Camelmania – Camel Races for Hi Jolly – Quartzsite, Arizona
Legends are wonderful and the legend of Hi Jolly is one that attracts thousands of people to this community annually. Hi Jolly is Quartzsite’s most famous citizen. He was a dreamer, adventurer and entrepreneur although he never achieved greatness with his visions.
In this community cemetery the gravesite of Hi Jolly is the largest tombstone in the city topped with a copper camel.
Because of Hi Jolly, the city has Camelmania every year. The folks around here celebrate it each year by staging camel races, a camel parade and a gathering of what they hope will be the world’s largest collection of camel artifacts and memorabilia.
"Hi Jolly Daze" usually feature a parade which starts at the post office and goes west to the rodeo grounds. Camel races follow. Other entertainment includes musicians and (what else in Quartzsite?) gemstone displays.
Hi Jolly was actually Hadji Ali who was a specialist in driving camels and was one of the first camel drivers ever to be employed by the US Army. It is believed that he was born somewhere in Syria around 1828 but there is no record of what his Greek mother and Syrian father named him, he took the name Hadji Ali when he converted to Islam during his early life.
He served with the French army in Algiers before coming to the US as a camel driver in 1856. He worked with the survey crews mapping a wagon route along the 35th parallel in northern Arizona. At the time, Jefferson Davis was the U.S. secretary of war and believed camels could solve the Army’s transportation problems in the arid Southwest. Because of his belief he imported more than 60 camels and a full complement of drivers to the US from the Middle East. Ali was one of those drivers.
He changed his name from Hadji Ali to Hi Jolly to help the soldiers with his name, they had problems pronouncing and remembering Hadji Ali.
He hoped to make his fortune in the gold fields of the Old West and got the opportunity to look for gold when the camel experiment withered and died. Some of the animals were sold; others were abandoned in the desert. Jolly kept a few and established a freight line between Yuma and Tucson.
Although the camels could carry up to 600 pounds of goods and travel more than 60 miles a day without water, the operation failed. In 1868, Ali (or Jolly) turned his last camel loose near Gila Bend and went back to work for the Army as a packer and scout at Fort McDowell near Phoenix.
He married after he became an American citizen in 1880 using the name Philip Tedro on his papers. He fathered two children but the call of the gold took him away and he abandoned the family and went prospecting. As an old man he lived in a cabin near Quartzsite.
He died on Dec. 16, 1902. According to the legends that survive him, Ali perished when he went out into the desert to find a wild camel. And when they found his body, he had one arm wrapped around a dead beast of burden. Of course, no one knows for certain if this story is true, but legend has it that it is, and it’s good enough for the people of Quartzsite.
Historians say that the last wild camel in Arizona was captured in 1946 and the last reported sighting of a wild camel in North America was in Baja California in 1956.
There is a monument to the Hi Jolly which was built in 1935 which also has the buried ashes of the last government camel with him.
Location: Congress is about halfway between Phoenix and Prescott of US 89.
For information about Jolly’s grave site and Camelmania, call the Quartzsite Chamber at 1-(928)-927-5600.