VALLEY MILLS, TEXAS — You’d expect to find cattle ranchers in Central Texas. But a “camel” rancher? We visit Bosque County to learn more about the Texas Camel Corps and its founder, a former Nashville musician.
Camels were brought to the American West back in the 1850s as a key part of U.S. military strategy. And it's a mostly forgotten history. That's where Doug Baum comes in. Almost 25 years ago, his volunteer work at the Nashville zoo introduced him to the ship of the desert. And he was taken in by the camel’s impact on American history.
But prior to camels, Baum's ambitions were as a professional musician. He toured as the drummer for Trace Adkins and a handful of other artists—crediting his music training at McLennan Community College.
“I started in summer of 86 with all those, you know, great instructors from back in the day Hibbard, Kimball, Frazier, Page, Konzleman, this was, I really think, a golden era for MCC and they positioned a lot of young punks like me to go out and make a living, not with camels," said Baum.
Musicians work at night—so he looked for something to fill his days and found it at the Nashville zoo.
“I'd done that here at the old central texas zoo and thought it'd be a good way to kill some time. And I walked in and they offered me a job," said Baum.
When the zoo brought in camels for a fundraiser, Baum was smitten.
“With a camel, it's an absolute mirror of who you are. And it can also be a mirror of who you are not and maybe who you should be. Camels are infinitely patient. Camels are infinitely affectionate, inquisitive, and curious," said Baum. "And I can tell you, I was a musician. That means right off the bat, I'm lazy. So, if this were a bunch of work, I wouldn't do it.”
The camel’s contributions in the American West-- both the one hump dromedary and two hump Bactrian camels really intrigued Baum.
“The army here in the 19th century did use both kinds, one hump and two, and their main job was carrying water. You'd saddle them a well, a couple of 30-gallon kegs up next to them, one on the right, one on the left side on the saddle," said Baum. "And that was really the importance of the army camels that allowed them to cross into parts of the us that otherwise were pretty forbidden. But only five years after they got here, the civil war broke out and any momentum that the camels had really was kind of scuttled when the federal troops withdrew from Texas, and confederate troops took over.”
Baum’s camels have appeared in movies and on television, he takes them to schools and provides camels for church nativity scenes. But highlighting his business are his treks to the Middle East and to the Chihuahuan Desert in far West Texas at Fort Davis.
“So, in the late nineties, once I had started building up my herd and my camel for getting bigger and fully trained, I thought, I'm going to take folks where this story unfolded in America," Baum said.
Baum also forged relationships in the Middle East by living with a Bedouin family in the early 2000s. Now he takes people there.
“I lead trips to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, India, Kenya, and Turkey. All of these places that have such rich camel history," said Baum.
Baum’s herd of 8 camels range in age from seven to 26 years…with two on the way!
“By next spring, I guess we'll number 10 camels on the farm," said Baum.
We asked if he would ever sell his camels. His response?
"You'd probably have a better chance of buying one of my kids than one of my camels. We seem to not do real well at selling camels. They're born. They stay here," Baum said.
Baum is fond of saying “dream it up, make it happen, it happens.” For him, that’s how camels came to this part of Central Texas.
And he invites you to come out and learn more about the unique contribution of these beasts of burden in our history.