Sunday, November 26, 2023

Arizona's "Red Ghost" (A True Story)


Throughout the early 19th century various proposals were made to use camels imported from the Middle East to transport supplies in the deserts of the southwest.  A proposal by then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was finally approved in 1855 which led to the establishment of the U.S. Camel Corps.

While the camels were found useful, their big drawback was that they spooked the horses and mules, creating chaos in the camp.  After a twenty year experiment the Camel Corps was disbanded, and the camels auctioned off.  Well, most of them were auctioned off, but some were let go in the wild.  Producing one of Arizona’s strangest legends, that of the Red Ghost.

The story began in 1883 when two ranchers went to check on their cattle, leaving their wives at home, alone.  One of the women was outside fetching water when the dog started barking furiously.  Then there was a loud scream.  The woman in the house barricaded the door and looked out the window to see a huge red beast being ridden by the devil. When the two ranchers returned, they found one woman trampled to death and the other in shock.

A few days later a group of prospectors reported the apparition riding through their camp.  Red hair was found at the site.  The next sighting reported that the creature was thirty feet tall and had overturned two wagons.  The legend grew.  The monster was said to disappear into thin air when chased.  The monster killed and ate grizzly bears.  A cowboy lassoed the beast, but he and his horse were dragged by the creature before losing it.  The cowboy reported that the mysterious rider was a skeleton.  A few months later five men shot at the beast, missing the camel but shooting the head off the skeleton.  The skull still had traces of skin and hair attached.

Fact and fantasy swirled around the strange phantom until 1893 when a local rancher named Hastings found the giant creature eating grass in his yard. He killed it with one shot from his Winchester rifle.

The beast from Hell was discovered to be a feral red-haired camel left over from the days of the U.S. Camel Corps. Leather straps had bound the skeleton so tightly, and for so long, to the camel that the animal’s back and sides were scarred. No one knows why the animal had a dead man strapped to it, but some speculated that this was the last attempt of a dying prospector to escape the killing desert sun.

Gold, Murder and Monsters in the Superstition Mountains

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Hi Jolly and the U.S. Camel Corps


In 1855 the U.S. government approved an experimental plan to use camels imported from the Middle East for transporting supplies and equipment across the deserts of the American Southwest.  The U.S. Camel Corps, headquartered in Texas, was born.

Two years into the experiment an expedition under the command of Edward F. Beale was ordered to open a wagon road across Arizona to California.  The expedition left San Antonio on June 25, 1857, and 25 pack camels accompanied a train of mule-drawn wagons. Each camel carried a load of 600 pounds. Beale wrote that he would rather have one camel than four mules.

The expedition included a camel drover named Hadji Ali, who was soon dubbed “Hi Jolly” by his American counterparts. Ali was born as Philip Tedro around 1828, to a Greek mother and a Syrian father. As a young man, he converted to Islam and took the name Hadji Ali.

As the camels moved west under Hi Jolly’s guidance, they proved themselves superior to horses in terms of endurance.  There was a major problem however, the sight of the large animals frightened horses and mules, creating general chaos among the animals. 

The U.S. Camel Corps experiment came to an end by 1866.  The camels were auctioned off, and some were set loose in the desert forming small herds.  Rumors of wild camels in Arizona were still prevalent in Arizona during the 1930s and 1940s.

Hi Jolly stayed in Arizona and became a scout for the Army, assisting General Crook with the Geronimo Campaign.  He died in December 1902 at the age of 64 in Quartzsite, Arizona.  Hi Jolly's work in the US Camel Corps earned him a reputation as a living legend until his death.

In 1935, the Governor of Arizona dedicated a monument to Hadji Ali and the Camel Corps in the Quartzsite Cemetery. The monument, located at his gravesite, is a pyramid built from local stones and topped with a copper camel, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


                                                          Legends of the Superstition Mountains

Wars and Invasions (Four alternative history stories)

Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Legend of Hacksaw Tom


Between 1905 and 1915 a bandit nicknamed “Hacksaw Tom” supposedly carried out a series of robberies on wagons and stagecoaches along Arizona’s Apache Trail (the last stagecoach went out of business in Arizona in 1920 when the road to Young, AZ was paved and the commercial stagecoach was replaced by a Ford.)

A steep grade at Fish Creek, which caused vehicles to slow to a crawl was Tom’s ambush site.  He would step out from behind a boulder and level his sawed-off shotgun at the driver.  No one resisted.  Tom never used a horse in his robberies. He appeared on foot, carried out this robbery, and then scampered up and over the boulders of Fish Creek to safety, seldom pursued by anyone. 

Despite his menacing presence, Hacksaw Tom never fired a shot.  He became an anticipated feature for travelers on the Apache Trail.  It is said that some stagecoach drivers invited their friends along just so they could tell people they had been “held up.”

In the mid-1900s a cave was found near Fish Creek which may have been Tom’s hideout.  In any event, a carpetbag was found in the cave which contained, among other things, a sawed-off shotgun and a flour sack mask.

There is not much written documentation to support this tale, which relies heavily on oral tradition.  Several robberies along the Apache Trail that went unsolved are recorded. The exact locations of these robberies have been lost to history.  And yet, we have a very intriguing mask and shotgun.

Gold, Murder and Monsters in the Superstition Mountains

Custer’s Last Stand Re-examined

Friday, November 10, 2023

The Ghosts of Vulture City, Arizona


The Hanging Tree

Legend has it that in 1863 Henry Wickenburg discovered gold when he went to retrieve a vulture he shot.  Wickenburg named his mine, “The Vulture Mine.”  The mine operated from 1863 to 1942 and was one of the richest mines in Arizona, producing some 340,000 ounces of gold and 250,000 ounces of silver.  A town, “Vulture City” grew up around the mine and grew to over 5,000 inhabitants.

By 1880, Vulture City consisted of six boarding houses, a cookhouse and mess hall, a blacksmith shop, a brothel, stores, offices, saloons, and a school.  Crime was a problem in this frontier town.  Theft, murder and rape were commonplace.  There was no regular law. Vigilante law prevailed.  A hanging tree stood next to a makeshift jailhouse. The condemned was put on a mule and when the mule ran out from under him, the prisoner often slowly strangled to death over the course of hours.

When the mine closed in 1942 Vulture City became a ghost town.  And indeed it is a town filled with ghosts.  Eighteen men dangled from the hanging tree.  To this day, their restless spirits are said to harass visitors.  Tourists claimed rocks were thrown at them by an invisible force when they were near the Hanging Tree.  Strange disembodied voices can be heard on the wind, and invisible footsteps creep up from behind.

Custer’s Last Stand Re-examined