by Drew Desmond
While discussing the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine, Mayor “Buckey” O’Neill, Alexander Brodie, and James McClintock hatched an idea to raise up a volunteer cavalry from the Arizona territory to fight in Cuba. O’Neill wanted to raise a regiment of hardcore frontiersmen who were able to survive under harsh, dangerous and deadly conditions as such men would make excellent soldiers.
The men they recruited became the origin and core of the First US Volunteer Cavalry that won great fame and glory under Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War. They would become known as “The Rough Riders.”
According to the article “Buckey O’Neill and the Rough Riders” by Lorine Morris in The Prescott Courier on 4/11/1975, O’Neill wired President McKinley for authorization to muster 1000 Arizonan “rough riding” soldiers. McKinley authorized 250 men, which he thought was more realistic for the sparsely populated territory. O’Neill was named Captain of Troop A of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry and immediately resigned his position as mayor. The ranks were quickly filled.
Starting in April, 1898, volunteers throughout the territory began to muster at Whipple Barracks. On May 4th the troops shipped out. The departure day was a well-attended, bitter-sweet affair. “The entire town seemed to be on the streets, in the Plaza, and at the depot to see the brave boys off,” The Prescott Courier noted, “and the remark was frequently heard that it was not known where [all the well-wishers] came from.” For those who were seeing off loved ones, The Journal-Miner described the good-byes as “tearful” with “some of the partings being very pathetic.” For morale, the troops were presented a battle flag and a young mountain lion mascot named “Josephine.”
Over $500 was raised in a matter of hours to outfit the volunteers with copious amounts of hams, mutton, pigs feet, pickles, canned fruit, bread, and other items “far too numerous to mention.” Luxuries included three barrels worth of bottled beer, tobacco, and 300 corn cob pipes.
The parade from the Plaza to the depot was well choreographed. First, the Prescott Brass Band played patriotic songs. Veterans of both sides of the Civil War, the Prescott Fire Department, Gov. McCord and his staff, the city’s schoolchildren, and lastly, the citizens followed.
Indeed, the entire territory of Arizona was full of patriotic pride at the troops’ departure. Although US troops had often entered into the territory to protect its people and interests, “it [was] the first time in history that soldiers have departed from [Arizona’s] borders to fight the battles of our country,” The Journal-Miner proudly reported. Additionally, Arizona was first in the US to muster in her men and the first to have them leave for the conflict.
“As the train was about to depart,” The Journal-Miner continued, “the volunteers expressed themselves as being overwhelmed with the rousing farewell demonstration accorded them by our people and said it would ever be remembered by them wherever the fate of war might carry them.”
The train’s engineer “pulled out very slowly…while a perfect sea of handkerchiefs and parasols were waved in the air and a chorus of shouts went up from hundreds of voices.” First, they would go to San Antonio to meet their new Lieutenant Commander, Teddy Roosevelt. After a stop in Florida, they departed for Cuba to fight with great distinction and glory that is remembered to this day.
The name and concept of “Rough Riders” are purely Prescott!
Mr. Roosevelt is coming to the Sharlot Hall Museum on March 4 – he will be presenting a special salute to Buckey O’Neill and the Rough Riders as a fundraiser performance for the Sharlot Hall Museum. Tickets are available online at this link, in person, or by phone at (928) 445-3122 ext. 0.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at email@example.com for information or assistance with photo requests.