Quartzsite, Arizona, is a small town with a passion for camels. Camels play a big role in this community’s history, so it’s no wonder that camel replicas pop up all over town. The town’s welcome sign is adorned with camels. Its graveyard is the final resting place for Hadji Ali, a camel herder for the U.S. military.
The most recent addition isn’t new. It has simply returned from the dead. Or, in this case, the scrap heap!
Just off of the 10 freeway sits Georgette, a scrap metal camel and she’s easy to spot because she’s a brilliant red.
Her body is made of car tire rims, her head was once a motorcycle gas tank, and her legs are automobile tie rods. The piece of art was originally commissioned by a local businessman to stand in front of his flea market, then was left to rust when that enterprise went out of business. But then George He, owner of Gem World and Quartzsite Showgrounds, bought the flea market and inherited the camel.
It now stands in front of his store, with a new deep red paint and some jewelry, applied by Lily Moreno, a store employee.
In reality, the camel is linked to a fascinating piece of local folklore: Arizona’s Red Ghost.
Historically, just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers used camels as beasts of burden during their survey of a wagon road along the 35th Parallel from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. The camel experiment was highly successful but following the survey the government had no more use for the homely animals and sold some at auction while others were left to roam the deserts of western Arizona.
In the 1880s, stories quickly spread throughout Arizona of a giant red horse with a devil on its back. Around 1883 at a lonely ranch at Eagle Creek near the Arizona-New Mexico border, a woman was stomped to death by a strange-looking red-haired beast with a devilish-looking creature strapped on his back.
Few days later, one night, a party of prospectors was awakened to thundering hoofs and terrifying screams stampeding through their campground.
The Red Ghost attacked again a few days later, this time flipping over two freight wagons.
At the scene of each event were signs of the creature: enormous hoof marks larger than any horse, and strands of red hair.
These acts of terror created a variety of fanciful campfire tales: one claimed he saw it kill a grizzly and eat it, while another said he chased the Red Ghost only to see it disappear before his eyes. However, all agreed the camel had a human skeleton attached to its back.
Stories of the Red Ghost rampaging all over the territory lasted about for a decade, until a farmer found it: a red camel grazing in his garden. He drew a bead with his trusty Winchester and dropped the camel with one shot.
The camel was likely really a straggler, released from Hadji Ali’s team after the government abandoned the U.S. Camel Corps.
The animal’s back was badly scarred from rawhide strands that had been used to hold a body of a man. The Red Ghost mystery was, mostly, solved, even though no one knows who roped the corpse to the camel’s back, or the reason.
In Quartzsite, became popular for its camel crossings, there are two reminders of that “infamous” red camel. One is a marker on top of Hadji Ali’s grave, and just around the corner and down the road from “Hi Jolly’s” grave, guarding the local gem store, stands the other, Georgette.
Author’s note: the sculpture can be seen outside Gem World on Main Street, close to Hi Jolly’s Tomb.
Images from web.