Jefferson Davis, as secretary of war in President Pierce's cabinet, approved the plan to experiment with camels for freighting and communication in the arid Southwest. Maj. Henry C. Wayne of the army and Lt. D.D. Porter of the navy visited the Near East with the storeship Supply and brought 33 camels which were landed at Indianola, Tex., Feb. 10, 1856. On a second trip they got 41 more.
The language barrier proved to be a large problem. The Americans couldn’t speak Arabic and the camels wouldn’t learn English. Following the old adage “it takes a camel driver to drive a camel,” the government had the foresight to import camel drivers.
|"What are you looking at?" Courtesy Christopher Michel|
Translators and cooks also came with them. The names of these cameleers and company were George Calambros (later called George Allan and Greek George), Hajj (Hadji)Ali (also called Phillip Tedro), Blackie (Hajj Ali’s older brother), Alexander Aslanyan, Mahomet Meriwan, Mahomet Iamar, Sylum Abu Agnam, Ali Oglou Suleiman, Elias, and Mustafa Oglou Hassom. They were a colorful bunch with names like Long Tom, Short Tom and Greek George. These weren’t their given names but had to do as the Americans couldn’t pronounce their Arabic names anyway.
|White man riding a camel with an Egyptian driver in the Pike section of the 1904 World's Fair|
The cameleers received $50 a month plus food and lodging. They had trouble getting their money on time and three of the cameleers demanded passage to be sent back to Syria and Turkey. The experiment would last only a year or so longer. When the War Between the States broke out, this experiment was abandoned.
The most famous of these camel drivers was Hadji Ali and since that one didn’t roll off the tongues of the Americans his name was corrupted into Hi Jolly. He has been described as “a short, heavyset, happy-go-lucky Arab.” He had signed on at a salary of $15 a month. Tales of gold strikes no doubt lured him, too, and he was eager to come to the U.S. and make his fortune.
Before coming to the United States, Hajj Ali lived in southern Turkey. Rumors of his origins range from being a kidnapped Greek who was raised as a Muslim to a Muslim with a Greek mother and Turkish father. He was born in Greece around 1828, of Greek and Syrian parentage. At the age of twenty-five he converted to Islam and took the name Hadji Ali. He was later naturalized as Phillip Tedro. His brother Blackie was naturalized as Charles Tedro. It is not known if either died as Muslims, but there are stories having them praying and fasting after they settled in the southwest.
An Ottoman Turkish citizen of Greater Syria, Hadji Ali worked as a camel breeder and trainer. He served with the French Army in Algiers before signing on as a camel driver for the US Army in 1856. He became the lead camel driver on Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s wagon road survey group.
Haji Ali, Greek George, and Hajj Ali’s brother were the only ones of the cameleers to remain in the U.S.
Elias moved to Mexico and the others returned to their homelands. In Mexico Elias married a Yaqui girl and became a rancher. He became famous in Mexico when his son, Plutarcho Elias Calles, became President of the Republic from 1924-1928.
Greek George would settle and build a ranch where the Hollywood Bowl would later be built. However, rumor abounded for years that he was killed when escaping from prison for being a horse thief. Neither was true however. He became naturalized as George Allen and Greek George faded into history. Blackie would become a barber in Tucson, Arizona and outlive Hajj Ali by over ten years.
After the Army’s experiment with camels ended, Hajj Ali/Hi Jolly remained in the Southwest. He acquired some of the camels. He went back to work with the U.S. Army as a mule packer at an Army post in Tucson, and for the next 40 years would divide his time between delivery of the United States mail, hauling freight (over roads he had helped to explore and establish), prospecting, and serving the United States cavalry as a scout and mule packer.
He started a freight business hauling goods from Colorado River ports to mining camps in Mohave and Yuma counties. He also carried cargo from Yuma to Tucson. That business failed, and he released his camels into the desert to fend for themselves. He spent the next dozen years or so working for the military and prospecting for gold.
|Wedding portrait of Gertrudis Serna and Philip Tedro (Hi Jolly)|
In 1880, at the age of 52, Hi Jolly became an American citizen, using the name Philip Tedro. That same year he married Gertrudis Serna (b: Nov 1859 in Hermosillo, Mexico – 6 May 1936 in Tucson, Pima County, Arizona) on 23 Apr 1880 in St. Augustine Cathedral, Tucson, Arizona. She was the daughter of Fernando Serna and Maria Espinoza. He gave his nationality as Greek, probably because his bride was Catholic and he knew the church would not sanction a marriage to a Muslim.
The couple had three children together: Amelia, Minnie, and Fernando Serna Tedro. Gertrude worked as a seamstress and lived with her son and daughters.
Hi Jolly continued with Army work at Huachuca and other places until the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. In 1889 he deserted his family and returned to prospecting with the few camels he still had. In 1898 he was forced to return to Tucson due to declining health and asked to see Gertrudis and his children. He begged his wife to take him back but she refused his request for a reconciliation. He took up residence around Tyson’s Well. The two remained estranged until his death.
In later life Haji Ali lived in Quartzsite, Arizona where he was a failed prospector. Local merchants such as Mike Welz helped him with handouts. Congressman Mark Smith even tried to get him a pension, but since he was never an official soldier in the Calvary, the paperwork wasn’t processed. A few sources claimed Hi Jolly was a resident Imam and that his three daughters were raised as Muslims. However, it has not been verified how many generations Islam continued in his family.
Hi Jolly died on December 16, 1902 on the road between Wickenburg and the Colorado River. He’d gone out looking for a stray camel. Legend has it some cowboys working cattle came upon his body, his arms wrapped around the neck of the camel. Both had perished in a sand storm. The name Philip, means “lover of horses” but Philip Tedro in reality was a camel whisperer.
Hi Jolly’s body was returned to Quartzsite for burial. All the old prospectors in the area attended his funeral, but no preacher or Imam was available to give funeral prayers. Afterwards a small wooden sign marked his grave.
In 1934 the elaborate pyramid monument built of native quartz and petrified wood and topped with a copper camel weathervane was placed on his grave by order of James L. Edwards of the Arizona State Highway Department. In 1935, Arizona Governor Benjamin Moeur dedicated a monument to Hadji Ali and the Camel Corps in the Quartzsite Cemetery. In 1935, the Arizona Highway Department marked his grave with a large steel plaque mounted on one side reads: “Last Camp of Hi Jolly.” The monument is the most visited location in Quartzsite and is just about this town's only attraction.
For more information CLICK HERE for the January, 2018 post on Hi Jolly.
Zina Abbott recently published two books as part of the multi-author series, LOCKETS & LACE.
The first, the prequel to the series, is titled The Bavarian Jeweler.
The other, book 3 in the Lockets & Lace series, is Otto's Offer.