Of all the legendary names of the west that fill the history books, Buckey O’Neill is quite an interesting one, said educator and writer Kevin Schindler.
Giving a presentation titled “Buckey O’Neill: Undaunted Courage & Boundless Ambition” at the Phippen Museum on Saturday, Feb. 3, Schindler shared the history behind one of Prescott’s most famous residents.
Born in 1860, O’Neill arrived in Prescott in March 1882 after spending some time in Phoenix and Tombstone, Schindler said.
“This is where he would really make a name for himself,” he said. “A name that continues today to resonate throughout not just Prescott, but across the west and the United States.”
O’Neill arrived in Prescott at 19 years old and died while fighting in the Spanish American War at 38 years old, Schindler said.
He accomplished quite a bit in those two decade, including working for the newspaper, as a stenographer, running his own newspaper dedicated to the cattle industry (“The Hoof and Horn”), investing and helping get the canal business going in Buckeye, joining the local militia, working as a firefighter, and successfully running for the positions of probate judge, sheriff and mayor, he said.
O’Neill also had a vision for Arizona to achieve statehood and worked to get people out to the territory, Schindler said.
While sheriff, there was a robbery that took O’Neill and two deputies from Arizona to Utah where they captured the thieves, he said. It’s an important case because it’s what turned O’Neill into a legend, Schindler said. He was a sheriff that chased criminals through the territories and it was when he really started becoming well-known, he said.
O’Neill’s time as mayor was short lived due to the Spanish American War, Schindler said. He thought going to war with Spain was beautiful, he said.
“He wants to build Arizona as a state,” Schindler said. “If Arizonans go off and help the country win the war, it’d get a lot of respect for Arizona.”
O’Neill signed up as the first volunteer, he said, noting O’Neill’s words of gambling for a new star in the flag. He thought it would lead Arizona to statehood, Schindler said.
He died as a Rough Rider unceremoniously on a hill in Cuba, he said. Part of the legend surrounding O’Neill’s death is he said there wasn’t a Spanish bullet made that would kill him moments before being shot in the mouth, Schindler said. He’s currently buried at Arlington National Cemetery where he hunted squirrels in his youth, he said.