It was 1898 and the Spanish-American War had just begun.
The men of the First US Volunteer Cavalry, more commonly known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, were eager to leave Prescott, to fight for Cuba’s independence.
The Rough Riders had weapons, ammunition, supplies, even regiment mascots. But no US flag could be found among the items that had been packed for the long trip.
“They were about to leave without an American flag. Personally, it’s the first thing I would have packed,” Matthew Krahn, historian at the Arizona Capitol Museum Guild, told an audience of about two dozen people Wednesday afternoon.
Krahn’s history lesson was a part of an annual tradition where the Rough Rider’s flag is displayed during a ceremony at the museum. Typically, the flag is unveiled to little pomp, but Arizona’s upcoming centennial celebration changed that. This year, the Arizona Rough Riders Historical Association, a living history group, was invited to a re-enactment ceremony.
One of the re-enactors represented a seamstress for the Women’s Relief Corps of Phoenix, who worked all night to make the almost forgotten flag.
The Rough Riders took a train across the Deep South to their deployment site in Tampa, Florida. Krahn said the Civil War, which had ended in 1865, had not been forgotten.
“The flag and the Rough Riders acted as a unification between the North and South,” Krahn said.
After arriving in Cuba, the flag would become the first one flown over foreign soil since the Mexican-American War. However, the man who flew the flag is identified by historians only as “the unnamed sailor.”
After being honorably discharged in September 1898, the flag’s ownership is speculative. Krahn said some believe Color-Sergeant Albert P. Wright, a native of Yuma, brought the Rough Riders’ flag back to Arizona. The museum has had the flag since statehood in 1912.
The flag is on display at the Arizona Capitol Museum through July.