Most Americans know that Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 until 1865, however not everyone knows that before becoming the president of the largest rebellion in U.S. history, he served as a U.S. Senator from Mississippi, Colonel of the Mississippi Rifles Militia Unit during the Mexican-American War and Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. As a young U.S. Army officer, Davis was approached by a fellow officer who recommended that the U.S. Army use camels as transportation. He spoke of the camel’s ability to survive in the harsh desert environment of the southwest on very little food or water. Camels are also known for their great strength and stamina. Over twenty years later, U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis ordered the creation of the First U.S. Camel Corps. Major Henry Wayne was sent to Turkey to acquire sixty-two camels and trainers who would teach U.S. soldiers the proper handling and use of the animals.
The camels were transported by boat to Indianola, Texas, arriving on May 14, 1856. With a combined effort between the U.S. Cavalry and seven Turkish and Arab handlers, the camels were driven overland to the newly established Camp Verde (established June, 1856), located in Kerr County, Texas. Almost immediately Army officers began to make notes regarding the camels’ inability to cohabitate with the horses and mules that they were replacing, and often times could not get along with each other. One of the government hired handlers, a Turk named Hadji Ali, commonly referred to as “Hi Jolly”, began training the cavalry soldiers who would be using the animals to survey west Texas, Arizona and New Mexico territories. He also established a successful breeding program while stationed at Camp Verde. Jefferson Davis’s experiment proved to be a success however the Civil War would bring an end to the surveyor’s duties in the southwest and the government began a campaign to sell the camels to anyone who wanted one. At the height of the war, Confederate forces, made up of mostly home guard and militia soldiers, seized Camp Verde and the remaining camels in 1863, however there are no records that reveal if the camels were ever used by the Confederates. Most historians believe that the camels were released onto the Texas plains.
In 1883 a woman living on a southern Arizona ranch was trampled to death by, what one witness described as a huge red beast with a skeletal creature riding on its back. Local ranchers pursued the beast but only found cloven hoof prints and clumps of red animal hair along the trail. As sightings of the beast began to emerge from southern Arizona, wild tales of the beast became larger and more elaborate. The huge red beast with the devilish rider had the ability to take down and kill large animals such as cattle and bears, could run faster than any animal, was close to thirty feet tall and had the ability to disappear from sight. The creature was quickly dubbed, “The Red Ghost”.
A few months and several sightings later, prospectors working in the Verde River, Arizona area encountered the Red Ghost. They fired their riffles at the beast causing it to run away. In its retreat, something fell from the creatures back which would later be identified, by a local doctor, as a human skull with flesh and hair still attached. The discovery of the skull only strengthened the tales of the Red Ghost, Shortly after the discovery of the skull it was written in a local paper, Mohave County Miner, that the beast may be a camel, however most residents of the area had never seen a camel and would not know what one would look like. Furthermore there was no plausible explanation regarding the origin of the skeleton that was perched atop of the animal. The sightings continued for nearly a decade until February of 1893 when rancher, Mizoo Hastings sighted the Red Ghost grazing in his vegetable patch. He retrieved his rifle and brought the beast down with a single shot. Ranchers gathered from all around to view the camel that had gained so much notoriety and had terrorized the citizens of southern Arizona since it had first appeared in 1883. In the examination of the animal, it was determined that the “devilish skeleton” that had been seen riding the creature through the years was, in fact, a human skeleton that had been clearly tied to the animal with thick leather straps many years earlier. The origin of the skeletal rider has been lost to conjecture. Historians have speculated that perhaps the man was tied to the camel as some form of revenge for wrongdoings; Or that he was a Union soldier that was tied to the animal by the Confederate invaders of Camp Verde; Or he was a soldier, attached to the First U.S. Camel Corps, who was afraid of his unusual mount and was tied to the camel by a superior officer as a way to learn to ride. Whoever he was, he and the Red Ghost have found their way into America’s strange history.