The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 33, July 1929 - April, 1930

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

THE PURCHASE AND IMPORTATION OF CAMELS BY
THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT, 1855-1857*
LEWIs B. LESLEY, M. A.
San Diego State College
San Diego, California
INTRODUCTION
The increasing interest manifested in the story of the impor-
tation of camels into the United States in the fifties of the last
century warrants a very careful study of a most important govern-
ment document, "The Report of the Secretary of War, Communi-
cating, in Compliance with a Resolution of the Senate of February
2, 1857, Information Respecting the Purchase of Camels for the
Purposes of Military Transportation," written by Jefferson Davis,
then serving in the cabinet of President Pierce.1 Several writers
have quoted briefly from this report, but in order to appreciate its
value it is necessary to unravel in detail the fascinating story en-
closed therein.
The background of the story is fairly familiar. Jefferson Davis
envisaged a railroad connection along the southern route between
New Orleans and San Diego and hoped that this dream would be
realized before his northern compatriots could connect Chicago
with a terminal in northern California. Before becoming Secre-
tary of War, he interested himself in possible experiments in the
Southwest which would help pave the way for the "iron horse" and
early decided that one of the easiest ways to hold that region
securely against Indian and Mexican enemies would be to import
camels from the Near East for use along the frontier in that region,
The forts there were in dire need of reinforcements, and further-
more, there was need of an adequate survey of a wagon road which
would serve to mark out a possible railroad route along the thirty-
second parallel. This, briefly, is the genesis of the idea of im-
*A Master's thesis, prepared by Leo F. Mahoney, University of Texas,
1927 (MS., Library of the University of Texas), deals with this subject
more comprehensively and from a somewhat wider range of sources.-
E. C. B.
134th Congress, 3d Session, Senate Ex. Doc., No. 62. Washington, 1857.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 33, July 1929 - April, 1930. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101090/. Accessed December 18, 2014.