The Camel Experiment at Ft. Tejon
During the 1850's, the U.S. Army experimented with camels in the hope of developing improved and more economical transport across the wide reaches of the arid west. Fort Tejon played a small role in this experiment after 1857 when Edward F. Beale brought 22 camels to Samuel Bishop's ranch near the fort. He had used the camels to carry forage and supplies for the road surveying party he had been commissioned to lead from Fort Defiance, New Mexico Territory to the Colorado River.
The following year, Beale used the camels once again to haul supplies for the construction crews who were marking and improving the wagon road that had been surveyed the year before. The apparent success of this camel experiment caused the U.S. Army to ask that the camels be turned over to them at Fort Tejon. The War Department refused the request, but on November 17, 1859, Bishop brought the camels to Fort Tejon and left them to be cared for through the winter. They were turned out once again to graze on Bishop's ranch in the spring of 1860 after Brevet Major James H. Carlton refused to use them for his Mojave expedition.
In September, Captain Winfield S. Hancock, Assistant Quartermaster in Los Angeles, experimented with camels as a way of reducing the expense of messenger service between Los Angeles and the recently established Fort Mojave on the Colorado River. Unfortunately, one of the "express camels" died near the Fishponds (modern Barstow). and the experiment was considered a failure. It was noted that while the camels were cheaper to maintain, they were really no faster than the two-mule buckboard in service under contract with the Army.
Early in 1861, three camels were used to carry provisions for the California-Nevada boundary survey under J.R.N. Owen. The expedition ran into severe difficulties, though the camels performed well and may even have saved the lives of Owen and his men. Afterward, the camels were turned over to Captain Hancock in Los Angeles where they were soon joined by those that had been left at Fort Tejon. Eventually, the camels were taken to the Benicia Arsenal and sold at auction.