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Sun, July 21

Book Review: Four-star book focuses on Kingman history

The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America's Desert Military Experiment, by Forrest Bryant Johnson; 978-0-425-24569-9, Hardcover, 384 Pages; $25.95; Publication Date: April 3, 2012; History; Published by Berkley Caliber, a member of Penguin Group

Memorial Day is a fitting time to remember the heroes of the old West. Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale is one of those pioneers instrumental in the development of trails, which led to roads, and placement of today's cities. Kingman is located where it is and Fort Mohave is where Beale Crossing is located.

What does this have to do with "The Last Camel Charge"? In the 1850's there was misplaced fear about Utah and the Mormon community in Washington, D.C. - fear that the Mormons were going to take over the entire West and run it their way to the exclusion of others who were attempting to move west during and after the discovery of gold in California. In this era, Indians could see their lands being taken over so they harassed the settlers. The Mojave Indians lived on the banks of the Colorado River, and though they were peaceful, they finally rose up as they had no place to move.

Lt. Ed Beale had the task of finding a better means of transportation in the desert and through years of discussions, Congress and the president gave $30,000 for experimental importation and evaluation of camels! Use of camels was a secret weapon for the military, and because Beale had experience with them, he was the chosen one in this noble experiment.

Beale was not the only person involved at this time, and the book is so thoroughly researched that most of the heroes, both pre-Civil War and Civil War are chronicled. This book is a remembrance to those who willingly gave their lives so that new émigrés could settle the western territories. Many monuments are scattered throughout modern cities and pay homage to the men who served. However, in some of these monuments are the remains of camels!

Camels were extinct in North America for thousands of years and only survived in the Mideast. Lt. Beale, on a specially outfitted ship, brought about 70 camels to Texas and then on to New Mexico, Arizona, and California. In Texas, the camels' home was a specially built set of buildings at Camp Verde.

Many astonishing surprises came about during these experimental years. Although they could go for days without water, the dietary habits were something not expected! Camels loved cactus, mesquite trees, and other roughage, which horses and mules could not stomach. Camels have four stomachs and razor sharp teeth. During one of the Indian encounters with odds against Beale's troops of 10 to one, the camels saved the day! They could swim! In addition, they could gallop at 40 miles per hour up to 75 miles distance, something that horses could not do. Lt. Beale led a charge through the Indian forces with 20 camels, did not lose a man or camel, and crossed the Colorado River to safety!

Photographs depicted in the book show that in 2003, camels were still roaming at large in Texas, and railroad historian Bullet Bob Smith spotted a herd. A photograph shows them. Many other historical pictures feature camels and key figures involved in the bringing of camels to the West.

Historically, Forrest Bryant Johnson has done a great service for those who want to know more about the Mohave Desert. He has brought to life a history of the past by using the camel to tell the story. Conflicts with Indians, Mormons, and civil war battles are mere sideshows when it comes to the main feature of the camel!

Of particular interest to Kingman residents is the naming Beale Street and Stockton Hill Road, as these people were very instrumental in establishing the trail to California known as the Mother Road (Route 66). Lt. Beale also named his second son Truxtun! This is a four-star book which centers on the historic town of Kingman!

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