The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 69, July 1965 - April, 1966 Page: 443
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The American Camel Experiment
Upon examination, it becomes obvious that the camel venture
did not develop out of any definite purpose. It was the result of
twenty years' accumulation of ideas by military experts, world
travelers, zoologists, and politicians. Jefferson Davis was not the
originator of the experiment as some have held, but he was able
to implement the idea when he became secretary of war under
President Franklin Pierce in 1853. Davis was important not only
because the project originated under his direction, but also be-
cause he represented an aggregate of ideas on the subject that
had floated around Washington since 1836.
When Davis became secretary of war, the "Great American
Desert" was still an accepted fact. In 1821, Stephen Long had
issued his General Description of the Country Traversed by the
Exploring Expedition, which depicted the area between the nine-
ty-seventh meridian and the Rocky Mountains as almost com-
pletely destitute of woodland, with little vegetation and filled
with sandy, sterile soil. Captain John R. Bell, who kept the
expedition's journal, pictured the plains region as "an extensive
barren prairie, almost as steril [sic] as the deserts of Arabia."2
The idea was held by many for over a decade after the Civil War,
and in 1853, when Davis assumed his cabinet duties, it was an
accepted fact that the area west from Council Bluffs to the Rocky
Mountains was generally uninhabitable and was comparable to
the deserts of Algeria or Arabia. If Davis did not believe that
before he became secretary of war, it is evident that he did after
receiving reports of the four surveys for the transcontinental
railroad routes which were made in 1853. In his summary of the
findings of the surveyors, he divided the country which had been
explored into three categories: a five or six-hundred-mile belt of
fertile land between the Mississippi and the eastern edge of the
"sterile belt"; a sterile region between two and four hundred
"Harlin M. Fuller and LeRoy R. Hafen (eds.), The Journal of Captain John R.
Bell, Official Journalist for the Stephen Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains,
[r82o] (Glendale, Cal., 1957). See also A General Description of the Country
Traversed by the Exploring Expedition-Being a Copy of a Report of Major Long
to the Honorable John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War . . of the country situated
between the Meridian of the Council Bluff and the Rocky Mountains, in Reuben
Gold Thwaites (ed.), Early Western Travels (32 vols.; Cleveland, 1904-1907), XVII;
Randolph B. Marcy and George B. McClellan, "Exploration of the Red River of
Louisiana, in the Year 1852," House Executive Documents, 33rd Cong., Ist Sess.
(Serial No. 666), [unnumbered].
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 69, July 1965 - April, 1966, periodical, 1966; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117144/m1/521/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.