Hi Jolly: Quartzsite’s legend of a camel driver~3 min read
The thing most people notice right away when they enter the Quartzsite Cemetery is a stone pyramid topped by a copper camel.
There’s an insteresting story behind its presence. The monument marks the grave site of a man they called Hi Jolly, who came to this country in the 1860s to act as a camel driver for the U.S. Army during an ill-fated attempt to use the animals as beasts of burden for military purposes in the deserts of the Southwest.
During the mid-1800’s when much of the southwest of America was still uninhabited desert, the government decided they would deal with the terrain like the desert dwellers of the Middle East and hire camel drivers to carry their goods across the arid terrain. Hi Jolly was one of these.
Born in Syria as Philip Tedro to Greek parents, he would not get his Americanized name for many years. As an adult he converted to Islam and made the pilgrimage to Mecca, taking the name Hadji Ali. It was after this conversion that the U.S. Calvary forces contracted with him to become one of their first riders in the experimental Army Camel Corps. When he came to the states, the soldiers had trouble pronouncing Hadji Ali, so his name was shortened and confused into “Hi Jolly,” the name by which he would forever be remembered.
While serving with the camel corps, Jolly stood out from the rest of the riders for both his ambition and his cranky attitude. So feisty was It seems that he have driven a camel-drawn carriage right through a picnic he was not invited to.
Eventually the camel corps was disbanded after it was found that the much larger camels spooked the native livestock and horses.
Jolly served with the Army until the camel experiment was abandoned and the camels were either sold off to private enterprises or turned loose on the desert. One of them became known as the Red Ghost and, among other things, it seems that it stomped a woman to death. The Hi Jolly legend says that when he died, he was out in the desert hunting for the renegade animal.
Before his death, Jolly bought some of the camels and operated a freight line along the Colorado River but it failed so he turned to prospecting and, like so many others, never got rich at that, either.
He died in an old rock cabin near Quartzsite, Arizona, on December 16 1902, but his memory is preserved still today.
In those days the town was called Tyson’s Well, and his history does not stop there. In 1934 the Arizona Department of Transportation erected a monument over his grave, a grave that became the beginning of the pioneer cemetery.
The plaque on the monument reads:
THE LAST CAMP
BORN SOMEWHERE IN SYRIA
DIED AT QUARTZITE
DECEMBER 16, 1902
CAME TO THIS COUNTRY
FEBRUARY 10, 1856
CAMELDRIVER – PACKER
SCOUT – OVER THIRTY
YEARS A FAITHFUL AID
TO THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
Images from web.