The Ghosts of Camels Past – Part I

The Camp Verde Store ~ Then

Like donning a pair of well-worn boots, easing into rural Texas elicits sighs of pleasure. Scuffed in places, streaked with mud, even a bit run-down about the edges, the place is comfortable — often more functional than stylish, but not given to pinching the soul.

Over time, you discover that slipping into country life requires little more than a willingness to slow down. After leaving efficient but nerve-wracking interstate highways behind, I met the world’s most dependably satisfying burger in tiny Center Point, served up under a sign that read, “This is not Houston. This is not Dallas. We don’t do fast. We do good. Your choice.”  

It’s still the world’s best burger, and I still make the choice to stop every time I’m in the neighborhood. Then, hunger sated, I turn south and west, passing the fire-ravaged hay barn that lives only in memory; the determined Norfolk pine; the chickens and guineas ranging along the edge of River Road. Where frayed and fraying ropes hang like pendulous vines from swamp-worthy cypress, young boys swing out across the water, shrieking with delighted fear.

Though tempted to stop, to risk everything for one ecstatic arc across the Guadalupe, I turn away from the river, choosing instead to traverse the low-water crossings of Turtle Creek.

Even when the crossings are dry, flood gauges belie the serenity of sun-warmed rock and gurgling, placid water. The creek can run hard, fast and deep as many rivers. When I find it in flood, I’m forced to turn, to retrace my route, to improvise. Moving up and around the ever-steepening hills, I cross one ridge and then another, descending at last to the nearly hidden and unmarked turn onto narrow, rutted caliche: my way through limestone and cedar into the silence of the valley.

Up on the ridges, sight is everything, and realtors sell the view as much as they do the house. But in the valley, it’s sound which enlivens the day and limns the contours of the night.

The rough starting cough of a chain saw; the faint polyphony of bees worshipping before mountain laurel; the sharp, upward cry of a suddenly plunging kestral: all are familiar, but none communicates the essence of “country” (or the comings and goings of neighbors on the ridge) more dependably than the percussive slap of a screen door.

Cabins and houses aside, the best doors along the Bandera Highway may have been those at the old Camp Verde store. Combining a final, substantive Thwack! with an assortment of sproings, whines, flutters, and squeaks, the doors never failed to amuse. Given their entertainment value, it was worth pulling one open a time or two, simply to hear it close.

If you had the time and needed a break from antiquing, or fence-pulling, or bike-riding, you could stop at the store, pull an old-fashioned soda in an old-fashioned glass bottle from the ice-filled, old-fashioned washtub, then settle in to listen to the doors’ thwack and sproing as old-fashioned cowboys passed by, touching their hats in gestures of respect: as if it were their sole pleasure in life to greet you before picking up their mail.

Then, everything changed. Traveling from Bandera one day, I decided to stop at Camp Verde and purchase a drink at the store.

To my confusion and dismay, the old General Store seemed to have disappeared. The only building visible from the road, a great heap of Hill Country limestone, was surrounded by manicured grounds and a huge parking lot. It might have been an expensive Kerr County home, or a shop designed in the style affectionately known as Faux Fredericksburg.

The Camp Verde Store ~ Now

Doubling back, I parked and began to explore. Thanks to a marker placed next to the front doors by the State Historical Society, I knew I’d  arrived at the Camp Verde General Store and Post Office, but the old general store I’d known and loved had been renovated, transmogrified, spiffed up, or destroyed: depending on your point of view.

In lieu of thwacks and sproings, the heavy wood and glass entry doors closed soundlessly. Railings and landscaping militated against porch-sitting. The newly-added restaurant was beautiful, with an appealing menu, but the tin wash tub filled with ice was gone.

On the other hand, it was clear that the new owners of the store, San Antonio-based Camelot Hills Group, LLC, had taken substantial care to connect the new, glizty retail space with the building’s history and the local community. Donated hats and boots — many inscribed with signatures and well-wishes — line the walls.

Furnishings from the old store have been utilized everywhere: old counters and bins restored and rearranged to showcase new products.

The store’s collection of vintage advertisements delights the eye.

The post office endures, as well. Some of the original boxes share wall space with newer versions, but if you look closely, you can see the mail that’s been tucked into old and new boxes alike. Despite the changes, those gallant cowboys still come by to pick up their bills and advertising circulars.

To be sure, store shelves are stocked with the same upscale merchandise found in any Texas boutique — scent diffusers, high-end purses and kitchenwares, jarred candles, hand-painted bluebonnets. If you need deer corn, a come-along, or steel chain, you’d best head elsewhere.

On the other hand, purchases at Camp Verde are tucked into lovely bags, with lovely ribbons added by request.  Every bag carries the historic name, as well as the date of the store’s establishment.

It’s a memorable logo, but if you’re not from the area, or not familiar with Texas history, you might ask, as did one bemused customer, “What’s with the camel?”

Clearly, the camel is integral to the store’s marketing plan. It’s on a sign facing the road: vibrant and appealing.

Camels plod along stair railings, and peer at customers from behind the counters.

On a balcony, a stained glass version longs for sunlight to enliven its colors.

And on the front lawn, tucked between the store and Verde Creek itself, Arthur keeps watch: his presence a reminder of the role played by Camp Verde in one of the quirkiest episodes in U.S. military history.

Established as an Army post in 1855,  Camp Verde was surrendered to the Confederate government in 1861, re-occupied by the United States in 1865, and finally abandoned in 1869.

During the camp’s brief existence, it grew up around the Williams Community store: a precursor to the Camp Verde Store, and an establishment whose primary business seems to have been selling liquor to soldiers.

The men of Camp Verde might have been forgiven their desire for drink, since their camp had been declared headquarters for a caravan of camels, sent their way in 1856 by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.

Camp Verde, 1861

Before going over to the Confederacy, Davis unsuccessfully pitched camels-as-transport to the Senate twice in the early 1850s. Then, in March, 1855, while serving as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, Davis found a way to fund his camel experiment. He attached a $30,000 rider for camel purchase and transport onto a bill meant to fund road and bridge repair in Illinois.

 THIRTY-THIRD CONGRESS, SECOND SESSION— Chap. 169. Sec 4.

And be it further enacted, That the sum of thirty thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated, to be expended under the direction of the War Deparment in the purchase of camels and importation of dromedaries, to be employed for military purposes.

Approved March 3, 1855.

Over the next two years, as questions arose over the progress of the project, a second resolution was passed.

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES. February 2, 1857.

Resolved, That the Secretary of War be directed to furnish the Senate with any information in his possession, showing the results of the trial of the camel as a beast of burden and for the transportation of troops; and showing, also, the characteristics and habits of the animal, and the number imported up to the present time.

The entire record of the correspondence has been preserved online, along with this cover letter:

War Department, Washington, February 24, 1857.
Sir: In compliance with the resolution… I have the honor to transmit herewith the correspondence and reports of the officers charged with the purchase and importation of the camel, and its employment for purposes of transportation in the military service of the United States, together with the information obtained from persons who were considered the best authority as to the general characteristics and habits of the animal.
Under the appropriation of $30,000, made on the 3d of March, 1855, seventy-five camels have been imported. The aid furnished by the Secretary of the Navy in the use of a storeship returning from the Mediterranean greatly reduced the cost of transportation, and enabled the department to introduce a much greater number of camels than was originally calculated, and has secured to the government the means of making the experiment upon a scale which will sufficiently demonstrate the adaptation of the animal to the climate and circumstances of our country and its value for military purposes.
The limited trial which has been made has fully realized my expectations, and has increased my confidence in the success of the experiment.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, JEFF’N DAVIS, Secretary of War

The first shipment of camels arrived at Indianola in the spring of 1856: only a decade after that community’s establishment at Indian Point, and thirty years before the port’s disappearance in a second, lethal hurricane.

Thanks to experienced handlers, the camels survived their voyage to Texas remarkably well, and no doubt moved inland more easily than did the German immigrants who preceded them. But their arrival at Camp Verde was only one moment in a long and remarkable saga: one stretching from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to Persia, to the wilds of Los Angeles.

As events unfolded, there would be other curiosities, including the Brush Arbor Apparition, and the Red Ghost. But those are different tales, for another day…


For background on the Texas port of Indianola and its role in early immigration and trade, please see Winds of Change: The Travelers.
Comments are welcome, always.

108 thoughts on “The Ghosts of Camels Past – Part I

  1. Linda:

    This is one the most incredible stories in the history of the United States. I had no idea camels were used by the U.S Government. My only knowledge of camels in the American cultural baggage was the Camel cigarette.

    I wouldn’t be the least surprised if elephants or other large beasts were also used by the U.S. government for any of their bizzare military experiments.

    What a great story! Wow!

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    1. One of the things that made camels so attractive, Omar, was their ability to cope with the harsh environment of the West. They were capable of carrying greater loads than mules and horses, and they weren’t quite so picky when it came to their diet. It was difficult for them to pick their way through rocky territory, and some of the camel drivers tried to get around that by wrapping their feet in burlap. But, the rocks still got between their toes — even I know how annoying that can be.

      As far as I know, elephants never have been used here, although a few might have been conscripted as pack animals. The U.S. Army Air Corps did use them in India, Burma, and so on, during WW II, where they helped to build bridges, did other construction work, and of course served as pack animals.

      If you liked this, you’re going to love what’s yet to come. As you might imagine, there are some colorful characters involved with all this!

  2. How I love this story. Caught between the vestiges of years gone by, and a newer, cleaner, brighter version of a village store, I’d have to place my bets on the former. Not because I’m stuck in the past; but because I can hear that screen door with its rusty bolts rattle and squeak, and there’s just something elemental about it; the comings and goings of “real” cowboys, perhaps!

    1. At one point while writing this, Monica, I had the phrase “audio Madeleine” scratched down on the back of an envelope. It isn’t just taste that gives us those Proustian moments: sound can do it, too.
      Screen doors, telephone ringers, the scratchiness of recordings on vinyl: all carry emotional freight, and help to release memories.

      The next time I’m in the area, I’m going to give the restaurant a try. But for a dose of down-home, I’ll stick with Gibson’s, where they still sell chartreuse ceramic ashtrays, the clerks call you “Honey,” and the trucks are pick-ups, not show pieces.

  3. I’d like to have one of those Center Point burgers, and better yet, share one with you. Meantime, though I suppose (know) things change, you are gracious, though appropriately so, to appreciate Camp Verde’s nods to history. Perhaps it’s the best we can hope for, yea?

    1. I would love to give you a tour of the whole area, Susan, including the burger. I’m not sure if the world’s best chicken-fried steak still is served up in Bandera, but we could check that out, too.

      There’s no question that the “new” Camp Verde store is going to change the neighborhood as much as the corporation changed the store itself. With the restaurant in place, and with its location only a few miles from Kerrville, it’s become a destination, and it certainly will cater to those who come from the resorts, the dude ranches, and the retirement sub-culture. For years, the population of Camp Verde was listed as 41. There are that many lined up at the cash registers on a weekend.

      As for nods to history: I was able to purchase a very short, very general book about the camels there, and one time they had some note cards. But for two years, I’ve tried and failed to buy a camel Christmas tree ornament — they never were stocked. It’s just one more tiny bit of evidence that I’m not their target market.

  4. The ghosts of the camels still linger in the Southwest, Linda. Or at least their memories do. I’ve often come across references to them as I’ve wandered through the area, most recently in the town of Kingman, Arizona, where there is a monument with metal camels parading across the top. I went dashing back to my blog to see if I had included the photo, but I didn’t. Wouldn’t it be great if they still wandered through the desert like the wild burros and horses do? –Curt

    1. There are more than a few ghosts — human and otherwise — that have roamed the territory (including the Camp Verde store), and the reports can be intriguing. But whatever is or isn’t true about ghostly camels, there’s no question that actual camels have done a good bit of roaming out there: hence, the need for a Part 2 and Part 3.

      I’m not going to mention other place names or events just now, for the sake of the story. Suffice it to say there’s a direct link between the Camp Verde camels and the Kingman camel parade. History is just so danged much fun!

    1. On the other hand, Terry, maybe a loss of soul led to the disappearance of the general stores. :-)

      I’m only half-serious about that, but there’s certainly no question that changing demographics and changing lifestyles played a role. The things sold in general stores tend to be for people who live in the real (i.e., physical) world. I suppose there are some who would consider Best Buy or Frye’s Electronics general stores — too bad they don’t have the screen doors.

  5. Fascinating!! Had no idea. Ironic, too, because last night we watched Tracks, the movie adaptation of Robyn Davidson’s book about trekking 1700 miles across Australia with four camels as her pack animals. The movie was especially interesting to us because of the camels. And then here we are–more camels, and in Texas no less!!

    1. There’s always something new to discover, isn’t there? In truth, I’d been in Texas for years before I heard about the camels — and it was a reader from New Jersey who put me onto them. Before the marketers moved in and gave the Camp Verde camels a higher profile, I never heard any of my Hill Country friends mention them. They truly were a footnote to history — and, as one of my friends likes to say, who reads the footnotes, unless you’re already interested?

      I’ve never heard of Robyn Davidson, either. I just read this brief interview, and am going to pass it on to a friend who’s very much interested in the book-into-film process. Davidson reminds me of Roz Savage, who’s rowed solo across three oceans and 15,000 miles. She talked about the joys of solitude, too. Most of us aren’t going to undertake such extraordinary journeys, but both Savage and Davidson may still have something to say to us that’s of value.

  6. What a story. Who would think that camels have been used by the US Government! It’s always a pity when places like Camp Verde gets lost to modern development even when new owners try to incorporate the old.

    1. More and more, I’m thinking that history is like my grandmother’s overstuffed closet. Once you start digging around, there’s no telling what you might find.

      And this story is a good reminder of a point you like to make from time to time: global travel and extraordinary experiences aren’t always necessary. There may be something much closer to home that’s worthy of our attention.

      As for Camp Verde being lost: yes, and no. For years, it was only a crossroads store, a stopping-off place for people who lived in the area and used the post office, or for people traveling through with other things on their mind. Now? As it becomes a destination, it may well lead to new growth in the area. That can be “iffy,” too, but there’s no question that you can’t avoid at least an exposure to the history when you visit now. It’s going to be interesting to see how things develop — and to find out if their burger is better than Center Point’s!

  7. That was an interesting story in several ways. First, the description of the slamming screen doors revived memories of our door on the farm. The back porch in good weather was a hub of activity. It was a big part of the house. There were actually two doors. The main one had a spring I remember playing with as a little kid. It made great noises in addition to slamming the door.

    The camels story I’ve heard of but not in the detail you brought. The documents are interesting. I wonder where Jeff D. got the bug to introduce camels. I wonder what they eventually did with them.

    1. Details vary, depending on who’s telling the story, but it seems it was the Army that started the ball rolling with the camels. In 1843, some members of the Quartermaster Corps began discussing the possibilities presented by the use of camels. Apparently, they approached then-Senator Jefferson Davis, who was interested, but it wasn’t until he became Secretary of War that he was able to fund and implement a plan.

      As for the end of the tale, the question of what happened to the camels has a multitude of answers. As they say: stay tuned!

      Even though the Camp Verde screen doors, and the one at the cabin, have gone from my life, I still know where I can find one. Not only that, it has wood steps on one side, and linoleum on the other. *Real* linoleum — not that new-fangled vinyl business — and it sproings and thwacks, too.

  8. Indeed, this world is full of mysteries and quirky tales…and you are an adept at digging them up, polishing them, and presenting them for our delight. I shall be dreaming camels tonight…

    1. If I’ve learned anything so far, it’s been that we should be nice to the camels. It doesn’t hurt to have someone around who knows how to deal with them, too. Apparently they aren’t as nasty as advertised, but beneath those bells and fancy decorations beats the heart of a determined and equally quirky creature. Sweet dreams!

  9. So much more than a story of transmogrification — I enjoyed this very much, Linda. I did wonder where the camel of your title came in even as I mourned the sproings of the old front door. And I look forward to subsequent parts of this tale!

    1. Believe it or not, nikkipolani, some of these camels ended up in your backyard: closer to you than the Camp Verde store is to me. It was quite a journey, in every sense of the word, and I hope you’ll enjoy that part of the story, too.

      Isn’t “transmogrification” a wonderful word? I’ve never had occasion to use it in writing, and even looked it up, just to be sure I understood the meaning. It’s a word my mother used regularly. Now, I wish I could remember the context — what she thought had been transmogrified, or what she hoped could be!

  10. Hi Linda
    I was thinking of you and wondering what you were up to so I popped over and I’m so glad I did. What a fascinating story.

    Reading about the camels I also thought of Robyn Davidson’s trek across the Australian desert with four camels and her dog in 1977. She was sponsored by National Geographic. I saw a photography exhibition of the brilliant photos taken by Rick Smolan for the magazine.
    http://annenbergphotospace.org/exhibits/inside-tracks

    1. It’s so nice to see you, Rosie. Every now and then I find myself on a local road named El Camino, and think of you. I’m sure you’re still trekking, in one way or another.

      When I clicked on the link, I had to laugh. What a fabulous, attention-grabbing photo. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a photo of a camel in water, let alone such a striking and beautiful photo. Thanks for the link — I’m looking forward to enjoying it.

      I have a feeling some of the military camels would have enjoyed being with Robyn Davidson more than they enjoyed their service in the American West.

  11. You know, Linda, when I was in Texas, I heard stories about the camel experiment — and part of me thought somebody was merely pulling my leg! You’ve done the research that I never did, though, so it’s clear camels really are a part of Texas history.

    Isn’t it quirky how our elected officials (even back then) were “wheeling and dealing” in an effort to get their way over possibly controversial measures? What funding road and bridge repair in Illinois has to do with camel purchase and transport baffles me! I guess they thought (as they seem to now), Whatever works.

    Looking forward to reading “the rest of the story!”

    1. I can understand your skepticism, Debbie. Tall tales are a part of life everywhere (think Paul Bunyan, or Sasquatch) but Texas does seem to have a disproportionate share.

      Still, the camels most assuredly were here. Some of the buildings where they were housed burned years ago, and there’s not much left to see. But there are photos, and an old barracks, and an assortment of other ephemera — even the ledger of an Army captain that was pulled, along with other old books, from a dump truck in Dallas in 2001, and that details some of the life at Camp Verde.

      As for the camels showing up in the road and bridge bill, I suppose that’s because they were being brought in to provide transport. Granted, it was an unusual form of transportation, but it probably made more sense to attach them to that kind of bill than to one involving, say, the territory of Nebraska — which happened to be submitted the same year.

    1. Next year, you should ask for a camel on your cake, and a re-enactment of a military camel caravan. I can put you in touch with a guy who could pull it off. I have a feeling your beloved would enjoy that as much as you — am I right?

  12. A rich and ripe story Linda. I am familiar with the camel story, but not their location. I know the ones in Kingman. I once did a portrait of a wild donkey in Kingman. Too bad those old stores have gone the way of all funny and funky things. There was a squicky screen door at the Hood Canal I frequented for a number of years. I never knew the owner’s name, everyone just called her Grandma, and if she didn’t have it, you didn’t need it.

    I like the sound of that hamburger too. Can’t wait for the rest of the story.

    1. Your mention of Grandma’s store at the Hood Canal reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s description of Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Woebegon. As with Grandma, if Ralph didn’t have it, you didn’t need it.

      When I went to Google to have a look at the Hood Canal, I recognized it immediately, and remembered your post about Emmett Oliver. What beautiful country, and what a perfect setting for such a store.

      Those Kingman camels got their start in Texas, as did the ones that ended up in Benicia and downtown L.A. I’d better get busy writing, so I can share all the wonderful (and equally quirky) details.

    1. Coincidentally, the VW Beetle-sized, armadillo-like creature called the Glyptodon lived and became extinct during the same period. What a scene that must have been, when they all were running around.

      The linked article’s mention of technology as a contributing factor to the creatures’ extinction stopped me for a minute, until I clicked on the link for Clovis culture and realized what technological innnovation meant in that context. It’s interesting to ponder the possibility that today’s computers and iGadgets will be tomorrow’s Clovis points.

          1. It’s on the campus of the University of Texas. It was always free, but when I looked at its website yesterday I noticed there’s now an admission charge of $4, which still isn’t bad.

  13. Oh, I know about the camels. When I was a young girl scout, we used to find camel bones at our camp near Crosbyton. The climate was hospitable, and even the vegetation. Alas, the terrain was not.
    So sorry to hear that the Camp Verde store fell victim to the gentrification of Texas. The old building was a treasure. The slap of a screen door brings memories of distant summers, growing more and more distant every year, alas.

    1. Just out of curiosity, do you know if the bones you found were of imported camels, or fossils from the time period Steve mentioned, just above? I didn’t know the location of Crosbyton, and when I went looking, I found it mentioned on a variety of sites that list good fossil-hunting locations in Texas.

      I also bumped into the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, and Joe Taylor. I noticed that the home page for the town of Crosbyton mentions his studio, his fossil digs, and his castings of models of prehistoric creatures for various customers. It’s more reticent about Mr. Taylor’s belief that the fossils prove various creationist theories. Reticent, as in: doesn’t say a word. It’s probably just as well for a Chamber of Commerce site, although he seems to be a fairly congenial fellow and not given to argument.

      I found this, about his troubles a few years ago. It looks like it was bigger news in the Panhandle than it ever was here, but it’s interesting.

  14. Now I am curious to know what happened to these camels. In Australia the camels became feral.” Australia is the only country with feral herds of camels, and has the largest population of feral camels and the only herd of dromedary (one-humped) camels exhibiting wild behaviour in the world.” With so many camels in Australia I am surprised there isn’t more of a local meat and dairy industry. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-28/camel-feature-wa/5291792

    1. What makes it so wonderful, Gallivanta, is that there isn’t one answer to the question, “What happened to the camels?” I was greatly surprised to learn there are camels in Australia. We hear so much about the kangaroos, kookaburas, koalas, and wombats, but nothing about the camels.

      On the other hand, there is that saga of Davidson’s trek across the Outback. I can’t figure out why I never heard about that, except that, in 1977, I still was in Liberia, and in the next decade was consumed with other issues. The good news is, it’s never too late to learn!

        1. It appears transportation would be one of the most difficult issues. Once they got here, I suspect they would thrive. The same sort of importation was done with addax antelopes, and they’ve multiplied to the extent that hunting now is allowed. I often see addax in the hill country, along with the (very) occasional zebra.

          It sounds as though the people behind all this have the means to provide security. That’s good. The temptation to poach isn’t limited to the rhino’s home turf.

    2. I just read the article more closely. The pasturization issue is one being hotly debated in this country, too. It’s really quite amazing to see those camels being milked. That’s creativity, for sure.

  15. It is such a shame to have torn down that old store. Had I been the
    builder, I would have put that old store in its entirety, in the middle of the new one. Now that would have made the new building something of great interest. I can imagine the success of having many tourists. At least that’s my way of thinking.

    Those kinds of unique places can never be brought back unless folks have the foresight to preserve old buildings from the past. I hope some still remain and will be kept intact.

    Not far from where I live, a man owns several camels near Valley Mills. Texas. He takes his camels all over Texas, including Big Bend for camping and trekking around that rugged area, He uses his camels for Christmans pagents as well. He has Dromedary and the Bactrian with the latter species found living in the Gobi Desert region.

    This is a fascinating post, Linda.

    1. I should have been more clear, Yvonne. They didn’t tear down the old store, only added, rebuilt, and renovated to the nth degree. The original limestone walls are there, as well as the pressed tin ceiling, the beadboard, the floors, and other features such as the old mailboxes. It’s lovely, but still quite a different atmosphere.

      I think it will draw many tourists, but it’s a wonderful day trip even for Kerrville and Bandera residents. A nice lunch in a nice setting always is enjoyable, and for all its delights, both towns are a little short on places to have something other than burgers, steaks, and barbeque.

      I’ve read about t he fellow in Valley Mills — Doug Baum. He’s had his camels at Camp Verde, as well as several other forts around Texas. You can expect to hear more about him in future posts.

      1. Great. I’ll enjoy reading about Doug. He’s in our local paper once or twice a year. I’m glad that he has kept the camel history going with live animals.

        I think you wrote the article very well. I just did not read carefully regarding the store. I suppose I was trying to read about the screen door. :-)

  16. You certainly are a very talented story teller, I can just imagine you in a leather chair, next to an open fire relating this story. As always, a fascinating post! Camels in Texas, who ever would have thought it, I was wondering when the camels would come into it. Oh….how sad about the demise of the sproings….you can’t beat the genuine article, however tastefully the re-vamp is done. I did enjoy this.xxx

    1. Honestly, snowbird, I think story-telling is such an important part of our humanity. I’m just sure that, back in the days of the caves, when people didn’t have leather chairs but had discovered fire, they’d lean up against their rocks, and tell stories to one another to help keep the shadows away.

      “The Demise of the Sproing” sounds like a good title for a story, don’t you think? It’s easy to mourn the loss of imagined “good old days,” but some things truly were better back then, and I think the screen door was one.

      As for the camels, they were a creative solution to real problems. Of course, they brought a few unexpected problems along with them, but we’ll get in to that later.

  17. Well 24 hours later and about 50+ attempts to open the post finally presented the text but not the photos! The images were not needed, as you painted the scene well. I would probably have be tearful if I had loved a roadside icon like that and then discovered that it had been upgraded and ‘improved.’ You handled the delicate issue well!

    here’s to vanishing america, but also to those who remember to honor the icons that are no longer there…

    1. It’s a shame that the images so often won’t load for you, Lisa, but you know what a camel looks like, and your artistic eye no doubt could envision them in glass, metal, raffia and such. And your mention that the words painted the picture for you is reassuring. If I’m ever to head seriously toward other kinds of non-internet publication, like a book, learning to use words alone is important.

      It’s occurred to me that learning to write on the internet has some real avantages. It can provide critical feedback, and the ability to judge whether readership is increasing. But it’s a visual medium in a way a book isn’t. The requirements for holding a reader’s attention are different. How happy am I that the screen door’s sounds caught peoples’ attention? Very happy.

      In some ways, the tides of change are washing away our cultural shores just as the ocean is crumbling away your world. Keeping a record, capturing memories, is so important.

      Thanks for reading, despite the hassles! It’s always such a pleasure to have you stop by.

      1. hi, i am back, and about half of the images loaded… yippee! i am back for two reasons, one to see what i missed, and the other to be sure that i’ve not missed a new post..

        you do a lovely job of painting great pictures with words. it’s our good fortune to open one of your new posts and step into another world/another story. you’re so talented! the pied piper of words.. we’ll follow you-your story wherever it leads!

        watching the past week’s bad weather from afar, i’ve wondered how things have been in your area.

        over on wunderground/tropical- satellite image, it looks like blanca is slinging lots of rain across central america.. the animation doesn’t load, but the present image does.

        i’ll be heading in to costa rica whenever i’m stronger. had planned to be there now

        re: texas and the rains, remember to dodge those mosquitoes!!! (if this by chance reaches you for every time i hit ‘post comment,’ there will be about fifty duplicates of this comment. i’m giving up and will go to sleep.. if i awaken in the night, i’ll try again, when it’s usually faster when most of the people here have shut down the internet, and the speed is better. ) will try once more before sleep mode…

        g’night amiga.. zzzzzzz

        1. How nice to see you, Z! If you’re still up and around — no problem for me with the flooding. Some friends weren’t so lucky, but we’ll make it through.

          I’m working on part 2 of this post just now — maybe two or three days. I’m suffering the “trauma” of being back at work after the bad weather, and the nervousness of cataract surgery. All’s well with that, too, after a tiny glitch or two. There’s nothing like 20/20 vision to make a girl smile — the better to see your artwork with!

          Sleep well — it’s good to see you’re still in recovery mode. xoxo

          1. it must be great to have the 20/20.. i’ll never forget when i first got glasses **near sightedness)… i was about 12 or 13, and when we got home, i stepped out of the car and looked at the pecan trees (100 years old) and exclaimed, ‘the trees! they are so beautiful! they have leaves!’

            my mother surely felt like a horrid mother, to have missed that baby girl had been missing a lot!

  18. Two thoughts: first, your screen door description was perfect and transported me back to my childhood. I grimaced to hear of their demise!

    Second, the camel bit intrigued me greatly. When I was in Australia a few years back I learned that the Australians tried to use camels to traverse the Central Desert. A few got away, and they now have wild camel herds (sometimes numbering in the thousands, apparently) that are doing very nicely. I’m looking forward to hearing what came of the Texan camels, which were I’m sure exceptionally large!

    1. Sometimes it’s the little things that define generations, Allen. I’m glad to have opened a memory for you with the screen doors.

      As to those Australian camels, the herds may be doing nicely, but what they’re doing to the ecosystem isn’t so good. I started thinking about it, and realized the camels are an introduced, non-native species, just like our water hyacinth, feral hogs, hydrilla, and nutria. Sure enough, this article details some of the difficulties and threats to native species the camels pose. I’m sure they seemed a good idea at the time, just as did the U.S. military camels. Now? Maybe not so much!

    1. That’s good song-writing, for sure. Through the whole of it, I was hearing echoes of “Dixie,” and waiting for what finally arrived, at the end:

      “Dixie’s had a face lift;
      I guess she’s looking better.
      But I kinda like the old one;
      I never will forget her.
      Look away, gone away, far away, Dixie Land.”

      Of course I had to go listen to the original, and I found this version that has some verses I’ve never heard. Both are wonderful songs.

  19. Another splendidly written post, Linda. You are not one of those bloggers concerned with dumbing-down your posts for mass appeal and for that, I am grateful. Future rant on the subject coming soon. I digress.

    Not necessarily honing in on the Camp Verde store in particular, but it pains me so that we are replacing so much of our authentic history with these Disney-esque versions. I’ve seen it happen time and again in my neck of the woods and I am left to ponder why it is that we jet off to Europe to visit and admire their antiquities while allowing our heritage to be destroyed – either through development or decay.

    I feel I knew about these camels at one time and have forgotten it. Did Michener write about this in “Texas?” I can’t remember.
    Beautifully evocative descriptions of the Texas landscape. Makes me yearn to go there as the only place I’ve ever been in the Lone Star state is the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Hardly qualifies, does it?

    1. Clearly, the reasons for developing and maintaining a blog are as individual as we are, Barbara. When I began “The Task at Hand,” my stated goal was to learn to write. In truth, it’s become a much broader avenue for learning. I enjoy discovering new things, developing new skills, and I especially love research. Truth to tell, I don’t even mind discovering what I think about this-or-that in the process of writing. Sometimes, I surprise myself.

      I suppose my point is that, if I were to dumb down my blog, I’d be cheating myself. In grade school library periods, I used to read each book two or three times, to conceal my reading speed from classmates. Those days are over.

      Your mention of Disney-fication reminded me of our Alamo. When I first visited the Alamo, it was a much different experience than it is today. San Antonio’s River Walk is lovely, if predictable, but any sense of history is fading. As a matter of fact, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas recently filed a lawsuit against the Texas General Land Office, to settle questions of who legally owns the Alamo’s library collection. The Land Office had been reducing hours of operation and restricting research, and the good Daughters are having none of it.

      I’ve never read Michener’s “Texas,” so I don’t know if he mentioned camels there. He did write another novel titled “Caravan,” and surely camels were a part of that one!

      If you ever head this way, you let me know. There’s no telling what kind of mischief we could get up to. And by the way — if you read Dante’s “Inferno” very, very closely, you’ll find that he mentions DFW.

  20. I just watched the movie “Tracks” about Robyn Richardson who trekked 2,000 through the Australian outback with 4 camels and a dog. Reading further about the camel history in Australia was fascinating. I had no idea.

    1. When I started these posts, I certainly didn’t expect to bump into an Australian connection. The film looks wonderful, and one of these days I’ll watch it, too.

      Richardson reminds me of Roz Savage, who was involved in one of her long ocean-rows when I started my blog. She’s set at least three long-distance rowing records, and her journals and logs are astounding. I thought about her when Cherie headed off to Italy, as she often pondered Sisyphus — quite reasonably, I thought.

  21. Camels in Texas! How cool. Some of what is tucked away in history can be an amazing story and that is just what you are developing here, Linda. Finding these episodes and creating readable stories is something that is very pleasing about your postings.

    I have to admit that, were I to have had your experience with the revamped store, I’d probably never visit again. I realize that the LLC is looking for profitability and a tradition cannot always last forever, but to lose an icon is a mistake in my view. I would much prefer the original. I guess I haven’t learned to roll with the times in some aspects.

    It is clear that you have developed a love of Texas and all the towns and their history. What I am guessing, having read your stories for a while now, is that same love or at the least curiosity would exist for wherever you settled.

    1. I understand your feeling about revisiting the store after its renovation. I’m sure I’ll end up at the restaurant now and then, for the nice setting and good food. But the store’s no longer a place to linger and chat on a summer afternoon, or to imagine the past. “Head ’em up, move ’em out” can be applied to more than bovine cattle, and the store’s meant for shoppers, now — which I’m not.

      On the other hand, when you cross the creek and find yourself at the intersection, turning west rather than east opens up a different sort of experience. I’d never made that turn until this past year, and it’s most interesting. There will be more about that in the next post.

      I think one of othe greatest pleasures of growing older has been my ability to recapture certain aspects of my childhood, particularly curiosity. When I was a kid, I often was told, “Don’t ask so many questions.” My response then is my response now: “Why?”

      1. One of the things which make me uncomfortable with places like that is the creation of souvenirs out of the relics. Do they sell Camp Verde T-shirts and caps? Stuffed camels etc?

        I wish I had been a bit more rebellious as a child. If I was told not to do something then I didn’t. I guess that made me a good child but I never developed the childlike inquisitiveness until my latter years. The least of things now amazes me. Unfortunately, I also now have an information retention problem and it is hard to remember all the things i am trying to learn.
        I like that…”Don’t ask so many questions” get a question for a reply. :-)

        1. Now that you mention it, Steve, I don’t remember seeing a single T-shirt or cap. I’m not even sure they had any of those ubiquitous drink holders. They were selling a couple of books about the place, and also some note cards which were done by a local artist, and which were very nice. I thought it was good that the cards represented the store as I’d known it in the past — a fitting tribute. And of course I bought some.

          I always was pulled in two directions. My mother made frilly dresses for me, curled my hair, and told me always to be “ladylike”: that is, quiet and demure. My dad taught me it was funny to be punny, read with me whenever I liked, and sneaked me out of the house for great adventures on Iowa’s gravel roads. It’s taken some time, but Dad seems to be winning the parental battle at last.

  22. I like the line “What’s with the camels?” That’s what I said…

    Interesting history. So much to learn, so little time. Camp Verde sounds like another classic example of retail-gone-commando. Most of us can only step aside and watch it happen- and often watch a few years later when it “unhappens”. But I think this place might do well. New shoppers being made every day.

    1. I’ve said exactly that more than once, Martha: “so much to learn, so little time.” Now that I think of it, that’s one of the things that distinguishes you “on the job” — your desire and willingness to learn. “Live and learn” is a great motto, but it ought to be prescriptive as well as descriptive, said with joy as well as resignation.

      In some ways, I think the new Camp Verde Store owners are doing it exactly right. They’re pulling in people with a nice restaurant, a beautiful setting and good shopping, but you can’t turn in any direction without being reminded of the history of the place.

      While I loved the old store, I didn’t know a thing about the camels while I was stoppping by there in years past. It took one of my readers to mention them, and recommend a book, before I became curious and went back to look the place over with different eyes. I’m surely glad that I did!

      1. I think you hit on something here re my workplace performance. I always seem to incur the absolute hatred of women my own age. A target. I’ve suspected it was because I’m more physically fit than most of my peers, but now that you say this I think this may be a part of it as well. I enjoy learning from everyone around me and take time to share what I learn with everyone. Ain’t that a sad, sad comment on women…

        1. I don’t think that’s a comment on women-in-general at all. There may be individual women who resent you, for reasons best known to themselves, but to condemn an entire group isn’t realistic. That’s rather like a friend of mine who says, on a regular basis, “All cats are sneaky and obnoxious.” Well, some are. No question about that. But you and I know that all of them aren’t that way!

          1. My personal experiences show this and several stories and studies and bullying stats show that women really are quite obnoxious in many situations. Even the woman at my workplace who is the biggest problem for me made the comment “Women really are nasty” when she was engaged in a discussion about relationships with other women. Very ironic. I’m not condemning an entire group unless you are talking about human beings in general.

  23. Oh my. The reason I’m only catching this today is I headed out to Center Point with high school friend to visit another high school friend on May 22. We did not find the burgers but we did eat Mexican food at the Toucan Restaurant where I met TJ, a splendid and beautiful phoenix rooster. TJ reminded me fleetingly of the exotics behind the high fences of Camp Verde, Uvalde and Camp Wood. The next day we took 27 to the Kerrville Art Festival. I barely slept Saturday night listening to the thunder and rain pounding Center Point friend’s metal roof. We got home on Sunday barely missing the tornadoes east of Federicksburg and the flooding on 71 at Bastrop the next day.

    Rick introduced me to the camels years ago so I loved your story filled with a multitude of details I am missing. Thank you for this.

    After we left, high school friend wrote yesterday on facebook regarding the effects of the rains: “Around Camp Verde was the worst I saw. Giant trees up rooted and lots of washed out roads”.

    1. Well — that certainly answers my question about how things went for you over the weekend, Georgette. I do love the Arts and Crafts Fair. That’s where I met Debbie Little-Wilson, the print artist who had a studio in Comfort, and who now lives in Dripping Springs. I bought my first print from her at the Fair, the one titled, “She Made Her Own Groceries”.

      I talked with a friend who lives outside Kerrville this afternoon. She mentioned that the Bandera/Camp Verde area really got pounded, although they were more fortunate. There’s a good side to all of the rain, for sure. A year ago, Medina Lake was 3/9% full. Today? It’s 46% full. I’m sure there are similar readings from around the area. West Texas and the Panhandle still need help, but things are improving..

      Speaking of details, guess who I found buried in the Camp Verde cemetery? Connie Reeves, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame member who taught so many girls to ride at Camp Waldemar. Sinding her there was like finding another old friend.

  24. I always love the camel stories. So funny to think of them there. (Hmmm, maybe that’s why TX was choses for “military practice for overseas missions by soldiers…maybe they are bringing more camels to make it more realistic?)

    No matter how glitzy, NOTHING can replace or be as Texas as “soda in an old-fashioned glass bottle from the ice-filled, old-fashioned washtub, then settle in to listen to the doors’ thwack and sproing”. And fold in stopping by to get mail in those old boxes (my dad grabbed one of those when they modernized his post office and gave it to my daughter) Outsiders just don’t get it: that release of fast paced life as you stepped in there. Almost parallel universe. Sad that’s all vanishing – and some will never experience it.

    (I’ll have to tell sister-in-law about Connie Reeves – no doubt she worshipped her)
    It is so important to keep a record – someday yours maybe be valued as much as those by Dobie

    1. After I got over pondering a pair of camels named Jade and Helm, it occurred to me that those military sorts back in the day sometimes were more forward-thinking than we imagine. They were practical: no doubt about that. And, they were good at what we’ve come to call lateral thinking. Creative sorts, for sure.

      The only thing that matches those bottles in a tub of ice is watermelons in a tub of ice. I’ve got a couple of photos of family in my grandparents’ backyard, all with slices of watermelon, all bent over, dripping water and juice. It was messy, and cooling, and fun. There wasn’t anything fast-paced about it, either. When there was watermelon, you set aside an entire afternoon, and invited the neighbors.

      I was so tickled to find that grave. So simple, and without a hint of the fabulous story behind it. Just think: if I hadn’t met those two girls in the grocery store checkout line, and if they hadn’t told me about going to summer camp, I wouldn’t have written about Waldemar, and learned about Connie Reeves. Which means: I would have walked right past that stone without even a second glance.

      I still love her advice to the girls: “Always saddle your own horse.”

      1. As we were talking today, the women of the West were different.
        What’s that old phrase? When the student is ready, the teacher/lesson/information will appear? Universe may be a giant cafeteria if we only look.
        (Remember hot days and putting bare feet into a tub of water and ice? Rural cooling before AC) Place and people would be better with forced days off and slowing the pace a bit – might rediscover what it is to be human.

        1. Well, I don’t know about the forced days off. There’s far too much forcing going on in our society now. On the other hand, maybe we could model the pleasures of a slower pace for people, and make it look so appealing, they’d choose it on their own

          1. Hmm. Money/shopping or time off? Tough choices. I liked it better when there were days that everyone stayed home/out of the office…computers/cell phones have destroyed that….Mountains don’t always have cell service. Pretty attractive?

  25. What an interesting post! Camels in Texas is a cognitive dissonance. But thanks to you, Linda, such a piece of history I would never have known if not for your digging it out and showing all these archival images. I must say though, my faves are the vintage advertisements. ;)

    1. I had to really exercise some discipline, Arti. There were other ads just as much fun, but I couldn’t use them all. What tickled me about the Argo Corn Starch ad is that I have that same product in my pantry. It’s interesting that the logo is the same, after all these years.

      What’s even more delightful is that the camels in Texas probably were descendents of camels from Alberta. Granted, the Canadian camels go back a few millenia, but isn’t it fun to think of them crossing the land bridge, establishing themselves in the desert, and then coming back to our continent?

      Actually, a rew of the Texas camels ended up back in Alberta after the experiment was abandoned. The story’s buried in one of my sources — I’m going to try and find it.

  26. I remember reading that Nomads put peach pits or other small objects in their camels’ uteruses to prevent pregnancy. This prevented interruptions to their travels. A precursor to IUDs?

    There’s always something a little sad about progress or change, even when it is inevitable or necessary. It’s nice that the new owners gave a tip of the hat to history by restoring and using some of the original objects from the old general store.

    1. I’ve heard the same thing about camel birth control, but the version I heard mentioned stones. That makes more sense, since I’m pretty sure there aren’t peaches in the middle east (or maybe there are?) but I found this in a HuffPo article: “When Arab gynecologists hear Europeans repeating this tale, they snort and ask, “Have you ever tried to put a stone in a camel’s uterus?” A reasonable question, I should think.

      Endings and beginnings always get to me. Whether it’s a move like the one you’ve just accomplished (at least, I hope you have!) or something as simple as the last day of a vacation, I’m a bit of a sucker for that feeling of poignancy. I’ve been known to hold on to bouquets far longer than they deserved, rather than say goodbye to the blooms.

  27. Camels in Texas! An extraordinary story. I once saw a Llama on a train heading up to Zermatt in the Swiss Alps!. Whoever thought of importing camels was a good lateral thinker and strategist.
    I loved this rambling story and the early sections reminded me so much of similar journeys that I make to well known and well loved places where you look out for the sights along the way, spotting the changes and the things that remain the same. I liken the places we know well to well worn armchairs where we sit comfortably secure in the bliss of finding somewhere that has not changed overmuch.

    1. Here’s what I have to know, Andy. Did the rail service provide the llama with a discount ticket, just for the novelty of it all? Ah, wait. You were the one on the train! (Sorry — I couldn’t resist!)

      As it turns out, it was an example of lateral thinking. More about that in the next post, but suffice it to say the idea didn’t come out of thin air. Some who experienced camels in their native environments thought of the American southwest, and were convinced the experiment would work. That it didn’t was less the fault of the camels than of humans.

      That’s a wonderful analogy for travel to well-known destinations. When I go to the hill country, a road may be newly paved here, or a barn finally collapsed there, but if a certain stand of cypress is intact, and the apple turnovers still are being served up, it’s all good. And after all — we talk about “settling in” to a place exactly as we settle into a good chair.

      1. I can’t answer the question about the Llama – but he/she took up the space of several humans. Fortunately no ‘memento’ of the Llama’s visit was deposited on the train!
        And I agree, there are some changes we can cope with when we visit a favourite place, but change something that is important to us and we take it personally.

  28. Incredible story, amazing writing! Camel’s in Texas… I enjoyed reading this story dear Linda and also I felt myself there too, I love these kind of stores, vintage etc. You are amazing. Thank you, love, nia

    1. So many of the people involved in other aspects of this story lived and traveled in your part of the world, Nia. The camels came from Constantinople, Tunis, Alexandria, Syria.Forty-four camels was purchased in Smyrna!

      It’s amazing, the connections between places, over time. I have a feeling the men who were seeking out camels saw some of the same sights you show us in your photography. It’s really rather amazing.

  29. Camels. Who would have thought! That’s a great story — and I think the store should post some sort of graphic that tells the story. They could even print it on the bag, in abbreviated form, of course, so long as they are printing their own logo bags.

    It’s interesting — the connection between this post and my current post about the little restaurant that is going out of business. It looks that despite the redo on the outside (and in) that they did their best to keep the flair and flavor of the original. The fate of the Lone Pine is still to be determined.

    I have such a love-hate relationship with change and progress (if it is — and I’m not even sure of that anymore!).

    Fascinating post, Linda, and wonderful photos. You do know how to take us places. I can seen the land, the environment and the past through your words.

    1. I’m not certain, Jeanie, but I have the impression the restaurant does a good job of telling the story through their menu, table inserts, and so on.

      What they do need to do is encourge their staff to learn more about the history. Some of the clerks I talked to didn’t have much of a clue Of course, the last time I was there was during the holiday season, and I’m sure they had staffed up for increased crowds. Some of the older women who work there at other times seemed to have ties to the surrounding communities, and know a good bit.

      They did throw quite a party in 2007, at the 150th birthday of the store. Doug Baum came with his “camel corps,” everyone wore period costumes, and I’m sure there were camel rides. Baum takes his camels around to schools and various sorts of groups to tell about the history — as well as helping out with military re-enactments at various forts.

      We had a restaurant here that went through the same kind of transition as Lone Pine. The family that had owned it for many decades finally sold to a developer, for a variety of reasons. The name is the same, the decor is mostly the same, and the menu is pretty much the same. But the place isn’t the same. The food isn’t as good, the clientele is different: there’s more music and drinking. It used to be a gathering place for locals and boaters. I haven’t been there in several years. Now I have to travel for a good chicken-fried steak!

      1. That 150th had to be fantastic! And you’re right — it seems like employees everywhere should go through a more rigorous training, even if it’s not a historical spot but when where tourists are in the city. You never know what someone will ask you. Hadn’t thought of that but it makes perfect sense!

  30. This is a fascinating piece of history, about which I never heard. But I especially enjoyed your description of the old country feel, the store, and the easy going life style. Time does bring mixed emotions. I remember Jerusalem, my home town, when everyone knew everyone else, and the life style was very different; easy going and slow. And now we have freeways and traffic jams, and so many tourists… On the whole, it does seem that the changes have brought a lot of good, but there is a certain homesickness for what we had in the past. This was a very beautiful post… one that I enjoyed thoroughly.

    1. People change, so I suppose it’s natural that places should change, as well. Still, when change is forced upon a community by people who have no natural attachment to a place, no sense of relationship with it, the changes wrought can be jarring, and harsh.

      Like you, Shimon, I knew a city — Houston — forty years ago, when it was slower, very much smaller, and far less frenetic. Some of the city’s traditions carry on, but they have a commercial edge to them now, and organic growth has become “development.”

      I suppose that’s why places like your Promenade are cherished as they are. They allow us to experience life as human beings, not simply as pieces in someone else’s puzzle. We can slow down, greet strangers, smile just because we feel like it. It can take a certain courage to live days in that way, but it’s certainly worth it.

  31. I’ve been searching for the perfect burger since we moved from the Pittsburgh area in 2000. The one I found there was at a museum cafe downtown. They obviously ground the beef on site, or had it ground especially for them. I’ve never had another one that was even close to the perfection of that burger. I still miss Pittsburgh, and for more reasons than that. :)

    The slamming of the screen door—several generations can identify with that sound. So many sounds are evocative of my youth.

    I love this story—the camels (I did know about that), the general store, so much to love here. I really think you should write a book. You’re way too good for just a blog.

    1. “Just” a blog? I’m grinning, surprised how quickly that raised memories of the phrase “just a girl.”

      Blogging has changed a good bit in the past seven years. There were assumptions about what would and wouldn’t “sell” when I began that I refused: especially the “never go over 300 words, post every day” model. I was convinced that more was possible, and I was going to follow my own path. In short, I intended to learn to write while using a blogging platform, and I’ve been happy with the results.

      So: a book? Maybe. But it won’t be either/or. I can’t imagine giving up writing on my blog.

      That screen door really does resonate, doesn’t it? I know where there’s another one, and sometime this summer, I intend to pay it a visit, too.

      1. Well, you know what I meant. :) I would never call your blog “just a blog.” It’s so much more than that. I just think you should be paid for writing so well. :)

        1. Yup. I did know. But for just a second there, I was back in high school, listening to those experts explain what was and wasn’t possible in life. Silly people.

  32. Just fascinating, Linda. If you’d asked me prior to my reading of your essay what camels and the US had in common, I’d have answered, “Um . . . cigarettes?” There’s a story behind everything, it seems, and behind that one, yet another. Thanks for your wonderful telling.

    (I’m curious about the Alberta camels, especially the more recent ones brought from the States; I do hope they were sheltered through the winters. Quite the change of scenery for them!)

    1. I still can see that cigarette package, and know the slogan: “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.” Goodness, beeholdn. It has been a long time! There’s an old, old joke involving Camel cigarettes, Moses and President Roosevelt, too. I’ll have to look it up to get it right. I can remember it being told around my grandparents’ dinner table, usually as a way to conclude certain political discussions.

      Until I wrote this series, I’d always thought of Arabian camels, living in the Saharan desert. In fact, Bactrian camels have thrived in places like the Gobi desert, in temperatures as low as -20F. It seems that Dromedaries can cope with cold, too, so as long as reasonable provision was made for them, they should have done fine. So much to learn — so little time!

      1. Just had a look at the Bactrians on Wikipedia; amazing creatures, and able to withstand huge extremes in temperature. Sadly, they’re considered “critically endangered”, thanks, of course, to us. The Bactrian camel was identified as one of the top ten “focal species” in 2007 by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project, which prioritises unique and threatened species for conservation. Fewer than a thousand (around 600 individuals) are thought to survive in the wild and the population is decreasing. The immediate threats faced by the species are all human related.
        So little time, indeed, in more ways than one. That said . . . it’s always a good time for a joke about cigarettes, Moses, Roosevelt :)

        1. I found the joke. My uncle Robert usually was the one who held forth. Grandpa would sit there and grin, and one of my aunts would say, “Oh, Robert. There are children present.” It went: “Over five thousand years ago, Moses said to the children of Israel, “Pick up your shovels, mount your asses and camels, and I will lead you to the Promised Land.” President Roosevelt said, “Lay down your shovels, sit on your asses, and light up a Camel. This is the Promised Land.”

          They would have been telling that in my presence around 1950-1955, so it wasn’t terribly long after President Roosevelt was in office. Today, the old joke has an addendum. One version is: “Congress has stolen your shovel, taxed your asses, raised the price of Camels and mortgaged the Promised land.”

          There were some fine political cartoons in those days, and some classy political humor. Today’s snark and vitriol just doesn’t measure up. Do you know Molly Ivins? She could turn a phrase, too: examples here.

          1. :D Well, thanks very much for that, Linda.
            I’ve not heard of Molly Ivins; good stuff here :) Have sent the first quote off to my daughter at university (studying psych and the like).
            I find myself laughing more at cartoons these days, than at purely verbal jokes . . . but that may be because I don’t stay up late to listen, so I don’t hear too many.

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