On a bright sunny day in early April, Scott Lancer and his brother, Johnny, were in Morro Coyo with the large wagon belonging to the Lancer ranch. Parked in front of Baldomero’s store the team of Clydesdales waited patiently while the brothers loaded crate after crate into the back.
“Is that the last of them, seńor?” Scott asked.
“Sí, that is the last of them,” Juan Baldomero said. “I hope the children enjoy them!”
“I’m sure they will. And Miss Bowley will be pleased to get them so quickly.” Scott shook hands with the Mexican storekeeper who had been supplying him with clothes and such since his arrival in California. “Thank you, sir. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you as always.”
“For the son of Seńor Lancer, and the children of these three so small towns, it is a pleasure to do things.”
The boys climbed into the wagon and headed for home. Scott wanted to inspect the contents of the crates to be certain that everything he had ordered had arrived.
Back at Lancer a couple of hours later, the boys unloaded the crates and moved them into the Great Room. Johnny fetched a crowbar from the tool shed and proceeded to help his brother open the crates. Inside the crates were school supplies. Recent fundraisers had brought in enough money to purchase slates and blackboards, paper and pencils, for the school but Scott had insisted that there be new books purchased as well. He was backed up by his father, the Talbots and others, who knew that some of the books being used were outdated. Among the new books were history, geography and picture books for the younger students. A full set of McGuffey’s Electic Readers was included as well for all grades.
Scott, a voracious reader like his father and their friend, Jim Talbot, had spent many nights poring over catalogues and choosing just the right equipment and books. The blackboards had already been installed and the paper and pencils, as well as ink and copybooks, had come in. Those were the easy purchases. The most challenging, and the most fun, had been choosing books for the children to read individually and as a class.
There were copies of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad for the older children and their parents to read as well as Roughing It. For everyone’s amusement there was a copy of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
For the girls there was Little Women, Little Men and An Old Fashioned Girl. Teresa had read them herself and enjoyed them immensely. It was she who had suggested that they send for copies for the school and for the new library that had just opened less than a year ago.
Also for the older students there were copies of Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne as well as his classics The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables and Tanglewood Tales which was a retelling of Greek myths for children.
Johnny latched onto a picture book of animals from around the world and was mesmerized much to his family’s amusement. While Murdoch and Scott enjoyed reading for pleasure Johnny was more inclined toward games of chess and checkers. The regular poker games in the bunkhouse and at the saloon in any one of the three neighboring towns – especially Green River as well and most especially if he and Scott could sucker Sheriff Val Crawford into playing with them. They were quite good at setting him up to take the fall and Johnny, for one, loved to see if he could get Val mad. It didn’t take much sometimes.
“What’s a okapi?”
“I don’t know. What does the book say?”
Johnny scanned the page and found the description and explanation. “Says here it’s an animal related to a giraffe – whatever that is – only it’s got a short neck and it’s only about five feet tall. How tall’s a giraffe if this one’s shorter at five feet?”
“I believe that a baby giraffe is approximately seven feet tall,” Scott said. “The adults grow to sixteen feet tall. Most of it neck and leg.”
“Scott Lancer!” Teresa exclaimed. “You’re making that up!”
“No, I’m not,” Scott replied. “Didn’t you ever see any books on animals from other countries when you were growing up?”
“Not like that, I didn’t,” the girl replied.
“Take a look at this one then,” the blond said. “It’s a book on strange and exotic birds. I think you’ll find it very interesting – and so will Johnny.”
Teresa took the book he gave her and immediately started laughing. The first bird she ran across that caught her attention was the long extinct dodo bird.
“You mean to tell me that there’s a bird called a dodo?” Johnny asked.
“There was a bird called the dodo,” his brother explained. “They’ve been extinct for a hundred years or so.”
“It says here in this book that they lived on an island off the southeastern coast of Africa,” Teresa said. “Why are they extinct?”
“That’s hard to say, Teresa,” Murdoch said. “Sometimes people hunt them out of existence. Other natural predators like some type of cat prey on them. Or maybe there’s a sickness that wipes them out. There could be a lot of reasons.”
“Sure is an ugly cuss,” Johnny said as he looked at the picture.
Teresa turned the page, “This kiwi bird isn’t much better looking.”
“Kiwis are natives of New Zealand which is down in the South Pacific near Australia,” Scott told her. “They’re a bird but they can’t fly.”
“A bird that can’t fly?” Johnny was astounded.
“It’s not just the kiwi that can’t fly, Johnny,” his father told him. “Over in Africa there’s the ostrich. It’s very large and has long legs and an extremely long neck. They say they bury their heads in the sand when faced with trouble. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I do know that they’re pretty silly looking birds.”
“The emu is another bird that can’t fly,” Scott added. “They live in Australia. Their wings are only one-tenth the size of their body.”
“It says here that Australia is also home to the kangaroo, wallaby and koalas,” Teresa said. “And look at this – this weird looking thing is something called a duck-billed platypus! How strange!”
They all crowded around to check out the entry on that animal. Indeed, it was a strange looking creature. It had a furry body yet its feet were webbed and it had a bill instead of a snout. Even Scott had never seen a picture of one before.
“That’s one of the strangest looking creatures I’ve ever seen,” Scott said as they studied the picture. “Let me see the book for a minute.”
Johnny handed it up from where he was sitting in front of the fireplace. Scott took it and read the text accompanying the picture.
“Sure is a strange looking creature,” Murdoch agreed.
“The book says they appear to be half reptile and half mammal. I wouldn’t say that myself,” Scott said as he read the article. “I’d say it looks like it’s part bird and part mammal. They have a bill like a duck and they have webbed feet but it says here that they lay soft-shelled eggs in a specially dug burrow in the riverbank. The babies use an egg -tooth to break out of the egg shell, very much like a baby bird.”
”Oh, look at this!” Teresa exclaimed as she turned the page in the book she was looking at which was identical to the one Scott was examining. “Isn’t it cute?”
“Looks like a small bear,” Johnny remarked as he looked at what she was talking about. “Book says it’s something called a koala.”
“If I recall correctly,” Murdoch said, “a koala is a marsupial much like a possum. They give birth to their young and carry them around in a pouch until they can get around on their own. Kangaroos and wallabies are also marsupials.”
“What’s a possum?” Johnny wanted to know.
“It’s an animal that rather resembles a rat with a lot of fur,” Scott said. “I was bitten by one of them once while on a camping trip with friends. Those things are nasty. Back in the hills of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and a few other places folks kill them and make stew out of them.”
“Sounds pretty bad to me,” Johnny said. “Glad we ain’t got ‘em here.”
The family continued looking at the books and found sections on reptiles which included alligators, crocodiles and gila monsters. Johnny, having lived along the border so many years, was quite familiar with the gila monsters and some of the other lizards. He’d had one too many close encounters with scorpions as well. They all agreed that they would prefer to stay away from the rivers of Africa and the bayous of Louisiana in order to avoid meeting up with any gators or crocs as Johnny called them.
The funny looking aardvark drew a few laughs. Murdoch thought that there were people all over the country who would love to have an aardvark to keep termites out of their homes.
“Back in Scotland a lot of people have hedgehogs for pets. They make them a bed in the kitchen or the pantry and the hedgie keeps after all the beetles and such that invade the foodstuffs.”
“Did you have a hedgehog, Murdoch, when you were a boy in Scotland?” Teresa wanted to know.
“As a matter of fact I did,” her guardian told her. “Someone brought me a baby hedgehog when I was about seven. He lived in our pantry for a long time. Mother was very happy to have him too when spring brought the insects back again. He was very good at keeping the insect population in our house down.”
“Look at this!” Johnny exclaimed. “This has to be the lumpiest, dumpiest creature I’ve ever seen – even compared to Hump.”
“That’s a camel, Johnny,” Scott explained. “They call them the ‘ship of the desert’. The one-humped camels are called dromedary and the two-humped ones are Bactrian. I rode one at a zoo once when I was a boy. I’d rather ride a horse,” he added with a sour look. “They are not a comfortable ride at all. However, they are prized by many of the Arab peoples because they can go without water for very long periods of time and their feet are tough enough and wide enough to walk and run through the desert sand.”
“Scott, didn’t the Army experiment with camels in the Southwest a few years back?” Murdoch asked. “Seems to me I heard something about that.”
“Yes, sir, they did. In 1855 Congress appropriated the money and 2nd Lieutenant George H. Crosman went overseas to buy some. It was illegal for the camels to leave the countries they found them in but there was a lot of money paid out in bribes and such,” Scott started to explain.
“You mean to tell me that our government bribed people to sell them those funny looking things?” Johnny gibed.
Scott just glared at him and continued. At least Murdoch and Teresa were interested. “At any rate, they found that the one humped camels were best for riding and the two humped camels were better for hauling supplies. They could carry seven to nine hundred or even a thousand pounds of goods. A horse or a mule couldn’t carry that much especially in the harsh terrain of the desert.”
“The USS Supply left African and Asia with thirty-three camels and five drovers. They had thirty-four camels when they arrived. The camels weren’t real popular with a lot of the men regardless of what they could do. They said they had bad tempers, held grudges and smelled bad. The smell was offensive and frightening to a lot of the other livestock such as the horses and mules.”
“In 1857 a new Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, was appointed. Now he liked the camels. He thought the camel corps was an excellent investment but the commander of the army in Texas, a Major General David E. Twiggs, was outraged that these animals were in his command. The camels were eventually sold to circuses and zoos and the like. Some were reclaimed and released into the desert. They even claim that today the ghost of one of them lives in the desert in Texas.”
Johnny gave him a sideways look of skepticism.
“I’m only repeating what I’ve heard,” Scott said in self defense. “I didn’t say I believed it.”
“What’s this thing that looks like a hairy steer?” Teresa wanted to know.
“That’s a yak,” Scott said. “They live over in Tibet which is near China. The natives raise them and use them for pack animals.”
“What do you suppose is the strongest animal in the world?” Teresa asked.
“I’d venture to say,” Murdoch answered her, “that it’s this big fellow.”
He was pointing to the sketch of an elephant in the book he was looking at.
“There are two kinds of elephants – African and Asian. Over in places like India,” he explained, “I’ve heard that they hitch them to fallen trees and have them pull them out of the forests. “
“If they’re that strong,” Johnny said, “Why don’t they use them in timber country over here in the states?”
“Because, Little Brother,” Scott said with a wink at his father and Teresa, “they’re just like you – they can’t stand the cold.”
Murdoch roared and Teresa giggled. Everybody knew that Johnny was much more comfortable in warm and hot weather and could be heard grousing when the temperature dropped below fifty degrees.
“Scott’s teasing you – but only a little,” Murdoch pacified his younger son. “Elephants live in jungles and on the plains of Africa. They’re not cold weather animals – they could never survive over here.”
“Have you ever ridden an elephant, Scott?” Teresa wanted to know.
“Yes, I have,” he replied. “There was a circus came to Boston when I was ten. Grandfather took me and I got to ride one of the elephants after their parade. It was a much better ride than the camel I rode later.”
“We’d better pack up these books and cart them over to the school,” Murdoch said. “It looks like everything you ordered came.”
“Yes, it does,” Scott agreed.
“Say Scott – what is Miss Bowley plannin’ on callin’ this class she’s going to teach on animals?” Johnny wanted to know.
“Yes, what do you call a class that teaches the children about animals and their habitats as you called it?” Teresa asked.
“Well, I believe she’s planning on calling it ‘Zoology 101’,” Scott answered.
The following is the website for the information on the Camel Corps experiment: http://www.drumbarracks.org/original%20website/camel%20corps
It’s quite interesting. If you’re a Maverick fan you have to check out The Relic of Ft. Tejon in which Bret wins a camel named Fatima, in a poker game, who falls madly in love with him!