There are several things you expect to see while in Central Texas: farm land, ranches, horses and cows and great barbecue joints, to name a few. One thing you may not expect? A field of camels. But just outside of Waco, a caravan of camels roam and they're helping Texans learn a little-known piece of state history.
The Texas Camel Corps was formed by former country music drummer and Nashville Zoo caretaker Doug Baum in 1997, after he brought two camels home with him to Texas. Baum eventually acquired more camels and continued studying how the animals impacted American history.
When Camels Came to Texas
Just met Irenie (and Doug Baum) of Texas Camel Corps. A former zookeeper, Doug is now a full-time camel guide who cares for Irenie and nine other camels. He started TCC in 1995 to educate folks about the animals that he believes have gotten “a bad rap” in pop culture. The "spitting thing" he says is a myth. “They are too often characterized as bad-tempered spitters," he has said, explaining that they’re more like "oversized dogs." #irenie
The United States Camel Corps was a mid-1800s U.S. Army experiment, which involved using camels as pack animals in the Southwest. U.S. Army Major Henry C. Wayne procured camels from Greece, Turkey and Egypt. In 1856, Wayne delivered 34 camels to Indianola, Texas. Soon after, more than 40 more camels were delivered to American soil and the U.S. Army led the large herd to Camp Verde near Kerrville, Texas. The Army led the camels on various expeditions, finding them to be much more reliable than mules. Experienced handlers from Greece and Turkey joined the soldiers on the trek, teaching the Army the art of handling camels.
For a decade, the Army utilized the camels on caravans across the southwestern U.S. However, the project was abandoned at the end of the Civil War. The camels were auctioned off and distributed throughout California, Nevada and Arizona as part of freighting operations.
Today, Baum teaches kids about camels' contributions to the American West. At his farm in Valley Mills, Texas, Baum offers historical lessons on the mid-19th-century camel experiment. In addition to learning a fascinating piece of American history, the schoolchildren get a chance to interact with the camels under Baum's supervision.
The Texas Camel Corps even offers public guided Camel Treks through the Big Bend region of west Texas. The treks allow participants to retrace the Army's camel trains of the 1850s and 1860s, with a focus on the history and ecology of the Chihuahuan Desert.