May 25, 2019

The Rocky Road That Brought the Rough Rider Monument

As soon as news reached Prescott of William “Buckey” O’Neill’s death in Cuba during the Spanish-American war, one of his closest friends, MJ Hickey, was inspired to see that a memorial to the late sheriff and mayor be made in his hometown. This idea of a memorial would quickly grow into a monument and its journey from conception to inception would grow monumental as well.

It was hardly a month after his passing when Hickey organized “a meeting of Prescott citizens (who) decided to incorporate The Captain O’Neill Volunteer Monument Association.” They immediately began taking donations and recording pledges.

Several novel methods of fundraising were devised and employed. One farmer, named Joe Crane, donated a gigantic pumpkin to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the monument fund. A city councilman bought it for the price of nearly an average month’s wages. He then put it back up for auction to continue funding the statue. According to Sharlot Hall, Joe Crane’s pumpkin “was sold again and again until it had brought many dollars into the fund.”

A hat manufacturer with several Prescott clients designed a “Buckey O’Neill Sombrero” donating a part of its profits to the cause. “A local cigar-maker named his best cigar the ‘Buckey O’Neill’” and gave all the profit from its sales to the fund. Ultimately, $100 was donated by the selling of 50,000 cigars. Even President Roosevelt sent a personal check to the fund, although the amount was not disclosed.

As the project was publicized, a myth was born that was even propagated by Sharlot Hall, herself. The Courier wrote: “The Captain O’Neill Volunteer Monument will rest under the shade of the beautiful trees on the Plaza which were planted by O’Neill when he was sheriff of this county. The trees around the Plaza were nearly all planted by him and are living monuments to his memory.” 

However, the Weekly Journal-Miner begged to differ. In an article entitled “Those Plaza Trees,” the Journal-Miner corrected its rival reporting: “There is not a single tree growing today in the Plaza that was planted by Sheriff O’Neill.” While Buckey was Sheriff he had the prisoners water and care for them, but this practice was stopped when he left office “and they were permitted to die. (Perhaps Miss Hall subscribed to the Courier exclusively.)

One donation that was particularly appreciated came from the Arizona Copper and Smelting Companies, who donated the matte copper necessary to produce the bronze. Bronze is roughly 87% copper. Not only did this donation spare a great expense, but it guaranteed that the bulk of the metal used to produce the statue would come from the hills of Yavapai County. The leftover copper was sold and that money went to the fund as well.

Even with this donation, it would require tens of thousands of dollars to make the kind of statue that Prescott desired. So in 1899, the matter was brought before the Territory Legislature to allocate $10,000 to the project, but it was defeated. It seemed that the Maricopa County delegation wanted the memorial placed on the grounds of the capitol in Phoenix “where ten times the amount of people would be able to see it.” 

The Weekly Journal-Miner was bitter: “The defeat of the monument bill is due directly to the Maricopa delegation in the assembly.” Despite the defeat in the legislature, and perhaps because of it, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors approved giving a portion of the Plaza for the monument two months later.

Momentum for the cause was strong until the Great Fire of July, 1900 melted it all away. It was difficult to get people to contribute to a fund for a monument on the Plaza while it was being occupied by the tents of downtown businesses. Additionally, while the donated money had been safely deposited among several banks, the receipts and pledges burned in the fire.

At the next legislature, in 1901, it seemed that the Maricopa delegation was in favor of funding, but at the last minute amended the bill to change “Prescott” as the city to be its home to “Phenix.” In this form, the bill was defeated and once again no money was apportioned. (Back then legislators were elected for two years, but only met once unless an emergency session was called.)

In 1903, the measure was defeated due to a general lack of revenue. Finally, in 1905, a bill appropriating $10,000 for the monument to be in Prescott was passed and signed by Gov. Kibbey. The Maricopa delegation had given up on trying to have the monument located at the capitol, but did demand three concessions. First, the $10,000 appropriation should be matched by private contributions; (which did not happen.) Second, Gov. Kibbey would appoint the commission that would oversee the project with the idea that there would be some representation there from outside Yavapai County; and third, the statue should have a plaque stating that the memorial was ultimately for all the brave Roughriders of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry who perished:

The plaque mandated by the Legislature
Even then it was known that $10,000 would not be nearly enough money for the complicated equestrian statue that was desired. Such a statue not only required artistic genius, but also the engineering genius of placing the figure’s center of gravity within the area where the hoofs touch the base. Even with all the efforts prior to the fire, only $355 had been deposited. It seemed that Prescott would have to settle for a simpler design.

After Kibbey appointed the commission, designs were accepted. The first design submitted was by architect MJ Mahoney who was the brother of a former Prescott city engineer. In his design, the Statue of Liberty was the predominant figure. This sketch was hung in the window of the Hotel Burke for people to view, but something more in Buckey’s memory was desired.

Frank Leich, a sculptor from San Antonio, suggested a monument that was broad at the base and not too tall, “with a good portrait statue of O’Neill surmounting it, either in bronze or marble. You cannot make a number one equestrian statue out of it for the amount of money at the disposal of the committee,” he explained.

Despite this, the governor’s commission, headed by Robert Morrison, headed to New York to see what could be done. When the Prescott contingent arrived in the east, their “enthusiasm began to sink when the price was more and more brought home to (them.) "However, without solicitation on his part, Solon Borglum came to see (Morrison). He told him he knew of his mission, also what he knew of the regiment, and then continued, ‘Mr. Morrison, would you like me to do your monument?’ Mr. Morrison's reply was eminently characteristic: ‘Would we like it? Would we like to have dreams come true? There is nothing in the world we would like so much—but—Mr. Borglum, we haven't the money to offer you for the work.’ 

“The sculptor asked, ‘How much have you?’ And upon Mr. Morrison's replying, ‘We have $10,000,’ (Borglum) said without hesitation: ‘You shall have your monument!’ and that settled it.” It seemed a miracle.

Solon was the younger brother of Guzman Borglum, another world-class sculptor who is best known for creating Mt. Rushmore. Solon initially apprenticed for his older brother eventually becoming renowned in his own right. It seemed Solon was now desirous to break out from the shadow of his brother and do something world-class on his own. He started work immediately.

In March, 1906, Solon Borglum arrived in Prescott to show the committee his model of equestrian design. The committee was delighted with it and Solon returned to New York to add the detail.

Meanwhile, Morris Goldwater was working tirelessly at organizing a formal reunion of the Roughriders to be held at the unveiling. But when President Roosevelt wrote that he would not be able to attend, the project fell through and no reunion was held anywhere that year. It was a great disappointment and the date of the unveiling was eventually moved from June 1st to July 3rd during the usual 4th of July festivities. In the end, President Roosevelt never did lay eyes on the monument to his men.

By the end of 1906, Solon had all the detail work completed and sent a photo of the face to the committee to be sure it looked like Buckey.The sculptor was instructed to go ahead with the casting. 

Biography of one of the most colorful men to reside in Prescott, Arizona: Buckey O'Neill.

It was good that Solon agreed to only $10,000. Even at this point, private contributions amounted to only $1,221.95. That money was earmarked to obtain a base for the statue and Solon took this matter as seriously as the statue itself. He also knew that there was little money to work with. On his previous visit, Solon noticed the beauty of Thumb Butte and the rocky outcroppings on the hill on which the Pioneers’ Home would later be built. He decided that one of these beautiful local granite boulders would be perfect and he personally returned to the city to choose it himself. The boulder was taken from Yavapai Hill. 

The boulder chosen weighed 28 tons and is “about 9 feet in length, 4 feet in thickness and rising in height about 5 1/2 feet. It (was) placed on a stone foundation about 2 feet higher than the surrounding level of the Plaza.” It reportedly took “several weary days” to move it downtown to the Plaza. The statue itself is 10 1/2 feet in height making the total height of the monument about 18 feet.

Everything seemed in order except for one last problem--and it was a big one. Before leaving for Prescott himself, Solon carefully wrapped and shipped the statue from New York. He was dismayed to learn that he beat the statue to Prescott, but was told it would arrive soon. Then days passed and the bronze work was still missing. The situation became critical. “It was feared it would not get there on time," the paper wrote. "WA Drake, Vice President of the railway (and for whom the tiny burg is named,) instructed a special agent to find where it was and he was given the power to spare neither time nor expense in securing the statue and getting it to Prescott on time." 

“He found it buried in the yard at Albuquerque, New Mexico and ordered it out on the first train leaving," the paper described. "He rode with the train. At Winslow, the car in which the statue was loaded broke down. Ordinarily the car would've been sidetracked,” repaired, and sent with the next train. “This was no ordinary occasion however, and the train was held several hours while all the mechanics obtainable were sent to work repairing the car.” At Ash Fork, a special express engine was waiting to race the cargo to Prescott. 

“In anticipation of the three day celebration,” the paper wrote, “Prescott is already assuming its holiday attire: flags, bunting, and the red white and blue being displayed on every side. Not the least of the downtown decorations will be the numerous electrical displays which, at night, will make the Plaza a veritable blaze of vari-colored lights. The (old) county court house is being decorated from dome to foundation with flags and bunting and numerous incandescent lights; four strings of lights running from the four corners of the building, high overhead, across the lawn, to the four corners of the Plaza, making a beautiful effect. Hardly a business house is not decorated and the few not yet displaying flags and bunting will be decorated by the opening day of the celebration. The interior of many of the business establishments are also trimmed with the national colors, while the window displays at the various stores are also appropriate to the occasion.”

Although the statue would not be unveiled until July 3, it was actually mounted on to its base the day before, which was the exact day of the ninth anniversary of Buckey’s death. “A guard was sent over the statue (that) night to prevent anyone removing the wrappings, which will not be taken off until the monument is unveiled,” the paper said.

Promptly at 10:30 am on July 3rd, a parade started at the corner of Gurley and Mount Vernon Streets. The grand marshal was first in line, riding the black charger that was ridden by Capt. O'Neill himself while in command of Troop A of the Roughriders. Several other prominent Roughriders followed on horseback. Many dignitaries, including the governor, were also in the parade.

“The line of march continued west on Gurley to Montezuma Street then around the Plaza to a point on Gurley street opposite the monument."

After several inspiring addresses, the daughter of MJ Hickey and Buckey's adopted son Maurice were brought into the rope enclosure surrounding this statue and “they gracefully drew the drapery down, exposing the magnificent equestrian feature.”

The moment the monument was unveiled.
“When the veils were torn aside and the beautiful bronze statue stood revealed,” the paper described, “a mighty cheer went up from the hundreds assembled and with bared heads, while the band played “America,” those present did homage to the memory of brave Buckey O’Neill.

Although the ceremonies were over by 12:40 PM, the assembled multitude did not begin to disperse for another two hours as they stood in admiration of the memorial.

One writer observed: “For the minutiae and detail this subject is exceptionally fine. The uniform, the pistol, the saber, the bridal rein, the selection of the horse which could pass the Calvary test, everything came under the artist's most earnest care, and then the placing upon the granite boulder from the Yavapai Hill was particularly fitting.”

It would be remembered as one of the proudest days in Prescott history.

Over 20 years later, on September 11, 1928, Guzmon Borglum, Solon’s older brother, visited Prescott and for the first time observed “the great bronze equestrian statue which is ranked as the greatest work of his dead brother, Solon.”

“He came in the afternoon when a rich-toned sunset sky behind the trees made a rare setting for the soldier-rider.” A reporter from the Courier was on hand and recorded the impressions made by the older brother. “Much moved, he walked up and down under the trees, viewing the great figure from all sides. When he could speak he said: ‘although the work is the product of my brother’s hand, I am forced to forget relationship and to say that the Buckey O'Neill monument is a marvel. In my opinion it has no equal in the country—in so far as I know, it is unexcelled abroad.’

“I could not think of a happier or more appropriate setting for this splendid memorial then the great granite boulder which forms the base… it adds to the charming appeal of the figure as no artificial support could do; it gives a perfection of artistry that leaves nothing wanting. The manner in which the figure is placed upon the stone has brought about a beauty and harmony that is nothing less than inspired.” Guzman could not have been more proud of his brother.

It might be argued that legally, the statue is known as the Roughrider Monument. But in the hearts and minds of the people of Prescott, it will forever be Buckey that's riding that horse.

To see all the #PrescottAZHistory articles about the Roughriders: CLICK HERE.

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Arizona Republic, 8/8/1898; Pg. 3, Col. 1.
“The Arizona Rough Rider Monument and Captain W.O.O’Neill” by Sharlot Hall, et. al.; The Old Capital Booklets, year unlisted; available at the Sharlot Hall Museum gift store ($3). Pp. 16-17, 19-20, 21, 23-24.
Arizona Republic, 5/22/1899 Pg. 8, Cols. 3-4.
    Includes the text of the speeches made at the ceremony and a great deal of biographical info on Buckey.
Cover photo: Courtesy of Tim Gronek

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