“The Ivory Camel,” an unfinished (1800 words) short story by Robert E. Howard, delves into a mysterious and intense narrative that intertwines rural life with a global intrigue involving theft and a secretive cult. The tale is set in a small farm where the main character, Karnes McHenry, unexpectedly finds himself at the center of a dangerous conflict due to an unexpected discovery in his milking shed.


The story begins with Karnes McHenry performing a routine task of milking a cow in his shed, accompanied by the usual farmyard sounds and sights. His tranquil activity is disrupted when a hen’s panicked flight draws his attention to a hidden hatchet in the hay, which is clutched by a human hand. Without showing outward alarm, Karnes discreetly grabs his gun and shoots the hidden man, who turns out to be an intruder lying in wait.

After dealing with the immediate threat, Karnes calls his neighbor, Jim, to inform him about the incident, indicating the man appeared to be a “nigger,” a term used pejoratively to describe any dark-skinned individual by the locals, despite knowing otherwise. This detail highlights the racial attitudes of the period and the setting. He then contacts the police and handles the situation with a calm detachment, suggesting familiarity with such harsh realities.

Days later, a detective named Mr. Ord visits Karnes, explaining that the dead man was actually a mixed-race individual named Ahmed Ali, who was fleeing from the law and a dangerous cult. Ahmed had stolen a valuable artifact—an ivory camel inlaid with gems—from this cult, leading to a deadly pursuit. Mr. Ord, aware of the artifact’s significance and danger, tries to convince Karnes to hand it over, if he has it, to avoid further trouble. Karnes, however, is noncommittal, revealing nothing about the camel while discussing the hardships caused by the Great Depression and his tough economic situation.

The narrative ends with Karnes advising his sister Alice to leave for safety, hinting at the expected escalation of danger due to the possession of the ivory camel, which he presumably has decided to keep.


  • Karnes McHenry: The protagonist, a farmer who stumbles upon a global intrigue when he discovers and kills an intruder hiding in his milking shed. He is portrayed as pragmatic and tough, shaped by the harsh rural life.
  • Alice McHenry: Karnes’ sister, who lives with him and is unaware of the full extent of the dangers they face due to Karnes’ actions.
  • Ahmed Ali: The intruder killed by Karnes, revealed to be a fugitive thief who had stolen a precious artifact from a cult, leading to his deadly pursuit.
  • Mr. Ord: A detective following the trail of Ahmed Ali, who tries to recover the stolen ivory camel and warns Karnes of the dangers of keeping such a valuable and sought-after object.
  • Jim (Last Name Unspecified): A neighbor Karnes calls to inform about the shooting, reflecting the community dynamics and Karnes’ standing within it.

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