Verde Valley home for Rough Riders

Arizonans, including residents of the Verde Valley, were recruited to be Rough Riders for the Spanish American War, joining future President Theodore Roosevelt (center).

Arizonans, including residents of the Verde Valley, were recruited to be Rough Riders for the Spanish American War, joining future President Theodore Roosevelt (center).

John Oscar Mullen died in 1954 and was buried by his wife Milber Caroline, a Louisiana girl, in the Clarkdale Valley View Cemetery. John had been a postmaster and school principal in Tempe before moving to Jerome in 1918 to become the 31-year school superintendent of the Jerome Schools beginning in 1918.

We don't know today, but perhaps he was drawn back to the rough-and-tumble mining town by his association with Theodore Roosevelt. Mullen was one of those volunteers who served along side Lt. Col Roosevelt and other westerners in the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry known as the Rough Riders.

He was lucky to have such a lengthy career after the Cuban fight. One in four of the Rough Riders did not return from Cuba.

Pvt. Edward Liggett, 30, of Jerome, a teamster before the war, was killed in action in Las Guasimas.

A 27-year-old trumpeter and band master, Emillo Cassi of Jerome, was wounded in the head at San Juan Hill.

Pvt. John W. Jackson, 29, of Jerome never made it to the fight. The carpenter deserted in Tampa from where the Rough Riders were to sail to Cuba.

Another member of "A" Troop of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry to return to the Verde Valley was Pvt. James Shaw, a cowboy, originally from Illinois. Today, he is buried in the Middle Verde Cemetery in Camp Verde.

Cuba had been in rebellion against Spain since 1895. Insurgents, including José Martí, had been fighting for three years before the Americans became involved.

American newspapers fanned the fires of discontent with the Spanish when revolutionaries sought their independence from the Spanish tyranny in dictatorial Cuba.

It was a trumpet call of the magnitude of Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attacks in New York City, when an explosion in the USS Maine in Havana Harbor destroyed the battleship in February 1898. The United States declared war on Spain in April of 1898 in support of the Cuban insurgents.

Havana Harbor was blockaded and the Spanish fleet bottled up in Santiago Bay, west of Guantanamo Bay. An Army expeditionary force was rapidly readied back in the States.

Shortly after the Civil War, the United States was no longer financially strong enough to be able to lead troops against the Spanish. President McKinley authorized the raising of a volunteer regiment of cowboy cavalry from the western territories of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Indian Territory.

They were gathered from the Southwest because the climate would be similar to Cuba where they would fight. The men were cowboys, gold or mining prospectors, hunters, gamblers, Native Americans and college men, all able bodied and capable of riding and shooting.

It was designated the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry and often called Roosevelt's Rough Riders. They were named after Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders, the traveling show that was popular at the time.

The idea was reportedly born in Prescott by former sheriff and then-Mayor Buckey O'Neill, Alexander Brodie, who later was to become territorial governor appointed by Roosevelt, and James McClintock. The three originally planned an entire regiment of cowboy cavalry. Three troops were eventually formed.

Nearly 300 joined with him and they rode to San Antonio, Texas, and were received with open arms.

The Northern Arizona Cavalry was rapidly filled and called "A" Troop. The "B" Troop of the squadron was selected from Southern Arizona. Brodie commanded the First Squadron of four troops. O'Neill was captain of "A" Troop.

The Rough Riders landed at Daiquirí in June 1898. Three days later, they saw their first action with O'Neill leading his men in the front of the line for Las Guasimas capturing the Spanish flank.

On July 1, Capt. O'Neill was killed in combat below Kettle Hill while commanding "A" Troop. William Pulsing, a German-American businessman of New Orleans, recounted O'Neill's death: "Troop 'A' took part in the general advance on Santiago. The Mauser bullets were whizzing rapidly over us, but Captain O'Neill, who was always accustomed to expose himself recklessly to fire, stood upright, apparently unconscious of danger.  He was talking to an Adjutant General. Suddenly a Mauser bullet struck him squarely in the mouth, going in so evenly that his teeth weren't injured. He fell to the ground at once, and a man named Boyle, who was afterward killed in battle, picked him up and carried his body to the rear.  He died there in a few seconds."

At San Juan Hill, the troop recovered from the loss of Capt. O'Neill and joined the famous charge of the "Rough Riders" led by Col. Theodore Roosevelt. Members of the "A" troop were with Roosevelt when the Spanish positions were taken.

The San Juan Hill battle was actually the siege of San Juan Heights, a north-south elevation east of Santiago de Cuba, reportedly the bloodiest and most famous Cuban battle. It was also the greatest victory for the Rough Riders, though detractors believe that it was the Buffalo soldiers, African-American troops who actually took the hill.

Fifteen members of "A" troop were either killed or wounded during these engagements.

Another veteran of the Spanish American War, also buried in the Clarkdale cemetery, is Forrest Bedford Johnson.

Douglas Brinkley recounts in the recent retrospect of the "naturalist President," Wilderness Warrior, that Roosevelt took three animals with him as the Rough Riders headed to Cuba campaign. Brinkley cites Roosevelt's autobiographical recollections that animals sustain morale.

Josephine was a mountain lion cub, brought by an Arizona trooper named Charles Green and had been a gift from a Prescott man.

Another "steadfast companion of the Rough Riders" was a golden eagle, named Teddy after their commander. "He was a young bird, having been taken out of the nest as a fledgling. Josephine hated him and always tried to make a meal of him," Brinkley quotes Roosevelt.

Both were left behind in Tampa.

The third animal went to Cuba. That was "Cuba," a "jolly dog" owned by Cpl. Cade C. Jackson of Troop A from Flagstaff. Cuba would follow the troops into battle, disappearing into the jungle at the sound of artillery and returning when the smoke cleared.

Josephine got loose in Chicago and was never seen again. Teddy the eagle was donated to a zoo, where after a battle with other eagles, he died, was stuffed and mounted.

Both Cuba and Cade Jackson were survivors of the four-month war.

Jackson returned to Flagstaff, but was "footloose" and could not care for a pet, so Cuba was given to Sam Black, a ranger in the Arizona Territory. The favorite of the Rough Riders went on to live a family life for 16 more years, according to Brinkley. He was buried along the Verde River after given the proper military funeral.

The new U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo was not formalized by lease agreement between the United States and Cuba until five years after the end of the war in 1903. It was acquired as a "coaling and Naval Station."

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