a camel outside

So, Can I Walk My Camel in Cowboy Boots?

It’s the beginning of a new year and many newspapers and websites have been running summaries of the year’s new laws.  I recently started my own search for funny or ridiculous laws in California and immediately found dozens of results, many of which listed the same 10 to 25 especially humorous laws. Two of these featured laws in cities within Riverside County: “It is illegal to walk a camel down Palm Canyon Drive in the City of Palm Springs between 4 and 6 pm.” And “It is illegal to wear cowboy boots in Blythe unless you own a minimum of two cows.” Eager to add these to our newsletter, I looked for a footnote or citation on the websites. Finding none, my next step to verify either of the laws was a check of the city’s ordinances. The Palm Springs ordinances, as well as those of other desert cities, are available in print at the Indio branch of RCLL. Most cities (including Blythe) also have a searchable version online that can be found on their city website. After quite a bit of searching, I could find no mention of either law.  

I shared my frustration with my coworker, who pointed out that often the wording of laws can be manipulated in a way to make them appear more humorous or non-sensical. Perhaps searching in more general terms would yield better results. She led me to a wonderful article on Westlaw written by law librarian Lorraine Lorne about her attempts to trace several such laws in her state. She found that in many cases these ‘funny laws’ appear to be copied from one website to another, sometimes with the place names changed, until they’ve taken on an air of urban myth. Often, she could find no evidence that the actual law had ever existed.

Taking their advice, I broadened my search to more general terms, for instance, instead of camel, any animal and instead of Palm Canyon Drive, any street.  I also expanded my search from city to state using the California statutes and code of regulations both available in print form and online at the law library. Camels are indeed mentioned in our state laws by name but the walking of them does not appear to be regulated. The hours in which to walk any animal also don’t appear to be specified.  As for the ability to wear cowboy boots without owning cows? I could find nothing about this anywhere in California.

While I was unable to determine any origin for the Palm Springs or Blythe laws, there is another one from the county of Riverside whose origin has been traced. “It is illegal to carry your lunch on the streets of Riverside, CA.” I found a few versions of this one. Some specified a lunch box; some gave certain times that it was forbidden. However, according to the Press-Enterprise newspaper, this ‘law’ is a complete fabrication. A magazine in 1950 included a feature of ‘crazy laws’ with entries submitted by the public. After showing up in the magazine it was taken as fact and has been making the rounds ever since.

Why do these silly ‘laws’ continue to be popular? Often these websites are for businesses such as law firms and the amusing anecdotes are a way of enticing visitors to their page. They can also be retold as an example used by people to disparage the government, especially at the local level. It’s not hard for most people to picture some out of touch politicians debating when their hard-working citizens should exercise their camel.

The moral of this adventure, use the Riverside County Law Library to check the facts for yourself before letting someone stop you from walking your camel at sunset in your new pair of cowboy boots!

Written by: Laura 

Laura Whyte

By Laura Whyte

February 18, 2022

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