Arizona is Home to Cacti but also Camels

If you are thinking of moving to Arizona, looking at real estate or Arizona homes for sale, then chances are you are also interested in learning some of the history of this great state. Arizona, the Grand Canyon State, is a land filled with not just magnificent scenery and beautiful homes, but also dramatic legends – some based on fact, some based on fiction and some based on dreams. The story that many people have heard about camels making a home in Arizona and carousing across the desert is, in fact, based on facts.

Let’s start out in Quartzsite, Arizona, about half-way between Phoenix and the California border along I-10. Quartzsite is located about 125 miles from Phoenix and almost 300 miles from Tucson. The town is now home to a wealth of winter residents, and it’s also where numerous well-attended gem and mineral shows take place every year. But over one hundred years ago, Quartzsite was where camels met cacti.

According to Arizona Oddities, the thing most people notice right away when they enter the Quartzsite Pioneer Cemetery is a stone pyramid topped by a copper camel, and there’s quite a story behind its presence. The cairn marks the gravesite of a famed camel driver known as “Hi Jolly,” whose birth name was Philip Tedro, a Greek born in Syria. As an adult, Tedro had converted to Islam and changed his name to Hadji Ali.

Hadji Ali came to the United States in the 1850s or 1860s (various reports have different dates) to act as a camel driver for the U.S. Army which was in the midst of an ill-fated attempt to use the animals as “beasts of burden” for military purposes in the deserts of the Southwest. Once here in Arizona, the locals had a ton of trouble pronouncing “Hadji Ali” so they shortened it to Hi Jolly.

Hi Jolly served with the Army until the camel experiment was abandoned and the camels were either sold off to private enterprises or turned loose in the desert. One of camels became known as the Red Ghost, and legend has it that when Hi Jolly died, he was out in the desert hunting for the renegade animal. No one knows for sure if that’s true, but it does make for an interesting story.

Hi Jolly died near Quartzsite in 1902, and in 1934, in recognition of his service to the U.S. Army, the Arizona Department of Transportation erected a monument over his grave. His memory is preserved every year when Quartzsite stages Hi Jolly Days and Camelmania in his honor.