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Off-Road Adventure - The Mojave Road

Jeep Rear View
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted September 1, 2007

Over A Century And A Half Since Its Inception, The Old Mojave Road Is Still A Road To Adventure.

Imagine your favorite Western hero riding into town on a camel. Would Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) look nearly as intimidating riding toward a band of outlaws with both guns blazing and the reins of a camel between his teeth? Does that mental image cause you to unconsciously giggle? Maybe Rooster would have won the battle more easily simply because the outlaws were laughing too hard to fight back.

During the 1850s and 1860s, the U.S. government tried what it called "an experiment" using camels for the U.S. Army. The plan was to replace cavalry horses with camels. The animals were brought to this country on ships and unloaded in Texas by way of the Gulf of Mexico. From there, the animals were used in numerous projects, including the establishment of a road from Texas to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in California. One section of that route still crosses the barren desert from the banks of the Colorado River near Needles to Barstow in California and is known as the Mojave Road.

Fort Mojave was on the other side of the Colorado River. The Mojave Road starts here.

There are numerous conflicting stories about the use of camels by the Army. Some stories praise how well the camels performed, and other stories claim the soldiers refused to ride them at all. Some stories tell how the camels were able to run faster and longer than horses, but other stories claim the camels would fall over dead if forced to run long distances.

There seems to be no doubt camels were used on the Mojave Road to carry mail. Private contractors obtained the camels as part of their agreement with the government. There were reports that camel feet were soft-soled and best suited for sandy surfaces. Sharp rocks along the Mojave Road bruised and crippled them.

In the end, it doesn't matter why the camel experiment failed in the Wild West. The fact is, cowboys, soldiers, and gunfighters just didn't like the gaudy animals.

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