Hi Jolly or Hadji Ali , later known as Philip Tedro (born ‘Ali al-Hajaya 1828—December 16, 1902), was an Ottoman subject of Jordanian parentage, and in 1856 became one of the first camel drivers ever hired by the US Army to lead the camel driver experiment in the Southwest. Hi Jolly became a living legend until his death in Arizona. Once, insulted because he had not been invited to a German picnic in Los Angeles, he broke up the gathering by driving into it on a yellow cart pulled by two of his pet camels.
As near as anyone can determine, he was born of Jordanian Bedouin parentage in Jordan in the region of Greater Syria around 1828. Hi Jolly, originally named Ḥājj ‘Alī, was an Ottoman citizen. He worked for the Ottoman armed forces and he was a breeder and trainer of camels. Some sources allege that he took the name Hadji Ali during his early life after making the pilgrimage to Mecca. The title hajji was given when, as a Muslim, he made the Hajj pilgrimage. Other sources report that his mother was of Greek origin and his father was Syrian. Hi Jolly’s membership in the Army’s Camel Corps experiment was not his first quasi-military adventure. He served with the French Army in Algiers before signing on as a camel driver for the US Army in 1856.
Ali was one of several men brought over by the American Government who were to drive the camels as beasts of burden for transporting cargo across what was then known as the “Great American Desert.” Eight of the men, including Ali, were of Greek origins, having arrived at the Port of Indianola in Lavaca County, Texas aboard the USS Supply. The book Go West Greek George by Steven Dean Pastis, published in both Greek and English, specifically identifies all eight men. These pioneers were Yiorgos Caralambo (later known as Greek George), Hadji Ali (Hi Jolly, a.k.a. Philip Tedro), Mimico Teodora (Mico), Hadjiatis Yannaco (Long Tom), Anastasio Coralli (Short Tom), Michelo Georgios, Yanni Iliato, and Giorgios Costi. The Americans acquired 3 camels in Tunis, 9 in Egypt, and 21 in Smyrna, 33 in all. Ali was the lead camel driver during the US Army’s experiment with the U.S. Camel Corps in using camels in the dry deserts of the Southwest. After successfully traveling round trip from Texas to California, the experiment went bust, partly due to the problem that the Army’s burros, horses, and mules feared the large animals, often panicking, and the tensions of the American Civil War led to Congress not approving more funds for the Corps. In 1864, the camels were finally auctioned off in Benicia, California and Camp Verde, Texas.
After the Camel Corps, Ali attempted to run a freight business between the Colorado River and mining establishments to the east using a few camels he kept. Unfortunately, the business failed and Ali released his camels into the Arizona desert near Gila Bend. He was discharged from the Quartermaster Department of the U.S. Army at Camp McDowell in 1870. In 1880 Ali became an American citizen and used the name Philip Tedro (sometimes spelled Teadrow) when he married Gertrudis Serna in Tucson, Arizona. The couple had two children. In 1885, Ali was rehired by the U.S. Army where he worked as packer under Brig. Gen. George Crook during the Geronimo campaign. In his final years Ali moved to Quartzsite, Arizona where he mined and occasionally scouted for the US government. He died in 1902 and was buried in the Quartzsite Cemetery.
Gravesite and Monument
In 1935, Arizona Governor Benjamin Moeur dedicated a monument to Hadji Ali and the Camel Corps in the Quartzsite Cemetery. The monument, located at his gravesite, is a pyramid built from local stones and topped with a copper camel. The monument is the most visited location in Quartzsite.
The folk song “Hi Jolly” is based on Hadji Ali’s exploits. The 1954 movie Southwest Passage was largely based on this camel experiment. The 1976 movie Hawmps! was also loosely based on this camel experiment.