Current Date: 10 Dec, 2023
The Heartbreaking Story Of Ella Harper, The ‘Camel Girl’
Interesting Facts

The Heartbreaking Story Of Ella Harper, The ‘Camel Girl’

Ella Harper, Professionally known as the “Camel Girl” was born with a rare orthopedic condition that cased her knee to bend backward. Due to this condition, had to walked on all four legs, which resulted in her nickname as “Camel Girl”. Tough it was hard at first, but soon she made a fortune out of it.

People with unusual features or appearances became hugely popular as circus attractions for the curious public in the late nineteenth century, thanks to entrepreneurs like the famous P. T. Barnum. The suffering of the people on display at such shows was frequently overlooked, both because of their conditions and because of how they were treated.

Ella Harper, also known as the "Camel girl," was born with a rare medical condition called congenital genu recurvatum, which caused her knees to bend backward, similar to those of a camel. She used to walk on all fours, utilizing both her hands and legs. Her time in the Circus made her famous, but that was only part of the story.


The Early Life Of Ella Harper

Ella Evans Harper, the daughter of William Harper and Minerva Ann Childress, was born on January 5, 1870, in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Her father was a well-known farmer and stock raiser in Sumner County at the time.

Everett, her twin brother, was her other sibling. He died, however, when he was only 3 months old. Sallie, Willie, and Jessie, Ella's parents had three more children.


Life In The Circus

Harper began performing at the young age of 12. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Ella Harper began her career at the circus in October 1882, when she was just 12 years old, according to historical records. She began by performing in and around St. Louis and New Orleans. However, in recent years, she has begun to travel to a number of states.

She began attracting and capturing people's attention. Ella Harper sparked a lot of interest from the public, who were curious about her condition.

Her weird appearance prepared the path for bigger things. Ella was discovered by showman WH Harris, who invited her to join his "Nickel Plate Circus" in 1886. During these performances, Ella was accompanied by a camel so that the audience could compare her backwardly bending knees with the animal's.

She was successfully used as a stage prop to make a comparison to the camel. Nonetheless, the circus audience was shocked by her appearance. She was dubbed "The Camel Girl" after that and was thought to be half-human and half camel from then on.

People flocked to her performances after hearing about the strange girl. She began to appear on a variety of promotional posters. Ella Harper's condition was explained on pitch cards distributed to the audience before each performance.

Ella Harper’s deformity led to her troubling “Camel Girl” stage name. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the pitch cards, she was known as the camel girl because her knees were bent backward and she could walk best with her feet and hands, as shown in the picture. The cards stated that she had been touring extensively for the previous four years, but that she would be leaving the circus in 1886 to pursue her studies, and urged audiences to see her while they still could.

She was able to earn a weekly salary of $200, which enabled her to continue her education. The amount would be $5,000 per week in today's money, a significant total amount even now but a fortune at the time.

Ella Harper, then 16 years old, decided to leave the circus to pursue her education toward the end of 1886. She is known to have led a very private life after leaving the spotlight. For many years, little information about Ella Harper was available. She appeared to have vanished without advising to the general public.


After The Circus

According to the 1900 census, Ella Harper had returned to Sumner County, where she lived with her mother and one of her nieces. Her father died in 1890 as a result of a house fire, and her brother Willie died five years later.

Ella Harper met Robert Savely, a schoolteacher and shop bookkeeper while living there. Ella married Robert in 1905, when she was 35 years old, according to civil records.

The couple welcomed a baby girl a year after their wedding. Mabel Savely was her name. However, the couple suffered a tragic loss when their only child died at the age of six months.

Ella Harper met Robert Savely, a schoolteacher, and bookkeeper at a photography shop while living there. Ella married Robert in 1905, when she was 35 years old, according to city records.

The couple welcomed a baby girl a year after their wedding. Mabel Savely was her name. However, the couple suffered a tragic loss when their only daughter died at the age of six months.

Ella Harper and her husband Robert moved to Davidson County, which is near Sumner County, a few years later. They made room for Ella's mother there, and the three of them shared a home. Ella Harper and her husband were unable to conceive again after the loss of their daughter.

As a result, in 1918, they decided to adopt a baby girl from a local shelter. Jewel Savely was the baby girl's name. She, too, died at the age of three months.

The Death Of Ella Harper

Ella Harper and her husband had relocated to Nashville in 1920. Ella died on the 19th of December, 1921, at 8:15 a.m., according to the records. She died at home after suffering from colon cancer. She was fifty-one years old when she died.

Ella Harper’s death certificate, signed and witnessed by the husband (U.S Administration / Public Domain)

Ella Harper was reburied in Nashville's Spring Hill Cemetery. The Spring Hill Cemetery, near the Nashville National Cemetery on Gallatin Pike, is one of the area's largest cemeteries.

Ella Harper was buried next to her children, according to some sources. Her grave is in the old historic section of the Spring Hill Cemetery, within the plot of the Harper family. Ella Harper's mother, Minerva, died in 1924.

Ella had made a lot of money and gotten away from the circus, and she had found happiness in the man she loved, even if it was tinged with sadness.