The Legends and Lore of Red Ghost and the U.S. Army Camel Corps

Only known surviving photo of the U.S. Camel Corps

The Legends and Lore of Red Ghost
and the U.S. Army Camel Corps

Published in The National Herald, January 7-13, 2017 Issue
Authored by Steve Frangos
TNH Staff Writer


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The accounts of the United States Army’s experiment with camels as pack animals meant to help supply and maintain the forts, posts and wagon train routes of the far west constitute a long established chapter in our nation’s history. Active between 1856 and 1866, the Army’s experiment with camels included eight Greeks as drovers. On May 14, 1856, the USS Supply arrived at the Port of Indianola in Calhoun County, TX with the first collection of camels gathered from the Middle East. On February 10, 1857, the USS Supply returned with an additional herd of camels. During the second expedition, the Army had hired "nine men and a boy," to care for animals and to serve as drovers. Within this band of foreigners were the Greeks: Yiorgos Caralambo (Greek George), Philip Tedro (Hi Jolly), Mimico Teodora (Mico), Hadjiatis Yannaco (Long Tom), Anastasio Coralli (Short Tom), Michelo Georgios, Yanni Iliato, and Giorgios Costi. The newly acquired animals joined the first herd at Camp Verde, which had been officially designated as the camel station.

The army officers leading the expedition wrote glowing reports of the performance of the camels as beasts of burden. What must be recognized about this entire venture is when and where it all took place. After the war with Mexico (1846-1848) ended in victory for the United States, all the land that now includes Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and the western regions of Colorado and New Mexico were annexed---an area of some 529,000 square miles. Then, in 1849, with the discovery of gold in California thousands of Americans from the East began settling in the new western lands. Surveying, defending, and supplying the newly acquired lands fell to the federal government.

Then, the American Civil War broke out from 1861 to 1865. Again, according to official army dispatches and reports the camel experiment was a complete success as the round trip of these pack animals from Texas to California demonstrated. Yet after the war the army lost interest in the entire venture. In 1864, the camels were finally auctioned off in Benicia, California and Camp Verde, TX.

Various individuals from the original Greek drovers stayed in the American west. Persons such as Greek George aka Yiorgos Caralambo, Philip Tedro better known by his nickname Hi Jolly, and Mimico Teodora (Mico) over the next fifty years became recognized figures throughout the southwest. Among the documented reports, tales and outright legends told of these men as well as some of the other Greek drovers were those of the camels.

Old Douglas, one of the U.S. Camel experiment male camels was given to Colonel W. H. Moore of the Confederate 43rd Mississippi Infantry by 1st Lt. William Hargrove. The 43rd Mississippi Infantry came to be known as the Camel Regiment. Douglas served in various capacities until he was shot by snipers at the Battle of Vicksburg. A tombstone for "Douglas the Camel" is found among his fallen comrades at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, MS.

It is often said that Hadjiatis Yannaco (aka Long Tom) took some of the camels and joined the Ringling Bros circus. While anything is possible the Ringling Bros did not create their first circus until 1882. Their first show was on November 27, 1882, in Mazomanie, Wisconsin. The Ringling Bros World's Greatest Shows was a circus founded in Baraboo, WI, in 1884. In 1907, Ringling Brothers was acquired by the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, merging them in 1919 to become Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, promoted as The Greatest Show on Earth. So, while camels were seen in the southwest until the 1940s I have been unable to find any documentation linking Long Tom to any version of the Ringling Bros’ circuses.

Undoubtedly the camel given the most attention is Red Ghost. News reports flashed across the pages of the American daily press reporting upon the 1883 experiences of a woman living on a southern Arizona ranch near Eagle Creek who 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 creature was quickly dubbed, “The Red Ghost.”

Several months later, prospectors working in the Verde River, AZ area encountered the Red Ghost. They fired their rifles at the beast causing it to run away. In its retreat, something fell from the creatures back which would later be identified as a human skull with flesh and hair still attached. The discovery of the skull only strengthened the tales of the Red Ghost, although there was no plausible explanation regarding the origin of the skeleton that seemed to be strapped atop the animal. The sightings of this huge ill-tempered red camel and his dead rider continued for nearly a decade.

Then in late 1892, Mizoo Hastings, a local rancher along the San Francisco river in Arizona sighted Red Ghost grazing in his vegetable patch. Hastings brought the beast down with a single shot. Locals gathered from all around to view the dead beast. In close 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 (Indiana State Sentinel March 22, 1893). The origin of the skeletal rider remains a mystery.

What remains a constant in the vast majority of the accounts of Red Ghost or any of the other camels is that reference is inevitably made to the United States Army’s camel experiment. And in such accounts the names of Hi Jolly and the other Greeks appear regularly. Popular culture has never forgotten Red Ghost. In 1963, the TV show Death Valley Days ran an episode called “Red Ghost of Eagle Creek” (season 12 episode 10).

Years ago when I first became aware of Hi Jolly, Greek George and all the rest I also heard the 1962 Hi Jolly, the Camel Driver song written by Randy Sparks of The New Christy Minstrels. While overall the song honors the officers and drovers some of the lyrics suggest the spectral aspects of wider events:

“Old timers down in Arizona tell you that it's true That you can see Hi Jolly's ghost a-ridin' still When the desert moon is bright, he comes ridin' into sight Drivin' four and twenty camels over the hill”

At the time that I first learned of the U.S. Camel Corp, Hi Jolly, Greek George, Red Ghost and all the rest I was surprised to discover that they were all well-known tales told around the camp fires to innumerable American children at summer camps around the nation. As the tales were told and Hi Jolly, the Camel Driver was sung. marshmallows were roasted round the campfire. Today, I know that the marshmallow was a confection perfected by the Doumakes family. Who would have thought these different generations of Greeks from such distant locations in time and space would be drawn together to help constitute an oft-experienced all American evening of tale-telling, singing, and camaraderie?