September 21, 2015

Teddy's Rough Riders Originated in Prescott

When news arrived of the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine, William "Buckey" O'Neill was Mayor of Prescott. Buckey, (that is how O'Neill spelled it,) like most Americans, was infuriated by the disaster and hungry to to join the fight.

While discussing the situation with Alexander Brodie and James McClintock, an idea occurred to them to raise up a volunteer calvary from the Arizona territory.  Buckey wanted to raise a regiment of hardcore Arizona frontiersmen. Men who were already able to survive under harsh, dangerous and deadly conditions would make excellent soldiers.
William "Buckey" O'Neill

They would come to be known as "The Rough Riders." And the men they would recruit would become the origin and core of the First US Volunteer Cavalry which would win great fame and glory under Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War.

Buckey wired President McKinley for authorization to muster 1000 Arizonan "rough riding" soldiers. McKinley wired back authorizing a number he thought was more realistic for the sparsely populated territory, 250 men.  O'Neill was named Captain of "Troop A" of the 1st Volunteer Calvary and immediately resigned his position as Prescott's Mayor. (*1) Together with Brodie and McClintock, the three had little trouble recruiting the allotment of men. (*2)

Throughout the spring of 1898, the volunteers trained at Fort Whipple, just a mile outside of Prescott. Then on May 4th, 1898, the troops shipped out. (*1)

"TR" with his beloved Rough Riders
For the city of Prescott, 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 and the remark was frequently heard that it was not known where they all came from." (*3)

The parade from the plaza to the depot was well choreographed. First was the Prescott Brass Band playing patriotic songs. They were followed by veterans of both sides of the Civil War; the Prescott Fire Department; Gov. McCord and his staff; the city's school children; and lastly the citizens. (*3)

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."(*4)

Also Enjoy: POTUS Visits Prescott, Statehood at Stake

Additionally, "Arizona (had) the honor of being the first in the United States to muster in her men and (was) also the first to have her volunteers leave for the conflict." (*4)

For the well-wishers that were seeing-off loved ones, the departure was described as "tearful" with "some of the partings being very pathetic." (*3)

During the send-off ceremony, the troops were not only presented a battle flag, but a young mountain lion named "Josephine" was also presented as a mascot. (*5)

Rough Riders' mascot Josephine
Over $500 was raised in a matter of hours to outfit the volunteers with supplies of all sorts.

Included were:
A "large number" of hams
"A lot of fresh mutton"
A barrel of pigs' feet
Pickles "by the case"
"Canned fruit of all kinds"
"A cart load or so of bread"
And other items "far too numerous to mention." (*3)

"Luxuries" were also packed onto the train including 300 corn cob pipes, (a decidedly high number considering only 250 soldiers were shipping out);  several caddies of tobacco and three barrels worth of bottled beer! (*3)

"As the train was about to depart, 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." (*3)

The train's engineer "pulled out very slowly until the train had passed through the cut in the yards, while a perfect sea of handkerchiefs and parasols were waved in the air and a chorus of shouts went up from hundreds of voices." (*3)

First, they would go to San Antonio, Texas where their number swelled to 1250 and they met their new Lt. Commander, Teddy Roosevelt.  Roosevelt wholly embraced the idea of "rough riding" horsemen going to war and instructed all his men to behave as such.

After a stop in Florida, they went to Cuba to fight with a great distinction and glory that is still well remembered to this day.

But the name and concept of "Rough Riders"?  That's pure Prescott.

ALSO ENJOY: The Christening of the U.S.S. Arizona had Prescott Ties


Now Available!
The New Book by Drew Desmond and Brad Courtney:
"True Tales of Prescott" 

Follow the blog in one of the following social media to be sure you get the latest article!

Want more Prescott history? Join the "Celebrating Historic Prescott" group.
(Daily pics and featured articles.)
Drew Desmond is on Facebook (For the latest article and posts about Drew's writing.)

Follow the Prescott AZ History Blog on Twitter @PrescottAZHist
(Daily pic featured at 7 am and featured articles.)

Prescott AZ History is on Pinterest
(For the latest article.)

Follow PrescottAZHistory on Instagram

(*1) Prescott Courier; 4/11/1975; page 17, col. 7.
(*3) Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; 5/11/1898; page 1, col. 4.
(*4) IBID. page 1, col. 2 (bottom).
(*5) IBID. page 1, col. 4


Tourist Tips:

CLICK HERE for Info on the Fort Whipple Museum

When visiting the courthouse square, be sure to check out the Buckey O'Neill Monument!


  1. Where is a photo of the !st Volunteers Calvary Flag...made in Prescott, when the women making it with red thread ran out and had to use"what color" to do the flag which was carried up "Kettle Hill" during the Spanish American War?

  2. Is there a muster list of those men from Arizona?