Monday, October 12, 2015

The Official Camel Report

The world is smaller than it was when I was a child.
Last week, I wrote in these pages about the camels at Camp Verde, an experiment of the U.S. Army to determine if camels would prove useful in the transportation of supplies through the rugged desert terrain of the American southwest. That column appeared in print on Saturday, the 3rd, and on my blog ( the following Monday, the 5th.
On the 6th I had an email from a longtime friend, John MacCrossan, who has a gift for research, and has often provided interesting facts for this column. He has helped solve several Kerr County history mysteries, including the three photographs of a parade in downtown Kerrville, where three marching groups seem to be converging on the intersection of what is now Water and Earl Garrett Streets. He not only figured out what the event was, but when the photographs were likely taken.  They are some of the earliest photographs of downtown Kerrville.
He did all this from his home in Ireland, his native land. He is not a Texan, though he has two granddaughters who are; his son, Gerard MacCrossan, once worked with me at the print shop, and later served as an editor of the Kerrville Daily Times. It was through Gerard that I met John.
The email I received Tuesday from John in Ireland provided a link to an old army document: "Reports upon the Purchase, Importation, and use of Camels and Dromedaries, to be Employed for Military Purposes," which was printed in Washington, DC, in 1857.
It was a report sent by Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War, to James M. Mason, the president pro tem of the U. S. Senate.
"Sir," Davis wrote, "I have the honor to transmit herewith the correspondence and reports of the officers charged with the purchase and importation of the camel, and its employment for purposes of transportation in the military service of the United States....
Henry C. Wayne
"Under the appropriation of $30,000, made on the 3d of March, 1855, seventy-five camels have been imported. The aid furnished by the Secretary of the Navy in the use of a storeship returning from the Mediterranean greatly reduced the cost of transportation, and enable the department to introduce a much greater number of camels than was originally calculated....
"The limited trial which has been made fully realized my expectations, and has increased my confidence in the success of the experiment," Davis wrote in February, 1857.
Correspondence included in the report begins in May, 1855, with a letter from Davis to Major Henry C. Wayne. That letter instructs Wayne to head to New York, board the 'Levant,' a navy supply ship, commanded by Lieutenant D. D. Porter, USN.
"In the prosecution of your duties it may be requisite for one or both of you to go into the interior of Asia," wrote Davis, who also instructs Wayne to consult on "points connected with this special service, such as General Marey Monge, Colonel Carbuccia, and other officers of the French army who were connected with experiments in Africa, on the use of the camel in the military service of France. You had also better examine for your information the stock, training, and breeding of the Barbary camel, imported into Tuscany some two hundred years ago, and which, by careful breeding, is reported to have been greatly improved, both in size and strength."
Most of the camels which Major Wayne went to obtain ended up in Kerr County, at Camp Verde.
The experiment, of course, was interrupted by the American Civil War. Davis went on to be the president of the Confederate States of America, and Henry C. Wayne became a brigadier general in the Confederate army. (Wayne's father, James Moore Wayne, was a U. S. Supreme Court justice.)
For those who are interested in reading the official report of the camel experiment, you can find the entire report online at  In fact, you can even learn the names of some of the camels in the pages of the report.
Thanks again, John. This report was a great find, and adds to the history of our community.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would love to walk around Camp Verde someday -- but needs permission from the owners of the property. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 10, 2015.

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