Cariboo Camels

Camels in the Gold Rush

In 1862, an advertisement appeared in the British Colonist advertising 25 camels for sale. Who brought them to BC and why?

Camels were commonly used in southwestern United States. In fact, the U.S. had its own Camel Corps. Camels could pack twice as much as a mule and with their long legs, could travel very quickly.

These Bactrian camels originally came Mongolia and arrived first in San Francisco before making the trip north to Victoria in April, 1862. From the British Colonist newspaper:

The Hermann – this steamer left San Francisco at 8 o’clock on the evening of the 10th and arrived here at 7 o’clock yesterday morning, making the trip in three days and eleven hours. She brought about 350 passengers, 23 camels, and 200 mules…

On this last portion of their trip they were looked after by a man named Hadji Ali, also known as Hi Jolly. Hi Jolly had been a driver in the U.S. Camel Corps. Many people came down to the wharf just to see the camels, as it was such an unusual sight.

A few weeks after the advertisement appeared, John Calbraith bought 23 camels (two had gone missing in Victoria). He must have had a change of heart because the camels stayed in Victoria until early May when another man, Frank Laumeister, brought them to Lillooet by way of the Port Douglas trail.

At first there were high expectations that the camels would carry as much as six hundred pounds a trip and travel through snow unimpeded. One of the first problems someone noted was that they were highly excitable and did not react well to seeing other mules and horses on the trail. Stampedes were very common. Mr. Laumeister was threatened with court action if he didn’t get his camel trains off the Cariboo Wagon Road.

The camels probably suffered without their usual desert diet and it was reported that they would “eat anything from a pair of pants to a bar of soap.” Their feet suffered from the difficult terrain. Some died in blizzards or fell off the steep cliffs. One miner retired to a farm near Hat Creek and used a camel to help pull a plough. The camels were bought and sold and some made it to the gold rush at Wild Horse Creek.

The last known surviving camel was treated like a pet at a family’s farm at Grande Prairie (now Westwold) in the interior of BC. It died in 1905.

What about Hi Jolly? He stayed around for the gold rush for a short time but he didn’t have very good luck either. He lost all his money to some gamblers and returned to the United States.