Beale Air Force Base was named for Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a man who experimented with camels as replacements for Army mules and who was one of California’s largest landholders.
Edward Fitzgerald “Ned” Beale was born Feb. 4, 1822, in the District of Columbia. His father, George, a paymaster in the Navy, had won a congressional Medal for Valor in the War of 1812. His mother, Emily, was the daughter of Commodore Thomas Truxtun. Ned was a student at Georgetown College when, at the solicitation of his widowed mother, President Andrew Jackson appointed him to the Naval School. Beale graduated in 1842.
After a promotion to acting sailing master, he sailed for California in October 1845 on the frigate Congress under Commodore Robert F. Stockton’s command; however, 20 days later Stockton sent Beale back to Washington with important dispatches. After a long and roundabout voyage, he reached Washington in March 1846.
Hostilities with Mexico had already begun when the vessel arrived at Monterrey, Mexico, on July 20. After reaching San Diego, Stockton dispatched Beale to serve with the land forces. He and a small body of men under Lt. Archibald H. Gillespie joined Gen. Stephen W. Kearney’s column just before the disastrous battle of San Pasqual (Dec. 6, 1846). After the Mexican army surrounded the small American force and threatened to destroy it, Beale and two other men (his Delaware Indian servant and Kit Carson) crept through the Mexican lines and made their way to San Diego for reinforcements. Their actions saved Kearney’s soldiers. Two months later (Feb. 9, 1847), with Beale still suffering from the effects of his adventure, Stockton again sent him east with dispatches. Beale reached Washington around June 1. In October he appeared as a defense witness for John C. Fremont at the “Pathfinder’s” court-martial.
During the next two years, Beale made six more journeys across the country. On the second of these (July through September 1848), he crossed Mexico in disguise to bring the federal government proof of California’s gold. After his fourth journey he married Pennsylvania Rep. Samuel Edwards’ daughter Mary on June 27, 1849. Although he was promoted to lieutenant Aug. 3, 1850, Beale resigned from the Navy in May 1851.
He returned to California as a manager for W.H. Aspinwall and Stockton, who had acquired large properties in America’s newest territory. On March 3, 1853, President Millard Fillmore appointed Beale superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada. Congress appropriated $250,000 to improve native conditions in Beale’s district. With a party of 13 others, he left Washington for California on May 6, 1853. Beale crossed southern Colorado and southern Utah assessing the feasibility of the route for a transcontinental railroad. He reached Los Angeles on Aug. 22. He retained his position as superintendent until 1856. California Gov. John Bigler also appointed Beale brigadier general in the state militia to give him additional authority to negotiate peace treaties between the Native Americans and the U.S. Army.
In 1857, President James Buchanan appointed Beale to survey a wagon road from Fort Defiance, New Mexico, to the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and California. The survey also incorporated an experiment first proposed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis four years earlier. To satisfy part of his transportation needs, Beale used 25 camels, imported from Tunis, as pack animals during this expedition and on another in 1858 to 1859. He felt the camels performed well. But they scared horses and mules, so the Army declined to continue the experiment.
After Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, the president appointed Beale surveyor general of California and Nevada. Beale asked Lincoln for a Union Army command, but the president convinced him he could better serve the country by remaining as surveyor general and helping to keep California in the Union.
After the Civil War, Beale retired to Rancho Tejon, part of 270,000 acres he had acquired near present-day Bakersfield, California. In 1870 he bought the Decatur House in Washington, D.C. After that he divided his time between his two homes. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Beale as minister to Austria-Hungary, a post he held for a year. Grant also suggested Beale as Navy secretary during President Chester A. Arthur’s administration, but Arthur preferred someone else. Beale died at Decatur House on April 22, 1893.