16 January 2015

Hi Jolly

Photo credit: It appears so often on the Internet,
difficult to tell the real origin; this is from the
Quartzsite Yacht Club
He was called Hi Jolly. His name was Hadji Ali (Ali al-Hajayah). He was a Moslem Ottoman, the man most closely associated with the United States Army Camel Experiment. Or perhaps he was Syrian. Or Greek. It's a story not well known in the U.S.A., let alone Canada.

In 1856 the U.S. Army imported altogether seventy-five camels from the Middle East as the "answer" to facilitating American expansion across the southwestern territories. Who but a man of the Middle East to handle the animals and train the soldiers to adapt. Actually more than one man was hired from the Levant but Hi Jolly, as the Americans quickly dubbed him, became the legend. He was capable and well-liked by all accounts.

Courtesy Doug Baum
The project was the brainchild of Jefferson Davis, then U.S. secretary of war. His own experience in the southwest and understanding of camels' role in distant desert areas led him to the bold experiment. Camels would fare so much better as pack animals in the arid terrain than horses. And they did. The camels were stationed at Camp Verde, Texas, near San Antonio. They first fulfilled their promise in the 1857 Beale Expedition, a successful trip transporting supplies and surveyors across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California to Los Angeles. For several years their use was continued even after the Confederacy took over in southern areas.

Then what? By the time the Civil War ended the Camel Corps project had evaporated along with Davis's political power. Congress declined further funding; some said that camels frequently spooked the horses and other animals, causing disruption and timing delays. A plaque at the Hi Jolly Memorial in Quartzsite, Arizona, reads in part: "Officially the camel experiment was a failure, but both Lt. Beale and Major Wayne were enthusiastic in praise of the animals. A fair trial might have resulted in complete success." Some of the "failure" has to be attributed to uninformed poor treatment of the animals.

"Legends" beget more legends and it's not easy to separate facts from the apocryphal. Many camels were auctioned off by the government but others were set free in Arizona to roam the desert. Camels were still being reported in the American desert in the 1930s. More or less abandoned, Hi Jolly was out of a job but unlike his few colleagues decided to remain in the United States. Among other occupations he became a prospector and a mail courier. Known as Phillip Tedro after his naturalization in 1880, he married, had two daughters, and died in 1902 in Quartzsite, Arizona. There, much later, a memorial was erected to him.

Doug Baum, likely the most camel-knowledgeable man in North America, created the Texas Camel Corps partly to commemorate the Beale Expedition, and also to spread the word about these hardy and fascinating animals.  

Courtesy Doug Baum
His Facebook page says it: "The Texas Camel Corps was established to educate the public on the historic use of camels in America in the 19th century." Demonstrating historical re-enactments of the U.S. Camel Corps is only one of dozens of educational events he conducts or participates in all year long. I greatly anticipate the book he will publish in 2015.

This photo I took unsuspectingly about ten years ago is one of several you might come across in Arizona tributes to the legend of the camels and Hi Jolly. Quartzsite remembers its most famous citizen.

Addendum August 2015: A perfect example of how legends grow is an article in Smithsonian.com - http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/whatever-happened-wild-camels-american-west-180956176/?no-ist

● Doug Baum, "The status of the camel in the United States of America," paper given at the 2011 Camel Conference of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (https://www.soas.ac.uk/camelconference2011/file84331.pdf).
● Doug Baum, April 2014, "Confederate Reunion Grounds," The Camel's Tale (www.texascamelcorps.com and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-US-Army-Camel-Experiment/).
● Ibraham Kalin,"From Hadji to Hi Jolly," 6 December 2014, Daily Sabah (Istanbul) (http://www.dailysabah.com/columns/ibrahim-kalin/2014/11/25/from-hadji-ali-to-hi-jolly).
Forrest Bryant Johnson, The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America's Desert Military Experiment. New York: Penguin, 2012; preview on Google books.
● "Hi Jolly" and "United States Camel Corps," Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hi_Jolly and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Camel_Corps).
● "The U.S. Army Camel Experiment," 2014 Tour Schedule, History America Tours (http://historyamerica.com/tours/14-CamelCorps.html).

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

No comments: