Hadji Ali aka Hi Jolly
The Quartzsite community's most famous citizen is surrounded by an air of mystery. He was a dreamer, an adventurer and an entrepreneur but never achieved great success in
any of his undertakings. He died over a century ago, but his name is still immediately recognized here. His tombstone is the largest monument in the city.
It's topped by a copper camel and it attracts thousands of visitors every year.
And he is the direct cause of Camelmania, a rare but harmless malady that descends upon the desert town Quartzsite every year. Those who happen to be in attendance may,
if they choose, become one if its victims. The person under consideration here came to this country as Hadji Ali, but when he died, most people knew him as Hi Jolly.
Ali was a specialist, one of the first camel drivers ever to be employed by the U.S. Army. As near as anyone can determine, he was born somewhere in Syria around 1828. There is no
record of what his Greek mother and Syrian father named him. He took the name Hadji Ali when he converted to Islam during his early life. He served with the French army in Algiers
before signing on as a camel driver for the U.S. Army in 1856. The Army had survey crews mapping a wagon route along the 35th parallel in northern Arizona.
Jefferson Davis, then the U.S. secretary of war, believed camels could solve the Army's transport problems in the arid Southwest, so he imported more than 60 animals and
a full complement of drivers from the Middle East. Ali was one of the drivers. Once associated with the Army, he underwent a name change from Hadji Ali to Hi Jolly,
because the soldiers said the latter was easier to pronounce and remember.
He hoped to make his fortune in the gold fields of the Old West and got the opportunity to look for gold when the camel experiment withered and died. Some of the animals
were sold; others were abandoned in the desert. Hi Jolly kept a few and established a freight line between Yuma and Tucson. Although the camels could carry up to
600 pounds of goods and travel more than 60 miles a day without water, the operation failed. In 1868, Hi Jolly turned his last camel loose near Gila Bend and went
back to work for the Army as a packer and scout at Fort McDowell near Phoenix. Hi Jolly became an American citizen in 1880 and used the name Philip Tedro on his
papers. Later that year, he married Gertrudis Serna of Tucson. They had two children before Hi Jolly (or Tedro) abandoned the family and went prospecting.
In his final years, the old camel driver lived in a cabin near Quartzsite.
He died on Dec. 16, 1902. According to the legends that survive him, Hi Jolly perished when he went out into the desert to find a wild camel. And when they found his body,
he had one arm wrapped around a dead beast of burden. Nobody around here can substantiate the story but it is repeated in an account of his life published by The Arizona
Capitol Times in 1995. But one thing's for sure - Hi Jolly's spirit lives on. And it materializes in the form of Camelmania. The folks around here celebrate it each year
by staging camel races, a camel parade and a gathering of what they hope will be the world's largest collection of camel artifacts and memorabilia.
"Hi Jolly Daze" usually feature a parade which starts at the post office and goes west to the rodeo grounds. Camel races follow. Other entertainment includes musicians
and (what else in Quartzsite?) gemstone displays. According to historians, the last wild camel in Arizona was captured in 1946 and the last reported sighting of a
wild camel in North America was in Baja California in 1956. Many of the camel fans who attend Camelmania will want to visit Hi Jolly's grave. It's easy to find in
the community's main cemetery because the stone pyramid rises above other gravestones that mark the final resting places of other Quartzsite pioneers. The Arizona
Department of Transportation erected the monument in 1935 and buried the ashes of the last government camel with him. A wooden placard near the pyramid traces Hi Jolly's
life and concludes with the observation that although the camel experiment failed, "a fair trial might have resulted in complete success."