|North Thru Nevada
by Doris Woodliff
In 1856 the United States Army brought 75 Arabian dromedaries, one hump camels, to the southwest. The government hoped these animals could be used as beasts of burden on our deserts as those in Africa. Camels, well suited to hot, dry desert conditions, did well freighting merchandise, but did not measure up to expectations. In 1864 the government sold off the remaining 34 dromedary camels at public auction.
Most of the camels ended up as pack animals for mining operations such as the Comstock Silver Mine in Virginia City, Nevada, which by then was well underway. In 1861, in addition to the dromedaries, Bactrian, (two hump) camels were brought to this country from Mongolia by San Francisco business man Otto Esche. Ecshe bought 32 Bactrian camels, but only 15 survived the ocean voyage.
Realizing this smaller group of camels would not meet his planned endeavors, Esche auction off the Bactrian camels. Like the dromedaries they were used to ferry loads for the mines of Nevada.
The camels were used mainly to carry 500 pound loads of salt from distant salt marshes located near Walker River in Nevada. Salt was required in the milling process of silver and the camels proved adept at this job, but when salt was discovered in nearby Carson City the animals were considered an unnecessary expense and no longer needed.
There were no buyers for the camels as the "ships of the desert" were being replaced by trains. Also dealing with the bad-tempered camels who would kick, bite, or spit at their drivers and alarm horses into frenzy, did not make them an appealing animal. Many of the camels were simply released into the desert where eventually most of them died. The last wild camel was observed in 1936.
Editors note: According to Doris Woodliff, the camel races have taken place in Virginia City in September since 1962. It is not known whether the animals are desendent from the orginal foreign beasts of burden.