On April 29, 1855, the U.S.S. Supply arrived at the port of Indianola on Matagorda Bay.
It was the end of a voyage that had taken it to the North African Coast. There, under orders from Secretary of War Jeferson Davis (later the Confederate President), Army agents had purchased thirty-three camels.
Davis had convinced Congress that, “For military purposes, and for reconnaissance, it is believed the dromedary would supply a want now seriously felt in our service.”
The caravan started the long trek to Camp Verde, North of San Antonio. That's where the U.S. Army Camel Corps would be based under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee.
Along the way they overnighted at Victoria where the animals were shorn and a local woman knitted a pair of camel hair socks for President Franklin Pierce.
The beasts proved they where perfectly made for transport duty. They went forever without water, needed little food, and could cary upwards of 600 pounds. Drawbacks were that they were more stubborn than any mule, smelled like hell itself, scared horses, and had a nasty habit of spitting on their handlers.
Because the Army had zero camel handling skills, experts were brought from the Middle East. One later settled south of the border. His son, Plutarco Elias Calles, became President of Mexico in the 1920s.
Ultimately the coming of the Civil War killed the camel experiment. The eighty-odd camels in Texas fell into the hands of the Conferdaracy. After the war they were auctioned off or just turned loose.
One was later owned by an Austin attorney. He would take an early breakfast at the Driskill Hotel and then ride for San Antonio, making it there before court opened at nine o'clock.
The Texas camel saga came to an end around 1905. That's that last recorded sighting of one, way out in West Texas. Camels will wander.
One wandered all the way to Fort Selden in the New Mexico territory. It scared the wits out of the young son of the fort's commandant. The youngster hid from the hairy monster behind his mother's skirts.
Later on that boy got pretty high up in the army himself. His name was Douglas McArthur.
You can read the whole story in Texas Camel Tales by Chris Emmott.