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A Camel Twofer, One Fun and the Other Sinister
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The fun:

This camel has a very important job

A new solution to save the iconic Joshua tree uses a distant relative of one of the Mojave’s ancient seed distributors: The camel.

By Miles W. Griffis Feb 2, 2024, 7:00am EST

In the summer of 2020, the Dome Fire leaped across the Mojave National Preserve in southeastern California, killing more than 1.3 million Joshua trees.

Three years later in 2023, which would go on to become the hottest year on Earth since record-keeping began, the 93,078-acre York Fire more than doubled the acreage of the Dome Fire, scorching large forests of the eastern species of the wild-armed yuccas. Entering these burn scars is surreal. A majority of the trees stand like tombstones, their trunks bone white.

This camel has a very important job

And the sinister:

The sinister reason why camels were brought to the American West

Slaveholders wanted to expand slavery westward. But first they needed to dominate the southwestern deserts.

In the spring of 1851, Jefferson Davis, a U.S. senator and the future president of the Confederacy, proposed to import 50 African and Asian camels—“the ship of the desert,” he called them—into the American Southwest. He wanted federal funding to support his globetrotting project; he got only derision.

For Davis, however, camels were no laughing matter. And as whimsical as his pet project may appear today, camels in fact belong to a dark chapter in American history when they were used as instruments of colonial conquest and slaveholding expansion.

Rebuffed in 1851, Davis continued advocating for his camel project. He argued that the animals would become a staple in military operations in the American Southwest, used by soldiers to hunt down Indigenous people in the region, thus asserting U.S. control across the continent. Once safe passage could be secured from Texas to Southern California, he expected white Southerners to begin moving west in large numbers, bringing their slaves with them. Although he denied it, camels were part of his broader fantasies for the westward extension of slavery.

The sinister reason why camels were brought to the American West


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