The Camels of Texas, 1856

(Photo via Afflictor)

Camels existed in the Americas until about 10,000 years ago, when they were most likely hunted to extinction. The New World was then camel-less until 1856, when the US Army imported dromedary (one-humped) camels from Egypt. They were very useful for crossing the western deserts. Later, the camels went to work in as far north as Vancouver Island. Dr. John Lienhard of the University of Houston describes the adventures of these American camels:

In any case, the Confederate Army captured the Texas Camels during the Civil War and used them to move cotton into Mexican ports. Meantime, private promoters in San Francisco also saw the potential for camels. They realized that two-humped Bactrian camels could carry even more freight than Dromedaries.

So they began importing Bactrians from Manchuria. Some were sent to Los Angeles. In fact, someone even tried to set up a camel express service between Southern California and Arizona.

But the camel saga takes a strange northward turn with the discovery of gold in British Columbia's Cariboo region -- off in the mountains two hundred miles north of Vancouver. One John Calbreath quickly bought 23 of the San Francisco Bactrian camels at three hundred dollars each. He had them shipped to Vancouver Island. From there they were put on a barge and taken to the Frasier River. There they went to work hauling goods into the mountains.

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