Philip Tedro (b. ca. 1828) was a Lebanese Christian who was hired as a camel driver in the context of the Camel Driver Experiment. This Experiment refers to the efforts to establish transportation routes cross the dessert between Texas and California in order to support the gold rush. This is before the trans-continental railroad was built.
Jefferson Davis, U.S secretary of war (who would later become President of the Confederacy) asked the Senate to fund this Experiment which consisted of bringing camels from the Middle East and create a caravan route along the Southwestern frontier. Camels were better than horses since they could go 5-7 days without water and carry almost one thousand pounds.
Philip Tedro escorted the camels across the Atlantic and arrived in the US in 1856. In order to give himself a middle-eastern appearance, he called himself “Hadj Jolly.” To American ears, this sounded like “Hi Jolly” and the name stuck!
The Camel Corps experiment was short lived, but afterwards, Hadji remained in the American South West and spent forty years delivering mail, hauling freight, prospecting, and occasionally doing scouting work for the US Army. Hi Jolly died in December of 1902. His tomb in Quartzite, AZ, is a temple build as a pyramid with a camel perched on top (see image above).
The memory of Hi Jolly has lived on. Some have claimed to have seen him and his camels as late as the 1940s.
The folk song “Hi Jolly” is one of many based on Hadji Ali’s life in the American Camel Corps. Multiple renditions have been recorded, including by artists such as the New Christy Minstrels (1962), Canadiana Folksingers (1964), The Merrymen (1993), and River City Ramblers (2001).
“Hi Jolly” as sung by the New Christy Minstrels
Hi Jolly, hey Jolly, twenty miles a day, by golly
Twenty more before the morning light
Hi Jolly, hey, I gotta get on my way
I told my gal I’d be home Sunday night
Hi Jolly was a camel driver, long time ago
He followed Mr. Beale way out west
Didn’t mind the burning sand in that God-forsaken land
But he didn’t mind the pretty gals the best
There’s pretty girls in Albuquerque, ‘least that’s what I’ve heard
There’s pretty gals in Tumcumcari too
Now honey, I ain’t blind, but I don’t pay them any mind
‘Cause I’m savin’ all my lovin’ just for you
Old timers down in Arizona tell you that it’s true
That you can see Hi Jolly’s ghost a-ridin’ still
When the desert moon is bright, he comes ridin’ into sight
Drivin’ four and twenty camels over the hill
A similar version of the Hi Jolly Song can be heard in this live recording
from a Hi Jolly parade festival in Quartzsite, Arizona (Performed by the Yacht Club)