In 1893, The Mohave County Miner reported on what is now an Arizona legend: the Red Ghost, a rampant camel with a dead man strapped to its back. The story may have been fictional, but it was not as unlikely as one might expect.
Kingman’s newspaper, The Mohave County Miner, reported on February 25, 1893 that the “Red Ghost” had finally been laid to rest. The Red Ghost, the story explained, was a camel reported to have trampled a woman near Eagle Creek. On later sightings, viewers noticed there seemed to be something stuck to its back—and it was not a hump. A hunter named Si Hamlin caught sight of the Red Ghost from a distance and reported he thought that something was the body of a dead man. Some weeks later, some cowboys fired at it but missed. As it fled, they found it had left behind a human head. When a priest named Mizoo Hastings finally shot it, he found the camel’s back had been knotted with rawhide straps, presumably once holding on a corpse that had by now disintegrated.
So The Mohave County Miner reported. Detailing events for the most part located in eastern Arizona, this article may have taken liberties with the truth using the benefit of distance and how remote the area was. Though the newspaper claimed sightings had been reported for ten years before the camel’s death at Mr. Hastings’s hands, there is no trace of earlier reports. Even Gilded Age newspapers had “fake news.” For example, Mark Twain spun hoaxes while writing for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise, and according to local tradition, in 1959, editor Bob Richards wrote the city’s annual camel races into existence with a spoof story taken too seriously.
The Red Ghost article, however, takes on the role of relaying a legend. Perhaps it truly was derivative and is simply the only extant written record of an oral tradition that may have spanned Arizona. Indeed, that oral tradition may not have been as outrageous as might seem. Camels did briefly roam the deserts of Arizona, having been set loose in the aftermath of the 1863 dissolution of the US Camel Corps, an army experiment in using camels to carry explorers and supplies through southwestern deserts. Kingman was especially cognizant of this camel history, as Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale had camped nearby on his 1857–1858 camel expedition from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River. The town of Kingman named a street after him and in 1901 erected the Hotel Beale.
Amid Kingman’s heightened camel-consciousness due to Beale’s local fame, the story indeed could have had a grain of truth. As camels at forts from Texas to California idled during the Civil War, some either escaped or were helped to escape by minders with no fondness for them. When those remaining were finally auctioned off in 1864, they ended up in the hands of Hadji Ali, well known as Hi Jolly, one of the original Camel Corps handlers. He used them for two years in southern Arizona carrying water to sell to travelers, but eventually he also set the camels loose. Our Red Ghost may well have been a remnant of either of these dissolved government plans or business enterprise hopes.