The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America’s Desert Military Experiment by Forrest Bryant Johnson is a splendid recounting of the Army’s attempt to adapt dromedaries to the American desert. Johnson also features the events of the times, the Civil War, the Mormon War, the Indian Wars and the political upheaval as the young country moved resolutely westward in search of land and gold.
The author of Phantom Warrior follows the trail of the men who went to Europe in search of camels to test their suitability for the Southwest desert region. This forgotten piece of history is brought to life by Johnson’s attention to detail and his adept skill at bringing these historical characters to life.
In this narrative, readers see just how much disdain the older countries felt for the young upstart U.S.A. From the first shipment of “old diseased” creatures to the final receipt of camels which were hale, hardy and ready for the long journey to the American Southwest, Johnson reveals the personalities and men behind this little known experiment. Following the journey, The Last Camel Charge does not rely upon the “Journal of May Humphreys Stacey” as one would expect. It does deviate from existing reports and follows Lt. Beale’s trail blazing and his attachment to these foreign creatures.
Beale was not alone in his love affair with the two types of camels brought over for the Army’s use. Seemingly just about everyone who had any dealings with these creatures became lifelong fans. Even, Beale’s friend and “business” partner Samuel Bishop who lodged camels at his ranch and later, when the Army wanted the creatures back, was very reluctant to release their treasured charges. Bishop was a fan of the animals and it is he who rode the beasts, along with a few others, to attack the Mojave that were induced to misbehave in a horrific fashion against the non-Mormon settlers who were entering the area.
The book details the beginnings of the Civil War, which would ultimately cause the camel experiment to lose support, as well as the “Mormon” war. The Native American tribes of the area are also looked at as well as their affiliation with other tribes, the Mormons, new settlers, Beale, and the Army.
This is a fascinating look at all the players in the experiment, including a pretty in depth look at “Hi Jolly” whose immigration to America as a Camel Drover led to his working in many different trades and becoming a “local” legend in Arizona. The Last Camel Charge is a well researched and well written recounting of a time when the US was facing problems on all sides.
On top of the battles of “brother against brother” there were the “savages” who stood in the way of gold prospecting, settlers and expansion of young America’s “manifest destiny.” Mormon’s were another issue and the horrific massacre of innocents by this “new” religion caused an outcry to equal the Native American concern.
Published this year, the book is a fascinating read and one that any western history buff will find interesting and entertaining. A real 5 star effort from Forrest Bryant Johnson.