In 1855, under the direction of then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, Congress appropriated $30,000 for "the purchase and importation of camels and dromedaries to be employed for military purposes." Davis believed that camels were key to the country's expansion westward; a transcontinental railroad was still decades away from being built, and he thought the animals could be well suited to haul supplies between remote military outposts. By 1857, after a pair of successful trips to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the U.S. Army had purchased and imported 75 camels. Within a decade, though, each and every one would be sold at auction.
An entrepreneur of the frontier named Samuel McLaughlin bought the entire herd in February 1864, then shipped several camels out to Nevada to haul salt and mining supplies in Virginia City. (McLaughlin raised money for the trip by organizing a camel race in Sacramento. A crowd of 1,000 people reportedly turned up to watch the spectacle.) According to Gray's account, the animals that remained in California were sold to zoos, circuses, and even back to Beale himself: "For years one might have seen Beale working camels about his ranch and making pleasure trips with them, accompanied by his family."
And as for the rest? Many were put to use in Nevada mining towns, the unluckiest were sold to butchers and meat markets, and some were driven to Arizona to aid with the construction of a transcontinental railroad. When that railroad opened, though, it quickly sunk any remaining prospects for camel-based freight in the southwest. Owners who didn't sell their herds to travelling entertainers or zoos reportedly turned them loose on the desert.
Feral camels did survive in the desert, although there almost certainly weren't enough living in the wild to support a thriving population. Sightings, while uncommon, were reported throughout the region up until the early 20th century. A young Douglas MacArthur, living in New Mexico in 1885, heard about a wild camel wandering near Fort Selden. A pair of camels were spotted south of the border in 1887. Estimates of "six to ten" actual sightings up to 1890 or so. 1a
The Dead Camel mountains are a mountain range located in western Nevada. The Dead Camel mountains separate the Lahontan Reservoir from Fallon, Nevada. There are several small caves on the eastern slope of the mountains, one of which contains many pictographs left by the inhabitants of the area at the time of Lake Lahontan.1b The Dead Camel Mountains where named for the discovery of one of these Feral camels found by local prospectors in 1891.1c.
The legend of the Red Ghost.
A crazed, wild monster roaming the Arizona desert — fit snugly within the shadow of the camel experiment.
In the 1880s, a wild menace haunted the Arizona territory. It was known as the Red Ghost, and its legend grew as it roamed the high country. It trampled a woman to death in 1883. It was rumored to stand 30 feet tall. A cowboy once tried to rope the Ghost, but it turned and charged his mount, nearly killing them both. One man chased it, then claimed it disappeared right before his eyes. Another swore it devoured a grizzly bear.
"The eyewitnesses said it was a devilish looking creature strapped on the back of some strange-looking beast," Marshall Trimble, Arizona's official state historian, explains.
Months after the first attacks, a group of miners spotted the Ghost along the Verde River. As Trimble explained in Arizonian, his book about folk tales of the Old West, they took aim at the creature. When it fled their gunfire, something shook loose and landed on the ground. The miners approached the spot where it fell. They saw a human skull lying in the dirt, bits of skin and hair still stuck to bone.
Several years later, a rancher near Eagle Creek spotted a feral, red-haired camel grazing in his tomato patch. The man grabbed his rifle, then shot and killed the animal. The Ghost’s reign of terror was over.
News spread back to the East Coast, where the New York Sun published a colorful report about the Red Ghost's demise: "When the rancher went out to examine the dead beast, he found strips of rawhide wound and twisted all over his back, his shoulders, and even under his tail." Something, or someone, was once lashed onto the camel.
The legend of the Red Ghost is rich with embellishments, the macabre flourishes and imaginative twists needed for any great campfire story. Other great source of the Red Ghost Legend. Arizonian Oddities. 2/12/2010
1c.Churchill County Historical Museum