Camels in the Intermountain West

After evolutionarily originating in the Americas, camels returned to the American West as pack animals in a U.S. military experiment as well as a series of transportation enterprises. These exotic creatures inspired wild tales and jovial narratives reported in newspaper articles and local lore. Of course, as new as camels seemed to nineteenth-century Westerners, a twentieth-century fossil discovery revealed the imported beasts had ancestry in the region that was surprisingly recent, at least on geologic time scales. Camel stories both true and tall, both antique and ancient, range throughout the Intermountain West.

Camels at Fort Defiance

Fort Defiance marks the starting point of Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s 1857–1858 wagon road survey across the 35th parallel to the Colorado River, the very first deployment of the US Camel Corps. The government was eager to boost the…

Camels at Virginia City

In Virginia City, camels arrived in 1865 to convey salt. Nevada, famed for its Comstock lode and peppered with mining towns such as Virginia City, derived much of its wealth and population from ore deposits. However, translating these deposits into a…

Camels at Kingman

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,…

Camels at Missoula

As an instrumental wagon route across the Rocky Mountains, the Mullan Road carried much of the traffic between Fort Benton in what is now Montana to Fort Walla Walla in present-day Washington. With the discovery of placer and quartz mines in places…

Camelops Hesternus at Fillmore

Along with two of his friends, Hector Lee, a student from Fillmore, Utah, discovered a camel skull in a cave in the lava beds of nearby Meadow Hot Springs in 1928. He passed it along to professor A.L. Matthews of the University of Utah, who then sent…