~ Last updated on Sep 27, 2021 ~
While trying to make it to Yuma by 3:10, I decided I had enough time to make a detour to visit Quartzsite, Arizona before heading South towards to border.
At this point in my travels, I am actively on the lookout for anything interesting I can find. I had heard of a story involving “Confederate Camels” and had to verify this for myself. This led me to the Hi Jolly Cemetery in Quartzsite, AZ where I was able to find out more about the history.
The Experimental U.S. Camel Corps.
Westward travel proved difficult for the first American settlers as their horses and mules were not cut out for long desert treks between water sources.
Jefferson Davis (later President of the Confederacy) was the secretary of war in President Franklin Pierce’s cabinet and approved a plan to experiment with camels. They would be used for freighting and communication in the Southwest region of the US.
On 3 March 1855, Congress agreed and passed the Shield amendment to an appropriation bill, stating: “And be it further enacted, that the sum of $30,000 be, and the same is hereby appropriated under the direction of the War Department in the purchase and importation of camels and dromedaries to be employed for military purposes.”
On Feb. 10, 1856, Army Major Henry C. Wayne and Navy Lieutenant D.D. Porter brought 33 camels to Indianola, Texas and got 41 more on their second trip. The camels were now a key part of the United States military strategy up until the end of the Civil War.
A frontier outpost in Camp Verde, Texas was setup as base for the camels and in 1857, the Beale Expedition opened a wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to California. Along with the first shipment of camels came Hi Jolly, the famed camel driver / caretaker…
Hi Jolly ~ One of America’s First Syrian Immigrants
Hi Jolly wasn’t actually his name. His real name was Haiji (Hadji) Ali, which was promptly changed to “Hi Jolly” by the soldiers.
After the camel experiment ended, he remained in the Southwest and became a prospector, scout and was a courier for what was called the Jackass Mail.
Hi Jolly died in December of 1902 in what is now known as Quartzsite (formerly known as Tyson’s Well), Arizona. In 1934 the Arizona Department of Transportation erected a monument over his grave and became the beginning of the pioneer cemetery.
Hi Jolly Cemetery
The cemetery is operated and maintained by the Town of Quartzsite for the purposes of providing a cemetery, historic site and park. The Hi Jolly monument is in the pioneer section of the cemetery where Quartzsite’s pioneer families are laid to rest. The new section to the cemetery is for those who chose to be buried in Quartzsite. The town is committed to beautifying the cemetery and preserving this historic site.
The pyramidal tomb is made from quartz and petrified wood topped by a metal figure of a camel. The plaque reads:
The Last Camp of Hi Jolly
Born somewhere in Syria about 1828
Died at Quartzsite December 16, 1902
Came to this country February 10, 1856
Cameldriver – packer – scout – over thirty years a faithful aid to the U.S. government.
Arizona Highway Department, 1935.
The U.S. Abandoned the Camel Corp.
Even though they could carry a thousand pounds of freight 65 miles a day and they went three days without water, the experiment was ultimately marked as a failure. After the Civil War, everything that the Confederate traitor Davis had touched was scrubbed away — and that included the Army’s camels. The railroads were also responsible for ending their use and by the 1870s, they were mostly gone.
Story accounts tell that the camels often spooked prospector mule trains as well as them having issues with the Army’s own horses, burros, and mules. Additionally, the tensions of the American Civil War led to Congress not approving any more funds for the Camel Corps.
Another issue was that the rocky terrains were said to have hurt the camels’ feet. As the caretaker, Hi Jolly wrapped their feet in burlap for added protection. Later a special shoe was fashioned for the animals’ split toes. However, the shoes never proved really satisfactory as they didn’t keep rocks out from between the toes.
Early in the Civil War, an attempt was made to use the camels to carry mail between New Mexico and California, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Later in the war, the Army had no further interest in the animals and they were either sold at auction or left to “shift for themselves” (as it states on the info sign below) in the Arizona desert. Some locals even swear that there are signs of them still roaming the American Southwest deserts.
The Info Sign at Hi Jolly’s Tomb Reads:
The famous camel herd with which the name of Hi Jolly is linked constitutes an interesting sidelight of Arizona history … Jefferson Davis (afterward President of the Southern Confederacy) as secretary of war approved a plan to experiment with camels for freighting and communication in the arid Southwest … Major Henry C. Wayne, of the U.S. Army, and Lt. D.D. Porter (later a distinguished admiral of the Civil War) visited the Levant with the storeship “Supply” and procured 33 camels which were landed at Indianola, Texas, February 10, 1856. 41 were added on a second voyage … With the first camels came, as caretaker, Haiji Ali, whose Arabic name was promptly changed to “Hi Jolly” by the soldiers, and by this name he became universally known. His Greek name was Phillip Tedro … On the Beale expedition (1857) to open a wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to California, the camels, under Jolly’s charge, proved their worth … Nevertheless the war department abandoned the experiment and the camels were left on the Arizona desert to shift for themselves, chiefly roaming this particular section. They survived for many years, creating interest and excitement … Officially the camel experiment was a failure, but both Lt. Beale and Major Wayne were enthusiastic in praise of the animals. A fair trial might have resulted in complete success.