Deconstructing the OLD WEST: The Camel at Drum Barracks in 1863

Well, the wait is over. Here in its entirety is the image with the camel. I bought this last week just thinking it was a very cool Old West shot. I had no idea what I had.

Click on image to see it larger.

As I usually do when I’ve purchased a new photo, I scan the image very large to see the details. I was dumbfounded when I realized the one animal was a camel. I immediately thought of the history of camels in the West and how they were used a lot in Nevada. So, I thought I could do a net search to find out the time period when the camels were in use, hoping to narrow down a date for this image. Within a few clicks I was confronted with my image on a website called West Coast Civil War Collectors in an article written by Michael K. Sorenson, a member of this collectors group. It was sort of mind-numbing because I don’t actually expect to see a copy of something I’ve bought. I realize each time I purchase a photograph that there are probably other copies floating around all over the country, but other than a Mervyn Silberstein print, which I knew was a commercial print, I just never expect to see copies of these old scraps of paper. But how fortuitous to actually be able to find this image and some of the history behind it.

In the article written by Michael K. Sorenson he provided the following information about the photo:
A close-up of a U.S. Army camel at Drum Barracks, California during the Civil War. The camel is a one-humped Arabian camel (also called a Dromedary), native to the Middle East, as opposed to a two-humped Asian variety known as a Bactrain. This is the only image known to exist documenting the presence of camels in the U. S. Military. The carte de visite, of which there are two known copies, is attributed to photographer Rudolph D’Heureuse. In 1863, D’ Heureuse, a Frenchman, published a series of 41 images entitled “the Photographic Views of the Mohave Route, el Dorado Canyon and Fort Mohave.” An identical image to that above is held along with others of D’Heureuse’s 41 views by the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley. The French artist made his image studies while accompanying the California Survey Expedition in 1863. the image was made sometime prior to November 1863 when the camels were taken to Benicia Barracks and placed on auction. (CDV courtesy Drum Barracks Garrison Society). (SOURCE: West Coast Civil War Collectors)
The line about there only being two known copies of the image was fascinating. We now know there are actually at least three. So how many more copies are out there? Will we ever know?

I then did a search of Calisphere, the University of California’s digital library, and found what is probably the original glass plate which shows that my image is a cropped image.

The plate is the one owned by the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California. So did the photographer, Rudolph D’Heureuse, put the black crop marks on the image or was this done by someone else with intentions of making prints to sell? Apparently there is no easily available answer to this.

The next site I found was a forum called the Authentic-Campaigner: A Website for the Authentic Civil War Living Historian. Someone called “Fatback and Beans” posted an interesting piece about the photo with a few more details to put the image in context.
Some time last year Zachary Whitlow posted a copy of a news article, that appeared in The Daily Breeze newspapers here in California, in a thread (also lost in the crash) about a rare "government camel" CDV image up for auction on eBay that was ultimately won by the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum (http://www.drumbarracks.org ). Unfortunately some of the information given in the article about the image was based on supposition or was just flat out incorrect when compared to what I had found in my own search for a copy of the image in various archives. The article prompted me to contact the director of the Drum Barracks Museum with the information I had and provided a link to what I had found online. After receiving a reply from the director of the museum I posted the information about the image and it's origins for the forum's benefit.

I had searched the online catalog listings of the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the California State Archives for copies of this image. While the NARA and LOC sites yielded nothing on the image in question, I was more successful with the Online Archive of California site (http://www.oac.cdlib.org ). It was found to be one of a series of images taken sometime in the period between May and late December of 1863.

I believe that to be the time frame because of the presence of members of Co I, 4th California Volunteer Infantry (determined due to Captain Atchison of Co. I being ID'd by name in at least one of the photos he appears in) being present at Fort Mojave. They were at Drum Barracks until May 1863, and at Fort Mojave until March 1865 (the photos of these soldiers were the subject of a different post, also lost). The camels were at the Government Depot in New San Pedro (Wilmington) until late December when it was decided to walk them up the coast route to Benecia and they were sold at auction in 1864 to finally get them out of the Army's hair.

One thing that quickly becomes apparent when comparing this photo to the CDV image in the eBay auction is that there is more to the original image that was cropped out of the CDV printing. There is also a black line box, which appears to be a cropping guide, that looks like it is etched into the glass plate.

The image was taken at the Government Depot located near Phineas Banning’s wharf in New San Pedro and is looking southward along the main street in the town (it would later be called Canal Street) which leads to the wharf. The image shows what some people think is an Arabian (one-hump) camel, otherwise known as a Dromedary. But upon close examination it is indeed a Bactrian (two-hump) camel fitted with a pack for carrying cargo. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a novel concept for the government to actually utilize a beast of burden for the intended purpose that it was originally purchased for, but there it is. Looking at the camel’s front legs, you can see that there is what I believe to be a man standing next to the camel. It’s unclear if he is on the side closest the camera, and blends in with the body of the camel so he can’t be made out, or if he is on the far side.

To me, the two figures on the loading dock of the warehouse look like civilians in frocks and top hats rather than officers in shakos as one person suggested on the original thread. If they are civilians, we could very well be looking at Phineas Banning and Benjamin D. Wilson themselves. A photographer in town taking pictures certainly would have been a rare occurrence, and getting the two most prominent citizens in an image wouldn’t be such an odd thing. I would be interested in what opinions the rest of membership has.

There are a number of some soldiers, most probably from Camp Drum (a mile distant in the opposite direction from the view of the camera), and what appear to be some civilians around the depot. These could be teamsters contracted for the transportation of supplies to the outlying camps and forts, townspeople, or even members of the expedition the photographer traveled with. The soldiers would be from Companies A, C, or E, 4th California Volunteer Infantry who were stationed at Camp Drum (Drum Barracks) during the period the photo was taken.

The Government Depot at New San Pedro was established in October 1861 when the depot in Los Angeles, that W. S. Hancock had recently vacated for the east, was relocated to the harbor. The depot handled the mountains of supplies that were to help prepare Col. James Carleton’s California Column for it’s march to meet Confederate forces invading the territories of Arizona and New Mexico with California as their ultimate goal. The depot continued to support the troops at the outlying camps and forts under the mantle of the Military District of Southern California (stretching from the Mexican border to the Owens Valley and from the Pacific Ocean to the Colorado River) for the duration of the war.

The building the camel is in front of is the Quartermaster warehouse and office. The building farther back, which is a mirror image of the QM building, is the Commissary office and warehouse. The shed in the distance is the depot’s blacksmith’s shop, to the right of that shed, hidden by the Commissary building, should be the depot’s wheelwright’s shop. The depot stretches to the right of the photo out of the frame. Unseen are the stables, the large barn at the far end, and the wagon shed along the far side, bringing us back to the Commissary building, forming a large rectangular complex one block wide by two blocks long with corrals and stalls in the center. (SOURCE: Authentic-Campaigner)
To read more about the camp click on the source link above.

So who was the photographer Rudolph Rudolph d’Heureuse? Turns out to be a pretty darn interesting fellow. I found the following biographical information at Google Books in a book entitled Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 by Peter Palmquist and Thomas Kailbourn.
D’Heureuse, Rudolph Photographer, mining engineer, surveyor, inventor; active California, Nevada, Arizona (traveling from San bernardino, Calif., to Fort Mojave, Ariz.) 1863
Rudolph d’Heureuse was one of those frontier Renaissance men who seemingly possessed unlimited sources of practical know-how. Mining engineer, metallurgist, prospector, surveyor, topographer, and inventor were some of the hats that he wore in the decade of the 1860s alone. He was also the first cameraman to photograph the Mojave Desert.
Nothing is known of d’Heureuse’s early life, but evidently he was born and educated in France. Two pieces of information show that d’Heureuse came to California in 1849; one “R Heureuse” was listed as among the horde of California bound travelers who arrived in Panama City, Panama, in March 1849, and Rudloph d’Heureuse was a forty-niner in good standing of the San Francisco Pioneer Association. Although no documentation of his activities during the 1850s has surfaced, as early as 1862 he was prospecting in the Mojave Desert for mining claims that he registered in his own name. It was probably in 1863 that, equipped with a wet-plate camera outfit, d’Heureuse photographed the route between San Bernardino, California, and Fort Mojave, Arizona Territory, as well as making a side trip to El Dorado Canyon, Nevada Territory. D’Heureuse’s exact purpose is unknown, but it is likely that he performed this work for the California State Geological Survey. The subject matter that he photographed was varied, but his interest was clearly in topographical and scientific documentation. His photographs included views of army installations, isolated habitations along the route, general scenic overviews, group portraits of Paiute Indians and military personnel, and close-up studies of desert vegetation. A number of his photographs depicted camp scenes of tents, wagons and teams, and men playing cards and checkers. D’Heureuse’s 1863 photographic work is significant as the oldest extend body of survey photographs of the Desert Southwest. (SOURCE: Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865)
To read more about d’Heureuse click on the source link above.

Once I posted the first part of the "deconstructed" photo I knew someone might recognize the image. Well, reader IntenseGuy posted the following comment after I posted part 4:
I want to say this is Camp Drum (now located in Los Angeles).
In fact, if there is a camel in this photo somewhere... :)
Well, the jig was up. Someone had identified the image by finding a website called Military Museum.org. There around three-quarters of the way down the page is my image. Apparently it’s also Herbert M. Hart’s image according to the following caption beneath the photo:
Camels came to Camp Drum as almost final chapter in pre-Civil War experiment. In 1863, Major Clarence E. Bennett, post commander, complained, "They had been kept at this post a long time on forage when in San Bernardino and various places within 100 miles of here they could have been subsisted without the expenditure of one cent for forage." He recommended the 36 camels at Drum be tested for service across Mojave Desert and be shipped to Fort Mojave because almost all grass at Drum was gone "and in little time the plains for miles and miles here will be perfectly bare." He advised they be carefully trained and tended by "an energetic officer whose conduct was characterized by sobriety and integrity.- He blamed failure of previous camel use on fact government employees "regard service with camels extremely unpleasant." He said, "In appearance camels are extremely ugly, in gait very rough, in herding inclined to wander, and with their long strides they make haste slowly, keeping their herders on the go; they offer no facilities for stealing." The idea was not approved and camels were auctioned off at Benicia Depot the next year. Although this picture is identified officially -as Drum Barracks, buildings resemble quartermaster and commissary storehouses at Wilmington Depot. (Illustration courtesy of Herbert M. Hart) (SOURCE: Military Museum)
Click on the source link above to read some of the history of Camp Drum, including maps and images.

So, how did a camel end up standing around in San Pedro, California?
The U.S. Camel Corps was a mid-nineteenth century experiment by the United States Army in using camels as pack animals in the Southwest United States.

While the camels proved to be hardy and well-suited to travel through the region, the Army declined to adopt them for military use. Horses were frightened of the unfamiliar animals, and their unpleasant dispositions made them difficult to manage.

Origin   In 1836, Major George H. Crosman encouraged the United States Department of War to use camels for transportation in campaigns against Native Americans in Florida during the Seminole Wars because of their ability to survive on little food and water. His arguments won the attention of Senator Jefferson Davis. It was not until after the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–1848), when the US forces were required to campaign in arid and desert regions, that officials began to take the idea seriously.

Newly appointed as Secretary of War by President Franklin Pierce, Jefferson Davis found the Army needed to improve transportation in the southwestern US, which he and most observers thought a great desert. (The adventurer Josiah Harlan was lobbying for the Army to use camels.) The rough terrain and dry climate were considered too harsh for the horses and mules regularly used by the Army. Among those supporting the alternative mounts was Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. When his unit had taken the arid southern route, it ran out of water, endangering both men and beasts, and was attacked by Apaches. Beale thought camels superior for transport in such an inhospitable landscape. He was influenced by reading Évariste Régis Huc's Recollections of a Journey Through Tartary, Thibet [Tibet], and China in 1852, which extolled the camel's virtues. Ironically, camels originated in North America but had died out in their home continent due to hunting and climate change; their descendants survived only in Asia, Africa and in South America as llamas.

On March 3, 1855, the US Congress appropriated $30,000 for the project. Major Henry C. Wayne was assigned to procure the camels. On June 4, 1855, Wayne departed New York City on board the USS Supply, under the command of then-Lieutenant David Dixon Porter, a cousin of Beale.

The ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and arrived in Smyrna on January 30, 1856, where it loaded 21 (some reports say 31) camels. Two weeks later it departed with the camels and five handlers for the Gulf of Mexico. On April 29, 1856, the Supply arrived at Indianola, Texas. Large swells made the transferring the camels to a shallower draft ship for landing impossible; both ships had to go to the mouth of the Mississippi River to find calmer waters for the transfer. The Fashion arrived at Indianola and unloaded the camels on May 14, 1856. A second shipment of forty-one camels arrived on February 10, 1857.

Use in the Southwest   On June 4, 1856, the Army loaded the camels and they were driven to Camp Verde via Victoria and San Antonio.[1] Reports from initial tests were largely positive. The camels proved to be exceedingly strong, and were able to move quickly across terrain which horses found difficult. Their legendary ability to go without water proved valuable on an 1857 survey mission led by Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. He rode a camel from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River and his team used 25 camels on the trip. The survey team took the camels into California, where they were stationed at the Benicia Arsenal.

During a 1859 survey of the Trans-Pecos region to find a shorter route to Fort Davis, the Army used the camels again. Under the command of Lt. Edward Hartz and Lt. William Echols, the team surveyed much of the Big Bend area. In 1860, Echols headed another survey team through the Trans-Pecos that employed the Camel Corps.

End of the experiment   With the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Camel Corps was mostly forgotten. Handlers had had difficulty with their camels spooking the horses and mules. Beale offered to keep the Army's camels on his property, but Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rejected the offer. Many of the camels were sold to private owners; others escaped into the desert throughout the West and British Columbia. Beale's favorite, the white camel "Seid", fought with another camel during rutting season and was killed by a crushing blow to head. Seid's bones were sent to the Smithsonian Institution.[3] Feral camels continued to be sighted in the Southwest through the early 1900s, with the last reported sighting in 1941 near Douglas, Texas.

Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), an Ottoman citizen, came to the US as the lead camel driver. He lived out his life in the US. After his death in 1902, he was buried in Quartzsite, Arizona. His grave is marked by a pyramid-shaped monument topped with a metal profile of a camel.

Frank Laumeister, a veteran of the corps, bought several camels from the Army. He took his herd to the new Colony of British Columbia in 1862-1863, where he used the animals to carry freight on the Douglas Road, Old Cariboo Road and other gold rush-era routes there. Between the region's rocky trails and roads, which cut up the camels' feet, and the hostility between camels and mules, the experiment was a failure.

Laumeister put his camels out to pasture, from which some escaped. The last sighting of a feral camel in British Columbia was in the 1930s. Their presence in local history is reflected in the name of the Camelsfoot Range near Lillooet, and in a local basin called "the Camoo". (SOURCE: Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Camel_Corps)
As to that lone camel in the photo, we’ll never know its story, but there are some interesting tales of camels roaming the West, including this one supplied by MrCachet from Old Paper Art.
In 1883, a woman was found trampled to death and, on her body and a nearby bush, were clumps of reddish fur. Large hoof prints were found in the area, but locals were perplexed. A short time later, a large animal careened into a tent in which two miners lay sleeping. Though they were unable to identify the beast, again, large hoof prints and tufts of red hair were left behind. After more incidents occurred, the locals finally recognized the large animal as a camel. Soon, people began to report seeing the camel, who one rancher said carried a rider, though the rider appeared to be dead. The next report came from a group of prospectors who saw the camel and while watching him, spied something falling from its back. As the beast moved on, the prospectors went to see what had fallen and discovered a human skull. For the next several years, numerous others spied the camel, who by this time had been dubbed the "Red Ghost,” carrying its headless rider. However, in 1893, when an Arizona farmer found the red camel grazing in his garden, he shot and killed the beast. By this time, the large camel had shaken free of its dead rider, but still bore the saddle and leather straps with which the corpse had been attached.
There was much speculation as to who the mysterious dead rider the camel had carried for several years might have been. One tale alleges that the rider was a young soldier, who was afraid of the camels, and therefore, was having much difficulty in learning how to ride them. In order to teach him how, his fellow soldiers tied him to the top of the beast, determined that he would get over his fear. They then hit the camel on the rump and the beast took off running. Though the soldiers pursued the camel and his rider, the red beast easily outpaced them and escaped into the desert. Neither the camel, nor his helpless rider, were ever seen again. (SOURCE: Legends of America)
As you can see, this little scrap of paper purchased from a bin at an antique store turned out to have quite a history. Now the question is, how did it end up in the bin?


  1. A wonderful story to start my day. I'm working on a piece of paper that involves an early MT Territory photographer by the name of L. A. Huffman.

    It's amazing the amount of detail that can be obtained from these early photographs.

    You made my day!

    1. Oh I'm glad this was worth it after spending hours trying to post it and getting blogger "error cannot save" message. Hours of it!

      Glad you enjoyed it Dave!

  2. You have completely and thoroughly documented your photo as one might think possible. A picture is indeed worth a 1000 words (or about 9 pages, even..) In fact I thought you had everything until I got to "how did it end up in the bin?" Yes, indeed, how did it???

    I printed out this post (I rarely print anything) so that I can read it carefully when I have more time.

    What are your plans for the photo? :)

    1. It now resides in my own bin, protected on all sides.

      The funny thing is the woman ringing me up tried to charge me $7. I said, "No, it's $1." She looked at again and said, "No, 7." I told her to look again and she realized it was indeed 1, but a dirt smudge next to it made it look like a 7 if you looked really fast. Obviously I got a deal.

      And thank you.

  3. Excellent research T+L, and a very interesting back story to this wonderful find. You know what they say about making your own luck! I suspect that this was originally printed in some numbers for sale commercially - the subject would have rendered it interesting, even then. There are possibly other examples out there, perhaps people not recognising it for what it is.

    I bought a couple of glass plate negatives recently on eBay for 0.99 each, not knowing who the photographer was. Turned out they were by Derby's first, and most renowned, postcard publisher! I've rarely been able to afford to purchase his postcards on eBay because they are so sought after, and now I own two glass negatives. You have to put yourself in the right place at the right time to make these discoveries.

    1. Brett, that's a very exciting find of yours. And doesn't just make the search so wonderful.

  4. Your post was an interesting read. I had no idea camels were used during the Civil War. What a nice surprise to find a rare picture and get it for one dollar. How exciting and what a find!

    1. Thanks. I think the history of the Camel in the cavalry is not common history, though I read about it along time ago. For some reason I think there was a movie based on it, but I could be wrong.

  5. I am absolutely amazed at what you uncovered about this picture! I bet military historians are interested in your story. Thanks for sharing.

  6. A very interesting post and well worth the time you spent preparing it. I shall certainly look more closely in the future at those faded scraps of paper on sale in the local flea market.
    Itis the angle of the animal's legs that tell you it is a camel and not a horse.

  7. Isn't it just amazing what we can discover with one photo?!!! I just adore camels, and every year they come to the Rennfest and we can take a ride on them! But, I never do, I only just enjoy watching them.

  8. This was an amazing post. So much history from that one little $1.00 photo.
    When I looked at the photo on my Ipad, I couldn't see the camel at all. So now I'm looking on my big computer and I can see it just fine.
    Wonderful post.
    Do you think some of those loose camels got married and had offspring that still might be running around out there somewhere? (just had to get the wedding thing in here).

  9. Thank you for such an informative post. You got your money's worth on the photo and so have we!

  10. I'm glad you've all enjoyed the post. Sometimes the net is pretty darn useful. It's always fun to put an image into some sort of context, and this one was just too fabulous to pass by. Sometimes I feel like I'm back in school at the library with the World Book Encyclopedia in front of me busily trying to do a report.

  11. Anonymous8/26/2012

    What a journey you took us on! You managed to find an astonishing amount of information. Those dromedaries get around :-) Jo

  12. I don't know whether to think it would be nice to think they're still roaming somewhere in the West or all gone. A lonely life for a loan camel or two.

  13. WOW. Such a terrific story and history. The period of the 1850s included the Crimean War which might have introduced ideas about camels to the military. I think it's a Bactrian camel from westtern Asia, which has a more shaggy neck. Or maybe they experimented with both, since the Ottoman empire was so large. Camels wee also imported to Austrailia, again with limited success.

    Such a startling photo find, a real pearl in an oyster. I'm reminded about that joke about the camel .... which when told right goes on and on and never gets to the camel :->

  14. How exciting to discover a copy of the very picture you just purchased and then finding so much information about it. We have camels here in Lanzarote but I never thought of them in the U.S.

    1. It's sad that this part of US history is unknown by most people. Sadder that this is the only known photo proving it. I would have thought a lot of photos would have been taken showing camels with members of the cavalry atop them.

  15. How fascinating, and what great stories from one image. Camels roaming the old west is not an image I'd ever imagined.