In, 1883, on the banks of a spring near Eagle Creek in southeastern Arizona, the tale of “the Red Ghost” was born. For more than a decade this red beast ridden by the devil himself roamed the region, terrorizing and killing in fits of madness. Was this legend fact? Was it fiction? Or, was it something in between?
The tale was spawned in an environment captivated by constant fear. In the southwest, the Apache wars were drawing to a close. Only renegade bands prowled the area. Ranches in the region were few and far between. Isolated from neighbors, they made easy targets for an occasional Apache raid. Many in the region, though they lived in fear, had grown accustomed to the situation and went on with the routines of daily life.
Early one morning, two ranchers rose early and set out to count their sheep after the latest raid led by Geronimo and his band of followers. They left behind their wives and children. Sometime during the morning hours, one of the women went to a nearby freshwater spring to fetch a pale of water. The spring was only a few yards from the adobe home but was hidden from view by a thicket of brush and willow trees. The other woman, continuing her housekeeping chores, heard the dog begin to bark. It wasn’t a bark like he was hunting or playing. It was a bark of intense warning. Within a moment, the woman in the house heard a scream coming from the woman at the spring. She peered out of the window expecting to see an Apache band. What she saw was even more frightening, a red beast, enormous, “ridden by the devil.” Fearing the worst, she barricaded herself and the children in the house. Hours passes, and her friend did not return. The woman prayed. As darkness came, the two ranchers returned to the house to find the woman still barricaded in the house with the children. Trembling, she told them men of the morning’s events. The ranchers lit torches and made their way to the spring.
They found a lifeless body that was nearly trampled flat. In the morning light, they searched the area again and discovered cloven hoof prints which they described as twice as large as a horse hoof. Blowing in the willow limbs nearby, they discovered strands of reddish hair.
As they told their story, some in the area discounted it, assuming that the woman may have actually been murdered by someone in the family. No one was charged with a crime, and only days later, the “Red Ghost” struck again.
Nearby, prospectors were encamped close to Clifton, Arizona. They were awakened by the thunderous sounds of hooves. Two miners suddenly found themselves in a tent being trampled by some beast. Both thought they would surely die. They survived but never caught site of their attacker. However, the next day, the prospectors discovered the body of a woman trampled to death. Again, the hoof prints were double the size of a horse and were cloven. Strands of red hair were found in the brush near the scene.
As often happens when unexplained deaths happen, tales spin out of control. In the weeks to come, one man reported seeing the beast. He proclaimed that he watched as it killed a grizzly bear and ate it. In another tale, a man said he chased the creature. Just before he caught up to it, the “Red Ghost” vanished in front of his very eyes.
A few months passed and the “Red Ghost” once again made an appearance along the Salt River. Cyrus Hamblin, a rancher in the area, was rounding up cows when he rode up on the animal. Unlike others, he recognized the animal. Hamblin’s ranch was in the high country of Salt River. But he had spent time in the southeastern desert region where he gained knowledge of camels in the region. This allowed him to recognize the beast: a camel. However, he noticed that the animal had something tied to its back. Hamblin thought that it looked like a skeleton of a man. Though he had always been a man of his word, trusted by all who knew him, few believed him. After all, a camel in Arizona, much less a skeleton on its back! If it was a camel at all, many thought that it was simply the camel hump on his back that the rancher had seen.
Weeks later, along the Verde River, a group of prospectors were seeking precious metal along the Verde River when they spotted the “Red Ghost.” They, like Hamblin, saw something on the back of the beast. They fired their guns at the creature….missed! They blasts from the guns startled the animal and it bolted away. The jarring of it’s quick action caused apiece of the object sitting atop it to fall to the ground, rolling in the dust. The men rushed to the object and discovered a grisly site: a skull with a bit of flesh still covering part of it. Embedded in the flesh was red hair.
Following the incident, which was publicized in the area paper, the Mohave County Miner, a group of teamsters (drivers) made camp along side a road. From their camp, they heard a loud scream. They told a tale of seeing a beast at least 30 feet tall. They said it knocked over two freight wagons. One said it, “raised hell in the camp.” All ran for their lives, taking refuge from the beast in nearby bushes. Again, the beast left behind giant cloven hoof prints and strands of red hair.
A year passed before any more reports of sightings of the “Red Ghost” were made. But finally, it appear again. This time, a cowboy working near Phoenix spotted the animal eating grass in a corral. He quickly rangled his rope around the head of the beast. Much to his surprise, the animal did not try to buck, nor run from him like a horse or cow would do. Instead, it turned and charged the cowboy sitting atop his horse. He told people that the beast knocked both he and the horse to the ground. He got a good close look at what was on the animal’s back…a headless skeleton.
Stories of sightings were scattered about the countryside for nine more years. Finally in 1993, Mizoo Hastings, a rancher in the region, spotted the animal eating in his vegetable garden. He pulled out his Winchester, fired at the animal, and brought him down in one shot. Upon inspection of the animal, it was discovered that it was indeed a camel. There was no body, nor skeleton on it. But the rawhide strips used to tie the skeleton to the animal’s back were still there. The poor creature was scarred from the strips that had cut into its flesh for years. Even worse, the animal had been driven mad by it.
So how did a camel come to be in Arizona?
In the 1850’s, the United States Army purchased thirty-three camels at about $250 each and brought them to the nation to be used as beasts of burden while they surveyed land for the building of a road through arid Arizona. However, at the onset of the Civil War, road building was put on the back burner. Some of the camels were sold at auction. Others were simply turned loose in the wild.
No one knows who the man was that was tied to the camel’s back.
Photo by Daderot