“The camels’ smell was also a bone of contention”

The stupendous fictioneer and performance artist Ben Hersey was just telling me about some forgotten camels. Apparently, back before he was President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of War, and he was convinced by some camel enthusiasts in the U.S. Army—veterans of conflicts with those nasty Native Americans in Florida—that camels would be a badass idea for soldiers in the Southwest. So Davis ordered some dudes off to Tunis to buy some camels. You can read more about the camel episode, but just imagine the spectacle of these pre-Civil War American soldiers bumbling around Northern Africa, haggling with camel dealers. It makes you want a Drunk History episode at least. It makes you wonder what other excellent narratives are floating around out there, recessed from canonical history for being too ridiculous or convoluted to explain. To fit. What are some of your favorite offshoots from history? After Google buys history, will this era be known for its “narrative neutrality?” Do we have nook and cranny concerns? Isn’t it fun on any storytelling level to break “history,” exposing everything as the subjective, harebrained, non-narrative shitstorm that experience really is? How long will it take someone to say “rhizome” if we talk about this? Should we take a shot when someone says it? Are histrionics truer than history? After the camels turned out to be a bust as military equipment, they were sold to zoos, circuses, and private ranchers. Why didn’t they work? Why didn’t camels become part of the military glory we call History?

“Those camels were lonesome for the caravans of their home country. Every time they sighted a prospector’s mule train they’d make a break for it. You’ve heard of how horses bolted at the sight of the first automobiles. That wasn’t anything compared to the fright those ugly, loping camels threw into mules. The mules would lay back their ears and run for their lives and then the prospectors would cuss and reach for their guns and shoot. A lot of camels got killed this way.”

Craft Notes / 40 Comments
August 7th, 2010 / 11:55 am