Camel history comes alive in the dusty streets of Virginia City

The Virginia City boardwalks were jammed as people from all walks of life gathered for the parade signaling the start of Sunday's Virginia City Camel Races: moms, dads and kids joined with car enthusiasts and bikers. The Harleys were parked amid the four-wheel drives. And the VC Gunslingers marched down Main Street accompanied by a bevy of Saloon Girls.

Vacationers Joe and Doris Boyer, of St. Louis, Missouri drove in from Lake Tahoe for the event.

"We were a little apprehensive about the mountain roads before we came, but we're glad we came now," Joe Boyer said. "This is a neat town."

Carson City resident Tim Van Meter had his three-year-old son Kaleb on his shoulders.

"My son has taken rides on camels at the local fairs," Van Meter said. "I wanted to give him a chance to see them again."

Meanwhile, back at the old corral twelve adult male camels trained for racing paired with jockeys who have not, vied for bragging rights and honors. The house was packed as the dromedaries lined up quietly. The ostriches milled nervously in their pens. A whisper of a wind graced the arena, accompanied by the twang of country-western music as the tension mounted.

And they're off! As the camels lumbered almost nonchalantly around the U-shaped track there was no doubt as to who was in charge. Jockeys were at the mercy, and the camels found the crowd much more interesting than the finish line while their riders held on for dear life.

The races themselves were punctuated with performances by champion trick roper "Kowboy Kal," Kalvin Cook and his trusty steed "Easy Dancer." When "Kal" wasn't wowing the audience with his lariat, there were the chicken, emu, and ostrich races.

The event, neatly orchestrated by special events production company Roadshows Incorporated is well worth a trip to Virginia City, and a far cry from the historical event.

Accounts can't seem to determine the exact date, but in August of 1866 sports and mining men thought it would be fun to race two of the camels being used to transport salt to the Comstock mills.

A September issue of San Francisco's Alta California featured a crude woodcut of the event showing two men astride running camels while a small dog barked in the foreground and a horse reared behind spectators watching the race.

But no further details of the event were given, in a maddening fashion typical of the time.

Local newspaper files were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1875, and the Territorial Enterprise's "Looking Backward" references to the event were equally sketchy. But the race was run and the present day Virginia City Camel Races are a re-enactment of that part of Western history.


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