"Camel Huntin'" by Will C. Barnes
"Did any of yez ever go camel huntin'?" asked the cook, who had been
listening to some tales of bear and lion hunting that had been going the
rounds of the men about the chuck wagon.
"Camel hunting?" cried the horse-wrangler, a look of astonishment on his
face. "What on earth do you mean by camel hunting? We ain't none of us
ever been to Afriky."
"Camel huntin' is jest what I said," replied the knight of the dish-rag,
flourishing that useful article in the air as he mopped off the lid of
the chuck box.
"Do you mean sure enough camels, camels with humps on 'em like what we
seen at the circus in Albuquerque las' fall?" queried another doubting
"Faith an' I do that," answered the cook; "an' what's more, I didn't
have to go to no Afriky to hunt 'em neither."
"Whar did ye find any camels hereabouts, 'ceptin in a circus?" asked
"Tex," an old-time puncher who had followed the chuck wagon for thirty
"Right here in Arizony, me lads," said the cook, with an affirmative nod
of his red head.
"Gee!" and the wagon boss looked incredulous. "Camels in Arizony! Who
ever heard tell of any of them critters down this-a-way?"
Pat by this time had finished his after-dinner work, and while the team
horses were eating their grain, he sat down to peel a panful of potatoes
in readiness for the evening meal.
"Tell us about them there camels, Pat," begged one of the boys.
"Sure," with a grin, "I don't mind givin' yez a little bit of
enlightenment on the subject of camels, seein' as none of yez ever heern
tell of thim before now. When I first came to Arizony, ye know I was a
sojer in the regular army, in the Sixth Cavalry, the gallopin' Sixth,
they called it in them days."
"Aw, give us a rest, Pat, about your army days, an' tell us about them
camels," for the Galloping Sixth and its adventures was an old story to
"Well," he resumed, "we was scoutin' down the Santy Cruz valley, west of
Too-sawn, a lookin' for old Geronimo and his murderin' gang. One night
we was camped in a little openin' in the mesquites, wid guards out on
all sides ag'in a surprise, when somethin' stampeded every hoss in the
herd an' left us plumb afoot, exceptin' them the guards was a-ridin'.
Next morning when the captain asked the sargint of the guard what made
'em stampede, he sort of grinned an' looked sheepish like.
"'Captain,' ses he, 'ye'll not be after thinkin' me a dirty liar, but,
sor, by the blissid Saint Patrick I'd be willin' to swear that the
animiles that set them there crazy hosses off like a bunch of skeered
sheep were nothin' less nor camels—camels, sor, with two humps an' long
necks on 'em; the same as I be seein' in the maynageries whin I were a
"'Camels, sargint?' sez the captain, lookin' sort o' puzzled like. 'Do
ye surely mean what ye be a-sayin'?'
"'That I do, sor,' sez the sargint, 'an' the men on guard with me will
bear me out—at least them that glimpsed them.'
"Then the captain he sort of grins an' sez, 'That's all right, sargint;
I'd plumb forgot there used to be a lot of camels herabouts on these
deserts, an' 'twas probably some of thim.'
"Then the captain, he bein' a fine old sojer man, with no frills or
grand airs with the men when out on a scout, tells the sargint that
before the war Jeff Davis (that same Jeff, by the way, what was
Prisident of the Confideracy, he bein' then Secretary of War) gits a
fancy that camels was the very trick for usin' out West, for packin'
stuff for the troops. So old Jeff he gets Uncle Sam to send 'way off to
Afriky an' import a lot of thim an' sint them out to Texas an' Arizony
on the deserts.
"But the packers couldn't get used to them, an' besides, they stampeded
ev'ry horse an' mule in the entire southwest with their queer ways an'
ungainly looks. So one day the quartermaster at Yuma he turns out a lot
of thim with a 'Good-bye to yez, an' God bless yez, an' here's hopin' we
niver meet ag'in,' slappin' the nearest one with a halter shank to sort
of hasten him on his way. They took to the deserts like a duck to water,
an' the captain said 'twas doubtless one of thim that the sargint
"How about huntin' of 'em, Pat?" asked an interested listener. "You sure
didn't stop to hunt camels then, did you?"
"Hunt camels thin!" snorted the cook with disgust. "By the powers 'twas
precious little opportunity we had for camel huntin' thim days, with old
Geronimo onto his job ev'ry day from sun-up to dark. No, my son, 'twas
ten years or more later whin I went camel huntin'. I was workin' for the
M. C. outfit, up to Williams, an' they had a contract to deliver some
beef steers to the Injun agent at the Moharvey reservation down below
the Needles on the Big Colorado. We'd had an elegant summer for rain,
an' the desert was covered with grass an' water. So the old man decides
to trail them across the country, an' we takes the herd an' struck off
down the mountain towards the head of the big Chino Valley an' then on
west till we struck the Bill William's fork of the Big Colorado down
which we was to drift till we reached the main river.
"We started with a young moon, an' by the time we hit the Bill William's
fork the job of night herding was a plumb picnic, so far as the steers
went. We had them all as do-cile as a bunch of trained pigs; an' what
with the grand feed to handle them on we'd never yet lost a single one
of them nor had a stampoodle of any kind.
"We bedded them oxen down one night in a great open valley after an easy
day's drive. There was only five of us, four with the steers, an' me,
cook an' horse-wrangler, we havin' everything on four pack mules, which
I drove with the remuda.
"That night Billy St. Joe asked me if I wouldn't take his guard for
him, he bein' about sick all day with nuralgy. So when I was called
along about midnight to spoon them for two hours I jumps an' was soon
joggin' around the bunch, which was all a-lyin' down as decent as one
could wish fer. 'Twere hard to keep awake, an' I reckon I must 'a' been
a-noddin' in the saddle, for, the first thing I knowed there was a snort
an' a cracklin' of horns an' hocks, an' away went me steers like the
very old divil himself was behind them.
"I pulled meself together, slapped old Shoestring down the hind leg with
me quirt, an' put spurs after them, hopin' to turn them. Old Shoestring
snorted an' kept them sharp ears of his workin' an' looking' back over
his shoulder like, as if he was a-feered too. I hadn't been sidin' them
fer more than a hundred yards when, hearin' a snortin' an' a gruntin'
behind me, I takes a look meself over me shoulder, an' such a sight as
me eyes did get.
"'Twas sure no wonder them steers was a-runnin away, fer right behind us
was three great figures with long necks an' humps on their backs like
two water kegs a-settin' up there. They wasn't gallopin', nayther was
they trottin', but jist a-shufflin' along over the ground like ghosties,
an' every once in a little while one of them gives a grunt an' a gurgle
which sent them oxen wild with terror. Hangin' to these creatures was
long strings of somethin' more like a lot of ragged clothes than
anything else, an' what with the flutterin' an' wavin' they resembled a
lot of animated scarecrows.
"When we first set out on our race with thim ugly divils a-follerin' of
us, the three night horses tied up in camp, takin' wan look an' sniff
of them teeterin' figgers a-puffin' an' a-gruntin' in our rear, jist
quit the flats wid the rest of the live stock, an' as we tore along we
picked up every mother's son of the other horses, them all bein'
foot-loose, an' a-hangin' round with the pack mules.
"By the blissed saints, but me an' that Shoestring horse was havin' a
lovely ole time of it all by ourselves, for, with the night horses gone,
thim lads back in camp had nothin' to do but set there an' lave it to me
to hang an' rattle with them. Thim shufflin' monsters behind didn't seem
to want to git past us, but jist kep' at the heels of the drags, an'
it's mesilf's a-tellin' ye that every toime I'd take wan hasty glimpse
of thim 'twould be the cold chills I'd be after havin', an' me a-cursin'
the night I ever took Billy St. Joe's guard fer him.
"What wid the fear in his heart, an' good work wid me 'pet makers', I
makes out to git old Shoestring up clost to the leaders. I'd also
managed to get me slicker untied from the back of me saddle an' was
wavin' it in their faces, hopin' by thim means to git the bunch turned
an' millin', an' maybe thim lost sowls that was a-follerin' us wud leave
us in peace an' quiet.
"Thim three saddle horses a-runnin' an' rompin' an' snortin' in the
midst of the steers wasn't helpin' matters, ayther. Iv'ry toime wan of
the stake ropes what was a-draggin' after thim struck the hocks of a
steer he'd give a wild beller of fright, and thin the entire bunch wud
put on a few extra bursts of speed, an' thim preambulatin' scarecrows
behind wud do a little more gruntin' an' gurglin' an' make matters all
"'Bout this time old Shoestring, bein' occupied principally wid lookin'
over his shoulder an' takin' stock of those wanderin' hoboes behind,
failed to notice a big ole badger hole like an open coal hole in a city
sidewalk, an' steps wan of his front legs square into it an' turns a
hand-spring, landin' in a bunch of cholla cactus, wid me under him.
Whin I come to my sinsis, which was some minutes after, I finds meself
afoot on the desert an' it just a-gittin' gray in the east.
"Barrin' a big gash across me cheek, where I digs me face into the
ground as me old Shoestring lit, I was none the worse for the fall,
'ceptin' of coorse a large an' illigant assortment of cholla barbs in
me anatemy. Comes daylight I limps back to camp, for I were in no fix
for ridin' till I'd lain fer two mortal hours flat on me stummick on a
saddle blanket—an' me as naked as a Yuma Indian kid in July—whilst
Billy St. Joe done a grand job of pullin' them divilish cactus barbs
from various an' prominent portions of me system. Thim infernal things
stuck out of me carcas till, as one of the byes remarked, 'I was more
porcupine than human.'
"'What skeered your cows, Pat?' says Jim, the boss, as I come cripplin'
into camp. 'Sure an' if I knowed I'd tell ye,' sez I. They was all
a-lyin' that ca'm an' peaceful as wan could well wish fer. Thin up they
hops an' immigrates. Me an' old Shoestring we busted out after 'em, an'
as we tore along I glimpsed a bunch of hairy, wobbly-legged monsters
a-follerin' us, a-groanin' an' a-gurglin' like a lot of hobgoblins from
hell,' sez I.
"'Git out' sez Jim; ''twas aslape ye were, ye an' old Shoestring both,
an' he had a bad dream an' bucked ye off into a cholla'.
"'Not on yer life,' sez I, mad enough to fight a grizzly between the
grin on his face an' the stingin' of the cactus barbs in me back.
"The boys managed to get the horses rounded up, an' all the steers
together by noon, but too late to move camp that day. That afternoon Jim
sez, 'Git yer gun, Pat, an' come wid me.' So I saddles up me pony, slips
me Winchester into me scabbard, an' him an' me rides off from camp.
"'What's up?' sez I.
"'Nothin', sez he, 'only over here a ways I struck the curiousest tracks
I ever seen in all me life; an' me a-knowin' the sign of every critter
that ever walks on legs in this here country.' We soon struck the trail
Jim had seen an' it sure were a new one on both of us. So we follows it
up, feelin' it was our juty, as law-abidin' citizens, to run down an'
kill all such disorderly, outlandish creatures that was a-runnin' at
large. 'Twan't long before we comes to a ridge a-lookin' out over a
little valley, an' leadin' our horses we footed it fer the top of the
ridge, an' peekin' over we seed down in the middle of the flat three
hungry lookin' yaller divils. ''Tis me wanderin' rag-bags what skeered
the herd last night,' sez I, triumphant like—after Jim accusin' me of
goin' to sleep on guard an' dreamin' things.
"'I reckon you're right,' sez Jim, with a grin on his mug.
"They was a dirty yaller color, an' what wid the bare spots all over
thim, like sheep wid the scab, Jim sez theylooked more like a lot of
mangy coyotes than anythin' he iver seen in all his life. ''Twas sure no
fault wid thim steers that they all gits up an' stampoodles whin such a
bad-smellin', evil-lookin' lot of monsters come a-driftin' down on top
of them,' sez he.
"'Twere not so hard to git closer to thim, an' whin we finally gits as
near as we thought we could, an' not skeer thim, we each picks out wan
an' let him have it where we believed it would do the most good. Mine
never ran ten feet; Jim's fell down within a quarter; the third wan
struck off down the valley at a great rate, an' Jim, bein' hell-bent fer
ropin' things, hollered, 'Le's rope it, le's rope it!' an' jabbed his
spurs into his pony an' tore off, takin' down his rope an' makin a loop
as he wint.
"'Rope him if ye will,' sez I, lammin' me old digger wid me quirt, 'but
it's meself that ropes no outlandish heathin thing lookin' more like it
come out of old Noah's ark than a daycent, respectable range critter'.
But I follered along as fast as I could git me pony to move, him bein'
none too anxious to git close to the slobberin' cross between a
step-ladder an' a hayrack, that was lumberin' along ahead of us.
"Jim's pony was a darlin' to run, an' as he was a-gittin' closer for a
throw I sez to meself, 'If iver that crazy lad ahead puts his line on to
that there travelin' maynagerie he's a-follerin' he's a-goin' to need
help to turn it loose, sure.' So I waits fer the outcome, feelin'
certain I'd be needed before long.
"Bimeby Jim he gits a good chanst fer a throw an' drops his line over
the long, ungainly head in front of him; but the rope, instid of
grippin' the critter's throat, slipped back an' drew up ag'in its
breast, an' whin Jim tried to check him up the pony couldn't hold him.
Whin the hard jerk come Jim's flank cinch busted, the pony begins to
pitch, an' between the pitchin' an' the saddle drawin' up on the pony's
neck, poor Jim lost out an' went up into the air like a shootin' star,
landin' on his head in a pile of rocks. The saddle stripped over the
pony's head, an' away went the whole outfit, through brush, over rocks,
across washes, like hell a-beatin' tanbark. The rope bein' tied hard an'
fast to the horn, Jim's new $50 saddle wint danglin' along behind, like
a tin can tied to a dog's tail. When Jim come to, a few minutes later
on, he wiped his hand across his face, looked at the blood on it, an'
sez to me, sort of foolish like, 'What struck me, Pat?'
"'I reckon 'twas wan of Jeff Davis's camels,' sez I."