Presented By Matthew C. Krahn
Arizona Capitol Museum Guild Historian
When Congress declared war on Spain in late April of 1898, President McKinley authorized the raising of a volunteer regiment of cowboy cavalry from the western territories of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Indian Territory. The “Rough Riders” was formed from men from the western frontier of the United States – men who were used to life in the saddle and to the use of firearms – and from some eastern high-class young men who were athletic and also skilled in horsemanship and the use of guns…but for entirely different reasons. In addition there were men from almost everywhere else! The unit included miners, cowboys preachers, tradesmen, writers, professors, athletes, and clergymen. Remarkably, there were men from each of the forty-five states then in existence, the four territories and from fourteen countries! There were even sixty Native Americans on the roster. The unique combination reflected the interesting contrasts in one of the men who was one of the driving forces behind the unit – Theodore Roosevelt, the man who was initially the regiment’s lieutenant colonel and later its colonel.
This regiment was designated “The First United States Volunteer Cavalry” and was to go down in history as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.” The idea of a volunteer cowboy regiment from Arizona originated in Prescott, and was inspired by Alexander Brodie and Mayor “Buckey” O’Neill. They had been recruiting for a volunteer Arizona regiment long before a war was declared. Because the Prescott or Northern Arizona Cavalry was the first to fill its quota, and was also, along with the southern Arizona unit, the first to arrive at the training base at San Antonio, Texas, it was designated “A” Troop. The southern unit was formed as “B” Troop. As Herner states, “thus the Arizonans assumed all seniority rights and corresponding troop designations.” They were the first troop of the first squadron (known as the Arizona Squadron) of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry. As Captain of “A” Troop, “Buckey” O’Neill also became the senior Captain of the regiment. Alexander Brodie commanded the First Squadron (consisting of four troops) and was, therefore, the ranking Major of the regiment. “A” Troop went on to serve with distinction in the war to liberate Cuba from Spain. The troop figured prominently in the two main battles of the Cuban campaign involving the 5th Army Corp.
At Las Guasimas the troop, led by “Buckey” O’Neill, formed the extreme right wing of an extended skirmish line that pressed forward, through thick jungle, to help dislodge the Spanish from their positions. At San Juan Hill, the troop recovered from the devastating loss of its commander, Captain “Buckey” O’Neill, and participated in the famous charge of the “Rough Riders” led by Theodore Roosevelt. Several members of “A” troop were with Col. Roosevelt at the front of the regiment when the Spanish positions were taken. Fifteen members of “A” troop were either killed or wounded during these engagements. Several more died of dysentery. After returning to the United States with the regiment, they were disbanded, on September 15, 1898, only four months after leaving Prescott. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “it marked the close of the four months life of a regiment of as gallant fighters as ever wore the United States uniform.”
Upon final preparations the regiment was ready to leave Prescott and head for departure in Florida. It was brought to the commander’s attention that Roosevelt’s Rough Riders had everything ready but did not possess the Stars and Stripes for the regiment to bring in to battle. The story goes that upon hearing this news the ladies of the Women’s Relief Corps of Phoenix decided to make a flag for the regiment to take with them. Working all through the night they sewed together a “beautiful silk standard” by hand. The materials are rumored to have been very difficult to come by, and the story describes an amazing blue gown being used to construct the blue field in which the star would lay.
The flag was completed and presented to the regiment by the Governor of Arizona, personally handing the flag to the regiment’s leader Captain James M. McClintock. As the handoff was completed a chorus of young girls from the Territorial Normal School began to sing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”. This in turn according to war correspondent Edward Marshall was met by the Rough Riders rowdy rendition of “A Hot Time” (composed in 1896, by Theodore Metz it was a favorite of the military at the turn of the 20th century). As the Rough Riders made their way to Tampa for the trip to Cuba they received a very warm welcome form the people of the South. The cheers and praise was so great that Theodore Roosevelt’s own account of it was recorded by Edward Marshall: “Everywhere the people came out to greet and cheer us. Everywhere we saw the Stars and S tripes, and everywhere we were told, half-laughing, by grizzled ex-Confederates, that they greet the old flag as they now were greeting it, and to send their sons as they now were sending them, to fight and die under it”.
The first volunteer regiment in Cuba would be the first to raise the US flag over foreign soil since the Mexican War, these were but a few of the accomplishments of the Rough Riders and their special flag from right here in Arizona! So where else did the colors travel while in battle; stories of its exploits throughout the war have become legendary in the area of flag history. The one that shines above the rest was most famously noted when the flag was seen waving above the crest of Loriltires. It is here Surgeon La Motte, Color-Sergeant Wright, Trumpeter Platt, and Edward Marshall, climbed the hill with the famous flag. They discovered an abandoned block-house and attempted to hoist Old Glory up. The impromptu band of flag raisers realized the tin roof of the house was too slippery, and all but gave up on hoisting the colors when a sailor came to the rescue. Risking injury the sailor grabbed the flag the women of Arizona had worked so hard to produce, and attached it to a piece of lumber atop the block-house. On the bay below as material and men wade ashore one of the soldiers caught site of the flag fluttering in the wind. The stories go Marshall said that a fever pitch of patriotism caught on, steam-whistles blew, nearly 20,000 men yelled and cheered joined by a dozen military bands. The women and really the town of Prescott thousands of miles away must have been very proud indeed!
The flag from Arizona would go on to appear in almost every battlefield in the war, serving as bravely as the soldiers who carried it. I would like to leave you with my personal favorite tale regarding this special flag and its adventures abroad. In Las Guasimas, Color-Sergeant Wright was grazed three different times near his neck by Spanish bullets while carrying the flag from Arizona. The flag received at least four bullet holes that we are aware of while in battle, but thankfully it did survive to make its way back home. Soon after the Rough Riders became legendary and Roosevelt went on to eventually become president of the United States of America. The regiment was discharged honorably from service, and the unique men that made up the famous volunteer regiment made their way home. Teddy Roosevelt’s legendary Rough Riders existed for only 133 days but earned a lasting place in the history of the United States. Few groups that were so short lived have made such an impression in the hearts and minds of Americans. I am proud to call Arizona my home, and thank you all for joining us here today!
AZ Rough Riders Flag Working Bibliography
Abbott, Samuel. The Dramatic Story of Old Glory. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919.
In this account of famous American flag stories author and member of the American Historical Association retells numerous flag stories. In chapter 42 he discusses the famous Rough Riders flag sewn by the ladies of the Women’s Relief Corps of Phoenix. The flag trailed with the famed 1st Volunteer Calvary Division from Prescott, AZ into multiple engagements in the war with Spain.
Edward, Marshall. The story of the Rough Riders, 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry: the regiment in camp and on the battle field. New York: G.W. Dillingham Co, 1899.
A very detailed account of the building and creation of the Rough Riders, starting in Prescott and following them all the way until their disbandment upon returning to America. This detailed account of the furnishing of regimental colors by the ladies of the Women’s Relief Corp of Phoenix is very fascinating. The author discusses the vital role the flag played in being the first to accompany the Rough Riders Division.
I have provided some links as well that will direct you to several E-Books regarding the flag in question. My efforts continue to acquire the hard copy, as many of these are very old first editions they have been digitized to avoid mass lending.
Rough Rider: Bucky O’Neill of Arizona
The Stars and Stripes and other American Flags