Great Camel Experiment: Hi Jolly Monument in Quartzsite, Arizona

In the small desert town of Quartzsite, Arizona, a lesser-known historical achievement took place involving the United States Army, a middle eastern man and camels. The project was called The Great Camel Experiment. And Quartzsite is the place that honors the who proved to the U.S. government that camels outlasted other means of transporting military supplies across the desert southwest.

Wait! Did I just say CAMELS? Camels in Arizona? 

For a moment, let’s imagine this. You’re a cowboy or cowgirl riding your horse in the hot arid Arizona desert and Texas Hill Country in the late 1850’s. All of a sudden, amidst the tall Saguaros, Chollas and Ocotillos, a pack of camels crosses your path.

Well, you weren’t imagining it. It wasn’t some desert mirage. And, you weren’t hallucinating. What you were witnessing is history in the making!

The Great Camel Experiment: Quartzsite, Arizona

Always On Liberty - Quartzsite Welcome Sign
Photo by Always On Liberty©

Our pilgrimage to the RV Mecca of the World: Quartzsite, Arizona

In January of 2017, we joined about 65 Xscapers in Quartzsite, Arizona for our first boondocking convergence. Also known as the Rock Capitol of the World, Quartzsite is also coined as the “RV Mecca of the World”. Its a misnomer that every RVer should make a pilgrimage to Quartzsite at least once in their RV travels.

Like most cities and towns in America, there’s a peculiar looking welcome sign that greets you to the town of Quartzsite. And when I say ‘peculiar’, you can imagine our curiosity of the pyramid and the three camels.

There’s a reason for the cool pyramid and camels incorporated on the sign. It took a little digging but we actually came out of Quartzsite more educated on something historically cool that took place there. This is something we never learned in elementary or even high school.

Anyways, we towed our fifth wheel along with our Idaho Tote holding our two dual sport motorcycles off the paved service road onto the rocky desert where our a bunch of other RV friends had corralled. We parked where we could get a decent WiFi signal yet be in close proximity of our friends and their RVs.

Always On Liberty - Parked in Quartzsite
Photo by Always On Liberty©

We boondocked in Quartzsite with them for 12 days. After a few days amidst the potlucks, campfires, gatherings, workshops and classes, Dan and I meandered into Quartzsite to explore the town.

Of course, this was during the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show. The dead giveaway is their notorious ‘big tent’ full of ‘everything RV’ from RV component and supply vendors, campground and membership organizations, flea market crap and of course, the outdoor section of RVs for sale.

But, this particular trek into town wasn’t to attend the RV show. We wanted to find out what was up with those darn camels. Now, those who know us, appreciate that Dan and I enjoy exploring wild, weird and quirky places. And, Quartzsite surely hit this one right out of the park.

Quartzsite - Hi Jolly Monument sign

As we were driving around Quartzsite, while waiting or the traffic light to turn green, we noticed a brown historical site signs pointing the way to the Hi Jolly Tomb.  We looked at each other and said to each other “who the heck is Hi Jolly?” And, so we went!

Hi Jolly Cemetery

Once we got to the Hi Jolly Cemetery (a whole 60 seconds!), we walked over to the cemetery sign. And darn if there’s those camels again!

But as we read it, we started piecing this unknown historic event together. Unfortunately, this bit of American history not taught in classrooms yesteryear or even today. So, it’s part of our give-back job to share what we’ve learned.

Hi Jolly Cemetery Sign - Quartzsite Arizona
Photo by Always On Liberty©

Located only steps away from the sign was the Hi Jolly Cemetery that had one odd looking pyramid-shaped monument wit rusty steel camel on top looking out to the vast rocky desert.

Great Camel Experiment Hi Jolly Monument - Quartzsite, Arizona
Photo by Always On Liberty©

On one side of the pyramid was a plaque with the inscription: 

“Last Camp of Hi Jolly
Born somewhere in Syria about 1828
Died at Quartzsite December 16, 1902
Came to this country February 10, 1856
Camel Driver – Packer
Scout – Over Thirty
Years a faithful aid to the US Government
1935 by Arizona Highway Department”

Great Camel Experiment - The Last Camp of Hi Jolly Plaque
Photo by Always On Liberty©

And, at the foot of the pyramid rested a newer plaque listing it as one of the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior.

U.S. Army Camel Corps - Great Camel Experiment - Hi Jolly Monument
Photo by Always On Liberty©

But, remember I mentioned the sign in the cemetery that has the camel on it? After a closer look, we learned what the camel symbolizes.

The camel supposedly represents the Red Ghost; a scary red-haired beast that roamed the desert, terrorizing man and beast with what appeared to be a corpse tied to his back. 

According to Smithsonian Magazine‘s account, “In the 1880s, a wild menace haunted the Arizona territory. It was known as the Red Ghost, and its legend grew as it roamed the high country. It trampled a woman to death in 1883.”

However, others say the camel atop the monument recognizes Topsy, Hi Jolly’s favorite camel and companion. There’s claims that Topsy’s ashes are also placed in the bronze time capsule. So, who really knows?

So, since we knew nothing about who this Hi Jolly is and the U.S. Army Camel Corps’ “Great Camel Experiment”, we’re eager to learn the who, what, where, when, how and of course, why Quartzsite?

Inception of the Great  Camel Experiment

In the 1850’s, the Army transported their good to the west using mules. However, this became a logistical nightmare due to the desert’s high temperatures and long stretches of nothingness that mules weren’t accustomed to. 

Jefferson Davis had this brilliant idea of transporting supplies across the Southwest desert via camels instead.

So, on accord with the U.S. Government, Jefferson Davis contracted a Syrian Camel CaretakerHadji Ali. Also known as Hi Jolly, he was specified for a certain Army purpose to sail to the United States on the U.S.S. Supply with 20some desert camels from the Middle East to conduct a so-called experiment. Thus, creation of the U.S. Army Camel Corps.

After arriving in the United States and getting acclimated to the conditions in the American southwest, Hadji Ali and his camels were were transferred to Camp Verde, Texas to begin Jefferson Davis’ project with the U.S. Army Camel Corps

A side note, speculation has it that Hadji Ali (Hi Jolly) was one of the first Syrian immigrants to come to America (or, so they say).

Read more: Visit Camp Verde, Texas

The Great Camel Experiment Commences

The U.S. Army marched three six-mule teams; each to haul a wagon carrying 1800 pounds of oats from San Antonio back to Camp Verde, Texas. It took nearly five days for the mule drawn wagons to complete their delivery.

At the same time, Hadji Ali (Hi Jolly) and Army Soldiers loaded six camels but with double the load. The object of The Great Camel Experiment was to see if camels could do a better job transporting supplies to the designated camps faster without incident.

Well, needless to say, because camels are accustomed to hot desert environments, Jefferson Davis looked like a genius. Hadji Ali (Hi Jolly) and his team of camels accomplished the experimental trip in less than half the time; clearly proving the camels’ tenacity, speed and weight-bearing ability over the mules.

Now, most everyone knows that camels don’t require a ton of daily water or food to survive. Whereas, mules and horses need regular feedings and ample water for daily consumption to survive, not only in the desert environment, but everywhere. Also, camels can withstand the barren heat of over 130 degrees in the summer months in the desert.

Several other exercises were conducted to prove that camels transporting abilities surpassed mules and horses. Jefferson Davis was extremely pleased of his new pet projectHe stated in his annual report:

“These tests fully realize the anticipation entertained for their usefulness in the transportation of military supplies…thus far, the result as favorable as the most sanguine could have hoped.”

The Great Camel Experiment Ends

However, the U.S. Army Camel Corps Great Camel Experiment didn’t happen without logistical issues. And, timing couldn’t be worse to complete the project. The Soldiers or civilians wanted nothing to do with the camels as they were strange and odd to ride (one hump or two?). And, the camels required different care than the mules they were accustomed to. Further, they found camels are extremely temperamental and can be violent and sassy.

A few years after the inception of the The Great Camel Experiment, America’s Civil War broke out. Jefferson Davis had to divert his focus to a different job in the U.S. government. And due to the war efforts, the U.S. Army’s mission all changed taking all of the necessary support and attention away from the camel mission project. So, the U.S. Camel Corps. was abandoned and defunded and the mission was scrapped.

So, what does the U.S. Army do with the camels? Well, they sold some to zoos and circus’. And, they set the remaining camels free in the desert near Quartzsite to fend for themselves.

After the camels were displaced, Hi Jolly (later named Philip Tedro) continued to live in Quartzsite until he passed away in 1902. He was very well-liked amongst the locals and reigned somewhat of a hero. So, the townspeople honored him by building a tomb out of multicolored petrified wood and quartz in the shape of a pyramid. A year later, the town dedicated his monument.

But then in 1935, a bronze plaque was set on the tomb by the Arizona Highway Department and mounted a metal camel silhouette on the top of the pyramid monument, “A fair trial might have resulted in complete success”.

And, by the way, it’s been said that the last surviving camel was sighted in 1942. As you’ve just learned, the camels outlasted and outlived the Father of The Great Camel Experiment, Jefferson Davis himself.

So, as history has it, Quartzsite was the Last Camp of Hi Jolly.

Great Camel Experiment - Last Camp of Hi Jolly - Quartzsite

If this intriguing piece of American History piques your interests you, check out the U.S. Army’s Camel Corps Experiment.

The Great Camel Experiment of the Old WestUncle Sam’s Camels : The Journal of May Humphreys StaceyThe Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America’s Desert Military Experiment

Wrapping up the Great Camel Experiment in Quartzsite

Who would ever think the U.S. government would take on such an interesting project; hiring a Middle Eastern camel herder and 30 some camels to transport supplies to the West? As bizarre as it sounds, it certainly doesn’t surprise us. The government does some crazy stuff even back as far as the 1850’s.

So, if passing through Quartzsite, Arizona or boondocking out there in the desert, take time to visit the Hi Jolly Monument.

The Hi Jolly Cemetery is located on West Main Street in Quartzsite, Arizona. To get to the cemetery, take exit 17 on I-10. North side, about a ½ mile east on Business 10/W. Main Street. Turn North at the Hi Jolly Tomb sign. Drive through the flea market to get to the cemetery and monument.  You can’t miss it.  Just look for the pyramid with the camel on top!

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10 Fun Things to See and Do in Quartzsite, Arizona

Why RVers Go to Quartzsite, Arizona

The Great Camel Experiment: Camp Verde, Texas



2 Replies to “Great Camel Experiment: Hi Jolly Monument in Quartzsite, Arizona”

    1. Diane, I think you would like it! There’s so much unwritten history of our Country out there. We are so glad to share what we’ve learned on the road. Thank you for your interest in and following our blog. Safe travels! -Lisa & Dan

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