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Mojave Desert History: Pioneer of the Mojave
Lane's Crossing


In September of 1860, Aaron once again found himself in the center of activity when the camel "express" came by his ranch. Edward Beale had experimented with the capabilities of camels when he pioneered a wagon road through the Arizona desert in 1857, and had advocated the use of them.

Harper's Weekly, courtesy Dennis G. Casebier

American soldiers, miners and teamsters loved the U. S. mule and thoroughly despised the camel. They made every effort to make the camel experiment fail, and they had many allies, including the press. Their antipathy toward these animals is understandable. Camels were harder to load, their breath was foul and they spat. They were known to bite, and they frightened the mules and horses; also, they cost $1200 each. So even though Edward Beale gave a good recommendation for their use, camels fell out of favor.

In 1859 Captain Winfield Scott Hancock had been assigned to supply the newly created Fort Mojave on the Colorado River, and he decided to give the camels another try with an express between Los Angeles and the fort. The September 22, 1860, Star called it the "dromedary line," and stated that Hancock "dispatched a Greek and a camel on the trip." John Jones, a young Welsh immigrant who worked as a government express rider, was the informant for this story from September 29th, which reveals the prejudice against the camels:

The movements of this "ship of the desert" do not seem to come up to the expectations formed of it, by some persons. The mule express messenger, on his return from the river, spoke the "craft" at Lane's crossing of the Mojave, about 100 miles from here, out two and a half days, and apparently in no very good "sailing" condition.

The reporter believed that the trip would be completed without further distress, but Jones was of a different opinion. He stated his mules made the journey in four days and that the rate of the camel was only about 35 miles a day, which meant an eight- or nine-day trip, based on 1859 mileage charts (Major Samuel P. Heintzleman had calculated the distance from Los Angeles to the Colorado River as 320 miles. A freighter by the name of Joseph Winston charted it at 285.71). Even with the disparity in calculations, and allowing that expressman Jones may have exaggerated his speed just a bit, the advantages of the mules are obvious.

The final chapter in the camel story came on October 6th, with the reporter still using his sailing metaphors. The "ship of the desert," he wrote with evident glee, "foundered at sea last week, going down with all hands." The hapless camel had died of exhaustion a short distance from Lane's Crossing. As far as the reporter was concerned, the mules were still favored, and he concluded derisively, "Uncle Sam had better try his new fangled 'conveyance' on some other line."

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