Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grave of Greek George

Los Angeles County, May 25, 1995

Greek George’s coming to America hinged on a little known aspect of Jefferson Davis’ life, and that is that before the civil war, he was the US Secretary of War and got the idea to camels to access and deliver mail and goods to the remote parts of the west, and supply the construction of the Butterfield Stage route. And it worked, the drovers were able to cover almost forty miles each day, and go ten days without water, each animal carrying 600-800 pounds, roughly four times that of a pack mule. And they had an amazing instinct to find water. The main drawback was their hooves, which were suited for sand and not rocks. Throw in bad manners and smell and mules were the better long term choice.  

The troops had to be taught how to work these camels so handlers were brought over along with the animals. Most notable among them were a Syrian named Hadji Ali; who became known as “Hi Jolly,”  and to a lesser extent, Yiorgos Caralambo, who’s name evolved into Greek George. In looking into Hadji a bit, a long standing curiosity has been answered, and that is what the strange gravesite and monument about a camel driver was all about in Quartzsite Arizona that was stumbled upon some years ago.

Greek George was of Greek ancestry, but was living in Smyrna, Turkey, when he was selected for the Camel Corps. Through his service he met Major Henry Hancock, a Harvard trained lawyer and wealthy Los Angeles landowner. Hancock was so impressed by George’s dedication that he wanted to employ him privately and allowed George to build a farmhouse with stables.

The Army disbanded the Camel Corps in 1862, and George was forced to turn the camels into the wild, where they roamed the area for at least thirty years afterwards.

On May 5, 1874, Tiburcio Vasquez, the notorious bandit, was captured while hiding out in a shack behind Greek George’s home. Vasquez, who terrorized Southern California for over twenty three years, often used Greek George’s farmhouse as one of his numerous hideouts. Hmmm….it isn’t known if Greek George harbored or informed on the outlaw. Greek George later mover to Montebello and died near Mission San Gabriel in 1913.

NO. 646 GRAVE OF GEORGE CARALAMBO, (GREEK GEORGE) - This is the grave of 'Greek George,' a camel driver from Asia Minor who came to the United States with the second load of camels purchased by the War Department as an experiment to open a wagon road to Fort Tejón from Fort Defiance, New Mexico. Because of the Civil War, the experiment was abandoned. 'Greek George' became a naturalized citizen in 1867 under the name of George Allen. He built an adobe home on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Location: Founders' Memorial Park, Broadway at Gregory Ave, Whittier (gravestone in storage, 1993)
USGS Quadrangle Sheet Name: WHITTER
Google 33.986788,-118.045998

1 comment:

  1. The headstone is viewable at the Whittier Museum.