Book review by the Mississippi Magazine
THE CAMEL BOY: A NOVEL OF THE CIVIL WAR By Selby Parker. Paperback, $19.95. Publish America; available at Pentimento Books in Clinton and the Clinton Visitor Center of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Camels arrived at the U.S. Army post at Camp Verde, Texas, in 1856, and no one was more excited to see the unusual humped creatures than a young orphan named Riley Murphy, relates Vicksburg native Selby Parker in the historical novel The Camel Boy.
The 33 camels had been shipped there all the way from Egypt to help carry the military's heavy loads across the desert-like West. Riley peppered his foster-father with questions about the beasts and spent his days watching handlers work with them at the post. He drank camel's milk and wore a coat made from the animals' wool; he was so fascinated by the creatures that he became known around the community as the "camel boy."
Life became harder as Riley grew up and was exposed to the cruel realities of war and lawlessness in the untamed region, but he held onto the values he was taught as a child.
Parker places his protagonist in historically accurate situations, creating a sense of realism that lifts the story above the standard novel format. The central premise of the book's early chapters, the Camel Corps, was a project initiated by Jefferson Davis for the United States in the 1850s that continued as a Confederate program into the next decade. Appropriate for older teenagers and adults, the book offers a compelling insight into life during a time and place long forgotten.