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Last Camp of Hi Jolly

In 1856, a U.S. Navy ship unloaded a delivery from overseas that would initiate one of the most bizarre government experiments in history. The project, if successful, would enable the United States to overcome the harsh, arid conditions of its newly acquired western territories and more easily expand its military presence there. The key to the experiment's success, officials hoped, lay in the cargo: camels.

Jefferson Davis, then secretary of war, believed the camels would solve the U.S. Army's supply problems in the west, as the animals could carry more than mules and would require fewer resources. So, he brought several dozen of the animals over from Egypt and Turkey, along with a number of camel drivers.

Among the drivers arriving in the U.S. was a man named Haiji Ali, nicknamed Hi Jolly by those he worked with, either out of jest or simply because they couldn't figure out how to spell or pronounce his name correctly. He and the camels helped in Lt. Edward Beale's effort to establish a reliable wagon route west. Hi Jolly tended to the beasts on the trail and acted as mobile camel expert.

 


Although the Army held high hopes for its so-called "Camel Corps," the experiment was ultimately deemed a failure. The camels were hard-working, but they tended to be ill-tempered and the mere sight of them drove panic into the hearts of other livestock. Eventually, the beasts were done away with. As for their drivers, little is known what happened to most of them, but Hi Jolly stayed in America, adopted Arizona as his home and ran a few not-so-profitable businesses, becoming a beloved local character.

In the end, Hi Jolly wound up in Quartzsite, west of Phoenix, where he passed away in 1902. Thirty-three years later, the Arizona Highway Department erected a pyramid-shaped monument over his grave and buried the ashes of the last government dromedary with him. The monument, crowned with a camel, is the most popular attraction in Quartzsite.

Weird Arizona

 

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