bret and camelRELIC OF FORT TEJON (November 3rd, 1957) – Here’s something a little different from the usual for Balladeer’s Blog’s Forgotten Television category. The 1950s James Garner series Maverick was an all-time classic, but this particular episode is often overlooked.

The subject matter deals with a camel supposedly left over from the ill-fated American Camel Corps that the U.S. Army tried launching in the 1800s. The project fell through in the end, but the dozens of camels from the experimental program – and their offspring – wound up roaming the deserts of the southwest for decades afterward.

bret at card tablePreviously, I’ve examined the James Garner western One Little Indian (1973) in which his soldier character winds up using a camel to flee an unjust mutiny charge, and the legendary Red Ghost of Arizona, a Camel Corps leftover which was sighted multiple times in the 1880s to 1890s and was mistaken for a monster.

In Relic of Fort Tejon, Garner’s iconic Bret Maverick, a gambler/ gunslinger, wins a camel named Fatima from a fellow gambler who conned him into thinking he was using an Arabian stallion as part of a poker wager.

The rogue with a heart of gold can’t bring himself to just abandon the poor camel, so he tries selling her with no success. Eventually, he winds up paying a farmer to take Fatima off his hands. The animal has grown fond of Bret, however, and runs away from multiple owners to rejoin our soft-hearted hero.

This story unfolds alongside another plot in which Maverick arrived in a wild west town to visit an old flame named Donna, played by Maxine Cooper. The woman is now engaged to the crooked town mayor, Carl Jimson (Fredd Wayne), who runs rigged card games at the casino he owns.

fatima and bretA veteran gambler like Bret quickly turns the tables on the cheating Jimson and his fellow con artists, prompting an escalating conflict that ultimately leads to Jimson shooting Donna and fleeing into the desert. Maverick follows him and the two play a cat and mouse game in the badlands, with our hero being saved only by the timely arrival of Fatima, who has fled her latest owner to rejoin Bret once again.

With the camel’s help, Maverick not only survives, but overtakes Jimson and turns him over to the sheriff. Donna survives her wounds. The townspeople are grateful for the exposure and takedown of the crooked businessman and mayor, and the always smooth Bret talks the town into taking Fatima off his hands as a pampered town mascot of sorts.

In my opinion, this episode’s only fault lies in being too short. The story would have more room to breathe as an episode of one of the old 90-minute westerns that used to air decades ago. Still, Maverick fans will enjoy this tale for the scenes where Bret’s voiceover narration talks viewers through his expert exposure of crooked card games and his steel-nerved bluff when he faces a gunman hired by Jimson to kill him. 




Filed under Forgotten Television, FRONTIERADO

4 responses to “RELIC OF FORT TEJON (1957)

  1. gwengrant

    Loved Maverick!

  2. Always liked “Maverick.” Simpler time. Or I was simpler then? Do you remember an episode where not a single word was spoken? Or is that my feeble imaginary?

    • I remember one with very little dialogue when one of the Mavericks was injured and in the desert. My memory may be faulty but I don’t remember one with no dialogue at all, I’m afraid.

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