The Camel Experiment in Texas

“Probably the most unique transportation experiment of Western America”—J. Evetts Haley

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133. EMMETT, Chris. Texas Camel Tales Incidents Growing Up Around an Attempt by the War Department of the United States to Foster an Uninterrupted Flow of Commerce Through Texas by the Use of Camels. San Antonio: Naylor, 1932. [i-viii] ix-xvi [1, blank], 1-275 [1, blank] pp., including frontispiece, portraits, scenes (mostly photographic), folded plate of an official document relating to the subject. 8vo (23.5 x 16.5 cm), original tan suede, spine lettered in black. Very fine in fine pictorial d.j. illustrating a map of Texas showing the camel route (minor chipping to top of spine of d.j.), autographed by author front flyleaf.

     First edition, with “First Edition” printed on title. Agatha, p. 65. Basic Texas Books 33: “The best account of the famous camel experiment in Texas, this volume is also a successful blend of the numerous official records of the experiment with the memoirs and anecdotes of the people involved.” Campbell, p. 172. Handbook of Texas Online: Camels.

     J. Evetts Haley, untitled review of this book in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 1 (July, 1933), pp. 71-72:

Considerable interest has recently been manifested in the history of what was probably the most unique transportation experiment of Western America, “Jeff Davis’ camels.” But it remained for Chris Emmett, young lawyer of Victoria and San Antonio, not only to point out the inception of the idea and its official trial and results, but to follow the trail of the camels themselves long after the government had surrendered its interest in the project. And Mr. Emmett has literally done this, for his quest has taken him along the old traces followed by the complaining caravan from its embarkation at old Indianola to its distribution in the ranges of the Southwest and its final dissemination among zoos and circuses. From the memories of many pioneer citizens he has collected pertinent details of the “camel experiment,” thereby supplementing the documentary sources and has written the narrative in interesting style.

In 1856 a shipment of camels was unloaded at Powder Horn for experimentation in western transportation. Davis, as Secretary of War, placed the work under the supervision of Major H.C. Wayne, who took the animals through San Antonio to Camp Verde, and soon discovered that each could readily transport loads of six hundred pounds. But, perhaps as was to be expected, he discovered also that the imported animals were less serviceable than in their native country, and hence urged the establishment of a breeding herd in America for the purpose of more rapid acclimation. Other shipments were made and private enterprise took up the idea. But Washington lost interest in the project, the Civil War intervened, the camels scattered far and wide, and in the development of mechanized transportation the experiment was almost forgotten.

But here the story is reconstructed, and, according to the author, the results might have been otherwise had not “Arbitrary exercise of the [War] secretary’s authority caused Wayne’s recommendations to fall on fallow minds, dooming his experiment,—with the intervention of war, railroad building, and the destruction by storms of the Guadalupe Valley commerce,—to failure.” However that may have been, Mr. Emmett has successfully searched out the camel tales and contributed his share of adventurous incident to the annals of Texas.

     Sometimes on a moonlit night in Llano County near Big John’s, you might just see a camel at the juncture of 1431 and 29.


Sold. Hammer: $350.00; Price Realized: $428.75.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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