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Jack Downey ~ The Galloping Geezer
Photo by Julie Ann Biggs

Ships of the Desert Part II - "Canadian Bactrian Camels in B.C.'s Gold Rush days."

The Sheik of Arabie ~ Just Humping Around in Old B.C.
("1930's Movie and Love Song.)

In 1862, twenty-two female Bactrian camels landed in Gastown (Vancouver) B.C. and then were transported by stern-wheeler up the Fraser River to Yale B.C. Boomtown Yale was the end of water navigation and the beginning of the Fraser canyon roadway to the Carabootrail. Sergeants in the Royal Engineers surveyed all of these Gold Rush roads and trails. The Sapper Sergeants' survey maps were so accurate that, to this day, steel and concrete replacement pillars rest on the very same spots as did the wooden logs that held up the timber bridges of the 1800's. There were many bridges like "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" throughout the Rocky River valleys of B.C. People from all over the world flocked to B.C. in search of the bonanza gold. Few found it, but most lived a life of adventure that, sadly, few modern Canadians appreciate as part of our Canadian heritage.

Before we recount some of the facts on our CarabooCanadian Bactrian camels, I'd like to give you a camp fire story about a particular camel that brooked no guff from any of it's fellow travelers, be they mule, horse, dog, ox or human. She was the Queen of the 1800 Golden Arches out in the interior of B.C.

Curly Kate

Curly Kate was a beautiful young, Bactrian two humped camel. She had a full silken cape of fur on her front quarters and possessed dark limpid eyes with long thick lashes that any woman would sell her soul for.

According to Arab folklore, camels are like harem girls - they never forget a kindness or a hurt. Kate had a memory that astounded people all along the trail from Yale to Quesnel. This month long freight trip was well suited for camels, except for the sharp rocks that cut their large padded feet. To protect the camels' feet their drovers had padded rawhide booties made. Some admirer had attached Indian beadwork to Kate's front booties. Kate just strutted along in all her glory. She was soon known from tidewater to the Caraboogold creeks. The lonely miners treated her like the Belle of the Ball and gave her chewing tobacco and even a swig of beer or white lightning booze as she cruised, half drunk, up and down the valley's treacherous trails.

The Duke! photos provided by Bob Baker at click here

"Kiss me Darling it only costs a beer for Curly Kate"
Edna photo by Bob Baker

When horses, mules or oxen met the camel caravan, as they often did, the domesticated animals panicked and broke loose and some pitched to their death down the cliffs. This panic was due to the peculiar stench of the camel. The camels water conservation system caused their urine to have a horrible stench and their three-pocket stomach made their breath stink horribly as they re-chewed their food. If a dog came near them it would be kicked galley west in a flash. If you offend a camel you'd better pull off your jacket, throw it down and run. The camel will bite and tear at your jacket, jump up and down on it, and finally urinate all over it. Then, when the spite is vented, the camel will calmly return, ready to go back to work!

Kate developed some bad habits as the miners and the lay-about gamblers in these frontier towns took a shine to her. When the Bar patrons heard the camel bells signaling that a caravan was passing the saloon, they would all rush out onto the porch, drink in hand, to see if it was Kate leading her bunch. Kate knew all the regulars. Kate would flounce over to the porch where she would suck up all the 10-cent beers the miners held, giving each miner a huge wet kiss after she finished his beer.

Big Bull with lovely cape. Forward hump flaccid and laying on shoulder. Humps are fat storage not water.

The Dance hall girls hated Kate for getting all the attention; but every man in town was proud to have been kissed by Kate.

One of the Dance hall girls nicknamed "The Kansas Cow" asked the Barman '"orrible Harry " what was so great about Curly Kate and was told "Kansas, being kissed by Kate for a ten cent beer is better than a roll in the hay with a two dollar whore." What about the smell she asked. "Kate doesn't seem to mind." replied "'orrible Harry" and continued with the explanation for Kansas and the other bar girls now listening. "When Kate reaches in your mouth with her long tongue and takes your cud of tobacco, then your toes curl right up; and that's what is so great about Curly Kate."
From Jackson Valley Tales (private publication) by Abdullah H. Brown

"A bunch of the girls were whooping it up down in a CarabooSaloon. Ray in the Dark handles the music box and was playing a rag time tune."

Curly Kate and the other "girls" immigrated via San Francisco U.S.A., Victoria, and Vancouver B.C., from the highlands of Manchuria to haul freight up the Fraser valley to supply the miners who were searching for the Mother Lode. Bactrian camels suited the B.C. climate perfectly and got on well with the rough browse that was available for fodder. They could carry 600 to 800 pounds each and go 35 miles a day. They could out-haul any horse or mule; but their acrid smell caused havoc with domesticated animal, causing them to bolt and scatter gear along the trails. Owners of the terrified domestics sued for damages, and won. The camel owners turned the herd loose on the Thompson River flats (Kamloops area). Several for sure made their way down to Ft. Colville U.S.A., on the Columbia River. The last one seen in Canada was in 1905 near Cache Creek B.C.

It is ironic to think that camels originated in the Americas, migrated to Asia, died out here, then, thousands of years later returned to the U.S.A. and Canada, only to die out again. But we are not through yet. Camels have been re-imported as exotics and specialized breeders are again in the camel raising business on western ranches.

If you approach these amazing beasts do not offer them a beer, unless you want a sticky kiss and a tongue in your mouth probing for tobacco. They may be relatives of Curly Kate.

Useful Sites:

Speculation from some Old Timers out on the CarabooCreeks

Sasquatch/Bigfoot sightings throughout B.C. have increased since the camels were turned loose. Several of the folks, including Griff Lloyd, that world-renowned geologist, and Newfie June, speculate that, if you're looking face on at a Bactrian camel, the cape or mane makes it look like a humanoid. At a distance, if it is heading through low brush, the same impression is given. The reported stench of a Sasquatch adds to the possibility that a few camel descendants may be still wandering through B.C. and the Western States. None of the boys will bet on it, but, thinking it out, it makes some sense to the men who moil for gold. ****************************

These lads have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see was out in old B.C. A Bactrian camel was licking up rot gut whiskey with Newfie June and me. (Apologies to Robert Service and The Cremation of Sam McGee).

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