International Camel Races

Camel Races, International

September, weekend after Labor Day
The International Camel Races are possibly the only camel races in the United States, and are a reminder of a peculiar 19th-century experiment. The races have been held since 1954 in Virginia City, Nev., the one-time mining town that was considered the richest place on earth in the 1860s. In 1991, a team from Alice Springs, Australia, won the races.
The town is the site of the celebrated Comstock Lode, which yielded nearly $300 million in gold and silver in the two decades after its discovery in 1859. The wealth also gave the territory strategic importance: President Abraham Lincoln wanted Nevada as a state on the side of the North to support anti-slavery amendments, and he also needed the mineral riches to finance the Civil War. Nevada became a state in 1864, and gold and silver were dug from the mines—with the help, briefly, of camels.
It was thought that camels could work like mules in the mines, and camels in the Federal Camel Corps were shipped to Nevada from Texas (where they were used in the army cavalry). The army had originally brought about 120 camels to the U.S. from Africa and Asia in the mid-1850s to carry cargo from Texas to California. But they didn't last long; their hoofs didn't adapt to the rocky terrain, so they were allowed to roam wild, and apparently died out.
There are some camels kept in town today, though, and others are imported for the races. The three-day race weekend now includes a Camel Hump Ball (a dance and barbecue); a parade with about 70 units, including belly dancers and bagpipe players; and a race of ostriches pulling chariots.
When the camel race was being held in 1961, the movie The Misfits was being filmed nearby. Director John Huston came to the races, borrowed a camel, and won.
Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority
86 S. C St.
P.O. Box 920
Virginia City, NV 89440
800-718-7587 or 775-847-7500; fax: 775-847-0935
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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