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San Pedro’s Drum Barracks – The Great Camel experiment

The military has had a long history in San Pedro. Camp Drum was established as a five company Civil War outpost originally named Camp San Pedro in January 1862, on land donated by Phineas Banning and Benjamin D. “Don Benito” Wilson . This post was later designated as Drum Barracks. It was named by the War Department in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Drum, assistant adjutant general of the Department of California.

Drum Barracks was a footnote in U.S. Military History when it participated in the grand experiment of utilizing camels in troop movements. 31 camels were originally stationed at Fort Tejon which guarded Tejon Pass in North Los Angeles County. When the 1st U.S. Dragoons abandoned the fort to act as a deterrent against possible secession in downtown Los Angeles, the camels accompanied them. At first they gathered crowds but the novelty of the creatures soon wore out and residents of Los Angeles began complaining of the smell, asking the military to move them elsewhere. They came to Camp Drum in early 1862

Camels at Drum Barracks

In 1863, Major Clarence E. Bennett, post commander, complained, He blamed failure of previous camel use on government employees who "regard service with camels as being extremely unpleasant." He said, "In appearance camels are extremely ugly, in gait very rough, in herding inclined to wander, and with their long strides they make haste slowly, keeping their herders on the go.” He recommended the camels at Drum be tested for service across Mojave Desert and be shipped to Fort Mojave because almost all grass at Drum was gone. The idea was not approved, the camel experiment was then deemed unsuccessful and the camels were auctioned off at Benicia Depot the next year.

In late 1870, the camp was officially abandoned. Wilson
donated ten acres of land and two buildings at the Drum Barracks to the Methodist Church after the government returned the land to him and Phineas Banning in 1873.

The church took Wilson up on his plan, establishing Wilson College in the two buildings, the former hospital and the senior officer’s quarters building. The first class term ended in July 1874, with the first full academic year starting in August 1874.Unfortunately, a financial panic in 1875 devastated the college, forcing it to close. The Methodist Church had more prolonged success with a 348-acre land grant it received from J.W. Hellman, J.G. Downey and O.W. Childs, which was located a few miles north of Wilson College. The church built a college there which opened on Oct. 6, 1880, and eventually developed into the University of Southern California

Wilson College still is considered to be the first coeducational college to be established west of the Mississippi River. The site now houses the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum located at 1052 North Banning Blvd in Wilmington.


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Comment balloon 0 commentsMaureen Megowan • December 11 2013 02:08PM


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