Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Like Ghost Rider, Only With Camels

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 11•17

In 1883, two ranchers near Eagle Creek Arizona left their wives and children in their ranch house and rode out to check their cattle.

One of the women went to draw water from a nearby spring, leaving the other to tend to the children.

The woman in the house heard a scream. When she looked out the window, she saw some kind of monster, riding a fearsome red beast. Frightened, she locked the door and pulled the kids close. Her friend never returned.

When the ranchers returned that night, they found the other woman’s trampled body, surrounded by cloven hoof prints.

***

We invent tall tales, Folklore and legends to explain the unexplainable. And as more sightings of the ghoulish rider and red monster occurred around Arizona, the creature earned a name: the Red Ghost of Arizona.

Over the next few months, the ghost would appear again and again. It would trample a tent filled with miners near Clifton, and be spotted by ranchers and miners all around Arizona.

Then a rancher named Cyrus Hamblin offered an explanation. Hamblin was working on his ranch near the salt river when he spotted the Red Ghost. But Hamblin recognized the beast. It was a camel.

To Hamblin’s horror, he could see a skeleton tied to the camel’s back.

A few months later, when some miners shot at the Red Ghost, something fell from it’s back as it ran away. The miner’s were terrified to find that what had fallen off was a mummified human skull.

***

To trace the birth of Arizona’s Red Ghost, you have to go back to 1848. Settlers were expanding westward into the American Southwest despite the hostile landscape and even more hostile natives.

‘Why not bring in camels to help settle the land?’ Thought some. Camels are more resilient than horses. They can go longer without water. Their hooves are adapted to cover the sand like a pillow rather than sinking in like a horse’s.

Some prominent men lobbied congress to bring camels over for the army, including Army Quartermaster Major Henry Wayne and secretary of war Jefferson Davis. (Yes, future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. That guy.)

And so in 1857, the army received 72 camels. And they quickly learned that camels would bite, spit, kick, scare horses and wander off at night. Soldiers assigned to the camels hated them.

This is where the legend of the Red Ghost’s skeletal rider came from. Stories say that a young camel rider was afraid to get onto his mount. So his friends tied him on with rawhide rope. Then they slapped the camel on the bottom to make it run – only to find that they couldn’t catch up with it after.

Even though the camel program floundered, the army kept it going. Since the government had payed so much to bring camels to the US, the army couldn’t really get rid of the camels when buyers remorse set in. Some remained in at Camp Verde, Texas while others went to California.

Then the civil war broke out. Suddenly, with the Union’s shifting priorities, the camels were a liability.

Most camels were sold to butchers, miners, circuses and some even worked on the transcontinental railroad.

But when Confederate forces seized Camp Verde, they released some of the animals into the wild. Thanks to that, feral camel sightings were reported from Arkansas to Arizona right up into the 20th century.

But unlike the Wild Mustangs, or Pablo Escobar’s hippos, camels didn’t thrive in the southwest. There just weren’t enough camels concentrated in one spot to create a sustainable and growing herd. So eventually the feral camels died out.

But what of Arizona’s Red Ghost?

In the mid 1880’s a rancher in Arizona spotted a camel in it’s garden. The rancher shot the camel with a Winchester rifle. When he examined the creature’s body, he found scars across the torso from where something had been tied to it’s back with a rawhide rope and left there until the rope rotted away.

If the Red Ghost ever existed, it was gone now.

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