ELLA HARPER – The Camel Girl

Most sources indicate that Ella Harper was born in Hendersonville, Tennessee around 1870 – although there are some conflicting reports. It has also been revealed that Ella had a twin brother, who died quite early. What is not argued, however, is the fact that Ella was born with an unusual orthopedic condition resulting in knees that bent backwards.  The nature of this unusual affliction is exceedingly rare and relatively unknown, however most modern medical types would classify her condition and a very advanced form of congenital genu recurvatum – also known as ‘back knee deformity’. Her unusually bent knees, coupled with her preference of walking on all fours resulted in her moniker of ‘The Camel Girl’.

In 1886, Ella was the star of W. H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus, often appearing accompanied by a camel when presented to audiences and she was a feature in the newspapers of every town the circus visited. Those newspapers touted Ella as ‘the most wonderful freak of nature since the creation of the world’ and that her ‘counterpart never did exist’.

The back of Ella’s 1886 pitch card is far more modest in its information:

I am called the camel girl because my knees turn backward. I can walk best on my hands and feet as you see me in the picture. I have traveled considerably in the show business for the past four years and now, this is 1886 and I intend to quit the show business and go to school and fit myself for another occupation.

It appears that Ella did indeed move on to other ventures, and her $200 a week salary likely opened many doors for her. For quite some time no further information was available on Ella following 1886, but recently a genealogist managed to not only trace Ella’s family tree, but also provide some information regarding her life after sideshow.

On 28 June 1905 Ella Harper married a man named Robert L. Savely. Savely was a school teacher and later a bookkeeper for a photo supplies company.  A 1910 Census shows Ella and her husband living in Nashville, Tennessee with Ella’s mother and it also revealed that Ella and her husband had adopted a 3 month old child, but that the child passed away only 18 days later.

We also now know that Ella died of colon cancer on 19 December 1921 in Nashville, Tennessee and that she buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville. A simple gravestone marks her plot, but she is surrounded by family.

image: 1. Ella Harper’s 1886 Nickle Plate Circus Pitch Card from the author’s collection.
2. From the book We Who Are Not As Others.

3. An excellent genealogical odyssey of Ell’s life that is certainly worth reading: http://bit.ly/1FRoilZ


Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.


  • Reply January 22, 2009


    […] context http://thehumanmarvels.com/blog/?p=38 Url : […]

  • Reply May 10, 2009


    I will leave a reply as soon as I try it Thank you

  • Reply December 4, 2009


    Such an interesting site, without any offense, i like her, and strangely, i’d be with her, even in libido-related moments…

  • Reply July 29, 2010

    Alexandre Pato

    she was beautiful.. too bad for her…
    i’d be with her also :D

  • Reply April 18, 2011

    Abbie Montiero

    Thanks for that fantastic posting. It saved MUCH time :-)

  • Reply October 2, 2011


    Yeah. I’m sure Ella would have been consoled by the fact that some fruitcakes on the internet would line-up to “be with” her. I’m sure that’s far more appealing than, you know, having knees which bend the usual way. Idiots.

    • Reply August 31, 2012

      Peter Barbarossa

      Make that 4 that would line up to be with her, if you don’t think she is Drop-Dead Gogeous then your the only fruit cake faggot in this whole group, you dumb-ass

      • Reply October 13, 2012

        Johnny Lane

        The fact that she’s about 13 years old in the 2nd pic,tells me I’d rather be gay than a pedophile.

  • Reply October 25, 2011

    Alexander Pablo

    its STRANGE this is a rare disease called diformity its has rarely been seen by some, in the streets of Marseilles, France i came across ONE .

  • Reply October 27, 2011


    Just because they state an interest in her sexually doesn’t mean they are perverts, nor does it mean that they don’t think she would have preferred not having regular knees (one has NOTHING to do with the other)—disabled people are sexual beings as well. Is anyone who is with a disabled person “that way” a prevert? I think not. Although frankly, I find the comment that they would be “with her” a little inappropriate on a site like this. It still doesn’t make them perverts.

  • Reply May 21, 2012


    There’s at least one more case like that today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMrkCqRWA4Y

  • Reply May 24, 2012


    i agree ladybug that it isnt perverted to be with someone disabled. i think what causes me concern and should cause you concern and anyone else reading this is the fact that the girl in the pictures is ten years old…

    • Reply October 1, 2012


      She was 13. She was born in 1873, and the pitchcard is dated 1886. Possibly 14, or even 12 based on date. Dates were stated no less than 3 times, however.

      I’m not making excuses, she’s still incredibly young…maybe more acceptable back then, but whatever. My point is that basic math has not been applied.

      You should do basic math before all your calculations, mathematical and otherwise, become so skewed.

  • Reply January 9, 2013

    Ralph Bedwell

    I did some digging on ancestry.com and found a 1880 census in Hendersonville, Sumner County, Tennessee. The census taker made a notation on the sheet that she is “deformed”. She is listed as 10 years old, so the year of birth above is incorrect. She’s shown at the same residence in 1900, living with her mother, who is now a widow. There’s also a 1905 marriage record in this same county, to a Robert L. Savely. Mr. and Mrs. Savely are listed in the 1920 census in Nashville; he is a bookkeeper for a photography company. Finally, there is a death certificate in 1921, dead at 51 from colon cancer in Nashville.

  • […] outside of being a sideshow ‘freak.’ Some more interesting information can be found on this incredibly diverse […]

  • […] Ella Harper, born in Tennessee circa 1870. Ella preferred to walk on all fours. She was dubbed “Camel Girl” and found great success in the role. She even starred in W.H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus […]

  • […] Ella Harper, innate in Tennessee circa 1870. Ella elite to travel on all fours. She was dubbed “Camel Girl” and found good success in a role. She even starred in W.H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus in […]

  • […] Harper, born in Tennessee circa 1870. Ella hottest to stroll on all fours. She used to be dubbed “Camel lady” and located nice success within the position. She even starred in W.H. Harris’s Nickel Plate […]

  • […] tahun 1870. Elle memilih untuk berjalan dengan kaki dan tangannya dan memperoleh sebutan “Camel Girl” (Gadis Unta). Ia bahkan membintangi Nickel Plate Circus milik W.H. Harris di tahun […]

  • […] Ella Harper, born in Tennessee circa 1870. Ella preferred to walk on all fours. She was dubbed “Camel Girl” and found great success in the role. She even starred in W.H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus in […]

  • Reply April 29, 2015

    Ray Mullins

    You can view the story about the rest of her life here: https://ellaharper.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/finding-ella-my-search-for-the-camel-girl/

    • Excellent job Ray! Thanks for sharing. I’ve updated the article and cited your work. Bravo!

      • Reply June 12, 2015

        Ray Mullins

        Thank you, sir. She was a joy to research. Started on the Penguin Lady about the same time but she has been a tough nut to crack. Hope to add her in the near future.

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  • […] via The Human Marvels […]

  • Reply May 12, 2015

    Come raggiungerci

    Great post really like it a lot.

  • […] Ella Harper, born in Tennessee circa 1870. Ella preferred to walk on all fours. She was dubbed “Camel Girl” and found great success in the role. She even starred in W.H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus in […]

  • […] Further reading […]

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