Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/146

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142
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

forage. It could also endure better than the horse or mule the extremes of heat and cold in this western region. The experience of other peoples had proved the value of the camel. In northern Africa and over the greater part of Asia the animal had always been the beast of burden—the most important agent of transportation. In climate and physical geography our western frontiers were similar to the regions which were the home of the camel.

Camels had been used in America, but not in large numbers. The Spaniards had imported them into Cuba and South America for use in transporting ore from the mines to the coast, but this experiment had not been a success. In 1701 some camels were brought to Virginia, but nothing more is known of them. In Jamaica, where the English tried them, the "chigger" or "chiqua," an insect which infested the feet of the negroes, got into the feet of the camels, rendering them unserviceable.[1]

The proposal to substitute camels for mules, horses and oxen in transporting supplies for the army was first made by Major George Hampton Crossman, a graduate of West Point, who was Zachary Taylor's quartermaster in the Seminole war. The difficulty of transporting supplies in Florida caused him to suggest that camels be introduced and used for that purpose. He made a study of the subject, and twenty years later was considered one of the authorities concerning camels.

Prominent among the officers who took an interest in the matter was Major Henry Constantine Wayne, a Georgian, who during and after the Mexican war, served in the Quai-termaster's Department. He, with Senator Jefferson Davis, late colonel of the Mississippi Rifles, made extensive studies in regard to the different breeds of the animal, its habitat, the proper care of it, and its adaptability to the arid plains of Texas, New Mexico and California. Wayne, in 1848, made a formal recommendation to the War Department that camels be imported for experimental purposes, and Davis, who was on the military affairs committee, undertook to get an appropriation. In March, 1851, he proposed to insert in the army appropriation bill an amendment providing the sum of $30,000 for the purchase of fifty camels, the hire of ten Arabs, and other expenses. In support of his measure he made a speech reviewing the history of the camel as a servant of man and explaining the need for the animals in the west. There they would be valuable, he said, not only because of their burden-bearing capacity and their ability to live long without water and to eat scraggy bushes, but because of their greater speed. The dromedaries, or swift camels, could be used to mount cavalry and could carry small cannon, as had been done in Persia and in Egypt. Senator Ewing at first objected that the climate in the mountainous parts of the west was too cold for

  1. Leonard, "The Camel," pp. 1-18; Marsh, "The Camel," chap. 16.