the camp. The six camels carried about 3,700 pounds of votes and they made the trip in two days.
So it shows that they can, they have speed and they also have carrying ability. There are, there were a lot of other tests to confirm the ability of the camels. And in a lot of instances, they’re better than the horse and the mule and Davis has happy with this result. When he’s reporting to Congress, he says these tests fully realize the anticipation entertained the usefulness in the transportation of military supplies.
Thus far, the result is as favorable as the most sanguine could have hoped. It’s a nice little quote there. yeah. So over time when they’re running these tests, the cables are called the ships of the desert because of how much they can carry, how fast they can go, like four miles an hour. they, eventually start doing, faring trips between Tucson and Los Angeles.
and yeah, Campbell’s have a lot of, in addition to caring more than horses. They can go up trails, wagons can’t go up because they have legs. And that seems stupid to hear. But, I saw this in action once where I saw the power of an animal to do things that a car can’t do. And we don’t appreciate this in America because America was really built up with the automobile in mind.
I mean, get outside of Boston and New York and there’s roads and there’s infrastructure for cars to get everywhere. But what if you have a place that isn’t built for the car or isn’t built for a wheeled vehicle, like a wagon. and one example is I lived in Turkey for a number of years and one of my favorite cities on earth is called Margene it’s in the Southeast, it’s near the Syrian border.
Sadly really can’t go there because of the conflict. the city is ancient. It’s thousands of years old. It’s built on an enormous Hill that would overlook the Syrian plane. So there was a Roman Garrison there to watch out for invasions. the old part of the city is built on this massive Hill and it looks like an Arabian nights, fantasy land come to life.
There’s stairs, going up all over the side of the city. And to this day, people use donkeys to carry everything. I saw a guy care using a donkey to carry a bunch of iPads up to his electronic store. because there’s just like there’s stairs everywhere and cars can’t get up that, but something with legs can get up that.
So nothing with legs can carry more than a camel. So that’s why it’s successful in this trip. And, and one other thing to just kind of illustrate how. Really this Campbell experiment could have worked out and how it seemed like it was on the cusp of success is, the story from the late 1850s, where the Campbell’s are being used to survey a route for a wagon road in Arizona, from Fort defiance to the Colorado river.
Edward Beale, he’s a military officer leads the survey expedition and in his party, there were 25 camels, 44 soldiers, 12 wagons, and, dogs, horses, and mules. There’s all sorts of different animals there. bill was convinced he didn’t really like the Campbells at first because they first moved slower than the horses and mules.
and they go slower, but. The second week of the journey. He notes that the camels were performing better. The men know how to handle, handle them better. There’s kind of a learning curve. and they were also idol at camp Verde for a number of months. So they had to kind of settle back into things, but he notes that they can carry 700 pounds go to steady speed.
by the time the expedition arrives at Fort defiance, Beale was convinced of the Campbell’s abilities and he writes to Jefferson Davis, his successor as a secretary of war. It gives me great pleasure to report the entire success of the expedition with a camel. So far as I have tried it. Laboring under all the disadvantages.
We have arrived here without an accident. And although we have used the camels everyday with heavy packs have fewer sore backs and disabled ones by far, that would have been the case. Traveling with pack mules on starting, I packed nearly 700 pounds on each camel, which I feel is too heavy, a burden for the commencement of so long, a journey.
They however, packed it daily until that weight was reduced. Baird diurnal use of it as forged for our mules. And also the Campbell’s can basically live off the land. They can eat scrubs, they can eat plants that you find along the trail, mules can’t horses can’t you have to bring the food with them. So, and one, this is what really convinced people that there was something to camels.
At one point, the expedition is lost and they were mistakenly led to an impassable Canyon. For 36 hours, the lack of grass and water made the mules frantic. So out of all of this party, there’s a small expedition that goes out on camels to go out and find a trail and they find a river 20 miles away and lead the expedition to it.
And the Campbell’s basically save everyone’s lives. So from then on the cables are used as Scouts to go forward and find all the watering holes for everyone. So. Right up to the late 1850s, it seems like this experiment is really working out. And
Dan LeFebvre: [00:29:54] it sounds like, like you said, it was on the cusp of, of success.
And we even see that in the movie, like in very simplistic terms, right. You have the race a 300 mile race and whoever wins wins. Right. And in the movie, the camels win. And, and so it seems like they’re going to move forward and then. Right at the very end and again, a very simplistic storyline, they get a letter and in the letter it explains that, Oh, by the way, we built railroads and Kamal’s aren’t needed anymore.
yeah, no kidding. So, I mean, as far as the timing aspect of this being in the 1850s, there was this kind of on the cusp of railroads and was that with all the successes that Kamal’s had. Was that ultimately what led them to not being used, even though they seem to be very successful from the sounds
Scott Rank: [00:30:45] of it.
Yeah. I think there’s about three reasons why the experiment didn’t work out. and it’s, it’s not just because the railroad is built because, okay. Yeah, that changes things, but you don’t see people stop using horses after the transcontinental railroad. up into the 1930s. It’s not until then. When horses are outlawed in New York city and in rural areas, you could probably find plenty of horses until the 1950s.
It takes really until the mid 20th century until the automobile is universal and there’s no pack animals. railroads go to cities, but there’s all these towns, all these back areas that they don’t go to. And within a town, you might need some transportation to get around. So that’s not the only factor.
What I would say is number one, horses and camels. Don’t always mix very well. there something about the sense of a camel, a horse, just doesn’t like, and, there’s a famous accounts in, I think what the Burt, the Persians battle, the Lydians at the battle of fine bruh. And, one side scares the other side with a camel cavalry.
It scares with horses. So that’s how they’re able to win. and this is something that’s new that is noted. So major Wayne, when he’s working with civilian drovers to teach them how to lead camels, they learn how to feed and care for them, but a camel can get violent when it’s not handled well, and it can bite someone.
It could stomp someone to death just because it’s so huge. And, they chew a cut like cows and when they’re annoyed, they can spit. So, There’s probably plenty of, I don’t know, elementary school field trips where a kid gets spit on when they go see the camels, when they’re like training, antagonize it.
but Campbell’s also have a weird smell. They don’t smell any worse than horses, mules, or anything like that, but they smell different and horses that aren’t familiar to that order can frighten them that odor. And because horses are the they’re all over the place. There’s. Millions and millions and millions of horses in the 19th century in America, Americans are trained to use horses, they’re horse traders.
This is what a lot of the economy is based on. And if Campbell’s don’t fit in very well, then that’s kind of hard to have them mix. So that’s one factor of horses. And then of course the other factor is of this civil war that. when it kicks off, funds are withdrawn to continue it, the person who is leading it, I think it was a deal in Wayne.
They wanted funds for an extra thousand camels to be brought into America. And members of the department of war were supporting it. But all funds are diverted from the union government into the war effort at this time. And they’re seen as being linked to the Confederacy. So a lot of, a lot of the reasons for it being discontinued our politics.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:33:21] Huh, that’s interesting. Was that an AF afterwards? I mean, obviously in the real world, we had the civil war that the movie doesn’t even talk about, but there is a kind of a.
Scott Rank: [00:33:33] An
Dan LeFebvre: [00:33:34] epilogue of sorts where you see, Lieutenant Clemens, who’s that James Hampton’s fictional character talking to his grandkids.
And it’s kind of been a telling throughout, you know, him reliving what happened, but then you, he goes outside and you see that basically he was given charge of the camels that were in the experiment. So what happened to the Kamal’s? I mean, they were shipping all these camels into the U S and then the experiment is over and the civil war is right around the corner.
What happens to them? Are they, I mean, obviously not held by just one guy, you know, in his hand out back. Right. but what actually happened to the camels afterwards?
Scott Rank: [00:34:12] Yeah, I think their history after the camel experiment ends is really interesting. And the movie sort of gets that right? That these Campbell’s are kept on by people who had a connection to them.
This main guy in the movie, he’s a fictional character, but that is true. I mean, there are camels that live on in America, in the desert wild camels up until the 1940s, 1950s. And there’s all these legends in the Southwest about them. Some of them are really creepy ghost stories. but, just one character that comes up, Haji Ali or high jolly he’s in the movie.
I think he’s a white guy with Arab face as they would call it grease paint to make him look Arabian. what I think the character, the actor was Italian. He speaks with a British accent and claims to be educated. Oxford. I think that’s just a simple way for the producers to. Not have to guess what an Arab accent sounds like.
And at this time Americans in the 1970s think of Lawrence Arabia when they think of Arabs. So that’s what they did. Haji Ali or high jolly. Yeah, he wasn’t trained at Oxford. A cavalier was a pretty rough and tumble guy. Other Greek mother, a Syrian father. Might’ve been one of the first Muslim immigrants to America.
So, but later on he adopts a Christian identity. He goes by the name of Philip Pedro and can speak Spanish. So he, I don’t, I think he has a Mexican wife later on, so adapts to the Mexican Anglo hybrid Southwestern culture, when he lives there afterwards. yeah. So anyway, when the experiment ends, the camels are released and there are a lot of different entrepreneurs who try to start businesses based off of that, some of them try to start freight hauling businesses or postal services, or, contractors to do surveying trips, lots of different things that come out, but there’s nothing that really takes off the ground.
so there’s one group, there’s a group of, actually Frenchmen in the Southwest in the middle of 1860s that obtain two of the camels that were, released from this experiment. And by 1870, the pair increased your herd of 25. The animals are kept in on Nevada ranch. That kind of looks like that closing scene in the movie where they’re still camels.
they carry salt and hae two different gold and silver mines near the Carson river. sometime later these camels are sent to Arizona where they haul or from the silver King, mine to Uma, but the business folds and the camels are turned loose in the desert near Maricopa Wells, and Haji Ali high jolly.
He is, kind of, very flagrant self-promoter. He’s trying to start all sorts of businesses with these camels. He’s the one who tries to start this postal service, tries to start a freight shipping business to handle mining equipment, but can’t get it started. So ultimately he auctions off these camels to zookeepers in California.
This is by the 1880s when, California has a larger population, San Francisco is becoming more metropolitan. So he’s able to tap into this economy. so high jolly, he just kind of his story. It’s interesting. He becomes a citizen around 1880. he goes by the name of Phillip Tetro. He marries in Tucson.
He has two daughters. He lives until 1902 and there’s actually a monument built to him in Arizona that you can still drive by today. That was built in 1935, as it’s labeled the final campsite of Haji Ali. And it looks like a little pyramid with a camel on top. So this is kind of like the last physical remnant of the U S camel Corps.
but there’s all sorts of accounts in the American Southwest of people who saw these sightings and. One. That was really interesting. It’s from 1885 and there’s a boy of about five and his father commands and army Garrison in New Mexico. And he, he, sees a site that he recalls later in life. And he says one day a curious and frightening animal with a blobfish had long and curving neck and shambling legs moseying around the Garrison.
The animal was one of the old army camels, and this boy was general the army Douglas MacArthur. but there’s another story that is like one of the weirdest, most freakish, like real life ghost stories I’ve ever heard involving Campbell’s you want to hear this one? Oh yeah. Okay. So when I heard this, I thought, what is like, this has to be made up.
This can’t be true, but it turns out it was so I’m sure there’s a true crime or. Whatever podcast or maybe Laura needs to do this, whatever. so in 1883, there’s a woman living on a Southern Arizona ranches, trampled to death and witnesses. Describe it as a huge red beast with a skeletal creature on its back and local ranchers.
Try to chase it down, but all I can find are Huff prints, not horse hoof prints, but cloven, hoof prints and clumps of red animal hair. And there’s other sightings too, that have the same thing. It’s this huge beast. And it has a skeleton riding on its back. It sounds like ghost writer, kind of the Nicholas cage movie, and there’s more and more sightings.
So it has a huge red B’s this skeletal Devilfish writer on the back it’s can take down and kill RJ animals like cattles and bears. It can run faster than any animal that anyone’s ever heard of. Then of course, the legends grow and they inflate. They say it’s 30 feet tall. It can disappear from sight.
People start to call this thing, the red ghost. Then a few months later, prospectors are working at the Verde river in Arizona and they encounter the red ghost. Again, they fire the rifles at it and it runs away. But as it’s turning away, there’s something that falls off the creature’s back. A local doctor goes to it and he sees the it’s a human skull, but it has hair still attached to it.
Okay. What is it? So of course like legends and stories are just running all over the place about the red ghost. the Mojave County miner, this newspaper writes that the beast may be a camel, but most residents and never see a camel. And they wouldn’t know what one looked like. And how do you explain the skeleton writing on its back?
the sightings continue for about a decade until 1893. When a rancher sites are red ghost, who’s nearest vegetable patch. He gets his rifle and he’s able to finally bring it down with a shot and then ranchers gather around it to view it. And it is a camel. That’s been terrorizing the area for about a decade.
But okay. What about the skeleton on the back? And they finally determined that the skeleton that’s been seeing writing with the camel was actually a human skeleton that had been clearly tied to the camel with thick leather straps many years earlier. And we have no idea what this was about and there’s different theories about what this writer could be.
One theory is that maybe it was a guy who was tied up to the camel as revenge for wrongdoings. How you always hear about, I don’t know, somebody who’s forced to like sit on a Hill of fire ants with honey on his back as a way to be eaten alive. They, some people think that, or maybe he was a union soldier that was tied to the animal by Confederate invaders of camp Verde.
Or maybe he was one of the first soldiers of the U S camel Corps who was afraid of his camel. And he was tied to it with straps, kind of like in mighty ducks where the goalie is tied to the goal to force him to be able to handle it. Now that last one. I really, I think that would have made to the records of that were true.
Well, we don’t know. So that’s the story of the red ghost that like haunted the Arizona territory as a goes story for years and years and years.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:41:39] Wow.
Scott Rank: [00:41:41] That’s
Dan LeFebvre: [00:41:41] great. I mean, it kind of makes me wonder how many other, Animal sightings. You go from camels to almost a paranormal supernatural type story. Right.
But if, if people, if you’ve never seen a camel before you wouldn’t think of seeing one, you know, in the wild like that, especially cause I’m assuming most people didn’t even know that there was this experiment that was going on at that time. And you know, it’s not like they had the internet, right. To be able to know everything that was going on.
Well, that that’s a crazy story. Wow. I didn’t, I didn’t think we were, when we were starting with, with whomps, you know, a seventies Disney movie ending on a ghost rider and, these, you know, animal sightings of, of, well, for lack of a better term. Yeah. Well almost paranormal type stories and it’s a similar type thing.
What we see with, with those kinds of things. Wow.
Scott Rank: [00:42:33] I mean, Nicholas cage, you can tie him into anything. So,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:42:36] so, alright, well, I’m going to have to have, have you back on Scott to talk about the true story behind ghost rider and the a
Scott Rank: [00:42:46] hundred percent true. well this is an addendum. forgive me if this is a tangent that doesn’t connect, but, so.
With movies, like, I mean, almost any movie that claims to be historical is inaccurate, but this is weird. One of the most historically accurate movies out there is Dracula untold about it’s like the weird, sexy Dracula, but it gets into Ottoman politics. And what’s weird is that it’s really accurate on what the Ottoman empire was up to.
And I’m an Ottoman historian. So like all the Dracula stuff is obviously fake, but the historical stuff is better than 90% of anything out there. So all that’s just to say, you never know what is or isn’t accurate, but then something that claims to be accurate could be just total garbage.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:43:30] Wow. Yeah. Okay.
Yeah. Well, we’ll have to we’ll table that one. We’ll have to, we’ll have to make that a feature episode and a chat about that. Cause I know which movie you’re talking about and that’s. That’s fascinating.
Scott Rank: [00:43:40] Yeah.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:43:42] All right. Can you, let everybody know where they can find your podcast and really just learn more about what you do?
Scott Rank: [00:43:48] Yeah. So it’s a history unplugged podcast. You can go to history and plug podcast.com. And, what I try to do is, find stories of history that have affected us today, but just haven’t made it into the historical record. And when I was doing my history PhD, I saw how messy the process of history really is because, you know, if you’re writing, let’s say a biography on Abraham Lincoln.
It’s not like there’s five books of the Abraham. Lincoln’s five private memoirs, and you just distill it down to a nice biography. You have to go through hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of documents, private letters, economic records, surveys, private memoirs of people in the town, newspaper articles.
Climate data. There is so much information to go through that you have to just choose some things and not use other sources. And then you have to take that mountain of information and write a cohesive narrative. Once a historian, digests that into something that your average person can understand, then it’s dumbed down.
Even another level until a middle schooler can memorize it for a test. But those little factoids. That we learned in middle school, stay with us forever and we don’t get to see that it is a very messy process behind the scenes and what we know from history. It’s not as if facts from the past organically bubble up, and then we skim the surface and that’s the historical truth.
Some, a lot of times it’s somebody who is distilling this information, giving it to us. Maybe they have an agenda saying it. Maybe they were just ignorant of certain facts and we take those things and it becomes a record, but we always have to be going back into the past to find those things that can challenge the narrative for their stories that are just as influential as the stories we do know, but we don’t know those other ones, but they just didn’t make it.
So I’m always curious to go back in there and look at all the messy nuance of history. I guess you can really, Boil things down to a there’s an episode, the episode of the Simpsons were up who is applying to be a U S citizen. And somebody is asking him. Why was the civil war fought? And he says, well, it goes back to the nullification crisis of 1832.
And the guy says to him, just say slavery. He says slavery. It is sir. So like even people who want to bring in all the complexity and nuance of the past, there are those that say, no, here’s the stock answer. Boom done. So I try to get into all the messiness of history and I’m with the U S camel Corps. What I like about it is we can look at it and think, well, they were dummies back then.
Why would you use Campbell’s that won’t work. But people did things in the past because it made sense to them. And if it doesn’t make sense to us, it doesn’t mean that we’re smart and they were stupid. It’s that circumstances were so different back then that. I want to understand those circumstances that made something like that make sense.
So that’s what I try to do.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:46:45] Context is a huge part of it, right? Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time, Scott. I really appreciate it. And I, I learned a lot about the camel Corps. I had absolutely no idea.
Scott Rank: [00:46:55] Yeah, no problem. My pleasure