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Camels arrive for trial service in Texas
April 29, 1856

On this day in 1856, a shipload of camels arrived at the Texas port of Indianola. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had urged Congress to bring the animals from North Africa to help the army in its Indian operations. Major H. C. Wayne sailed to North Africa in the naval storeship Supply in May 1855 and returned with the first thirty-three camels in April 1856. On June 4 Wayne set off with his caravan for the frontier posts. The expedition stopped for a time at Victoria, where the animals were clipped and Mrs. Mary A. Shirkey made camel-hair socks for the president of the United States. At Camp Verde experiments were conducted to test the camels' utility in chasing Indians and transporting supplies. Although more camels were imported, ultimately the experiment failed. Handlers found the animals smelly, obnoxious, and hard to control. Escaped camels roamed the desert for years and got into the folklore of the region.

Spanish treasure ships wrecked on Padre Island
April 29, 1554

On this day in 1554, three Spanish ships were wrecked by a storm off Padre Island near present-day Port Mansfield. The San Esteban, the Espíritu Santo, the Santa María de Yciar, and the San Andrés had set out from Mexico on April 9, bound for Spain. Only the San Andrés escaped the storm. Approximately 300 people were on the three wrecked vessels; of them, perhaps one-half to two-thirds drowned before reaching the beach. A small contingent, probably including Francisco del Huerto, departed for Mexico in a little boat to organize a relief expedition. The second and larger group of survivors undertook what they thought would be a short journey back to Mexico by land. They ran afoul of the local Indians, and only one survivor, Fray Marcos de Mena, reached Pánuco. A Spanish salvage expedition arrived at the site of the wrecks within two months and managed to recover less than half of the 1,000,000 ducats the ships were carrying. After that, the remains of the three ships lay undiscovered until the late 1960s. Artifacts recovered from the San Esteban are now in the Corpus Christi Museum.

Celebration inaugurates Rusk Tramway
April 29, 1875

On this day in 1875, the townspeople of Rusk celebrated the inauguration of the Rusk Transportation Company, commonly called the Rusk Tramway. The town had been bitterly disappointed when the International Railroad Company, completed from Palestine to Jacksonville in 1872, bypassed Rusk. Citizens of Rusk chartered the Rusk Transportation Company in 1874 to build a tram railway from Jacksonville to Rusk. It had a six-ton locomotive, a passenger coach, and three flat cars. But pine rails cut from neighboring forests were substituted for more expensive iron rails and warped frequently, causing regular derailments. The cars had to be lifted back on the rails by crew members and passengers. Often freight thrown off the open cars had to be picked up. The Rusk Tramway was sold at foreclosure for $1,000 in 1879. Although the enterprise was a financial disaster to its promoters, the property rights and franchises were sold to the Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad Company in 1881. Parts of the old tram roadbed were used by that company in constructing its own track between Jacksonville and Rusk.