Event honors centennial of Rough Rider monument
PRESCOTT - Exactly 100 years ago today, citizens jammed the courthouse plaza in Prescott to honor their fallen Spanish-American War heroes with the unveiling of a new monument.
That larger-than-life Rough Rider bronze continues to grace the most prominent site on the historic plaza, its alert rider pulling taut the reins of his powerful horse. It stands upon a rough granite boulder from the hills surrounding Prescott.
The Arizona Rough Riders Historical Association will lead a ceremony honoring the statue's centennial at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. The public ceremony will include a live uniformed band, a Rough Riders display, period costumes and information about the Rough Riders. Speakers will include Prescott Mayor Rowle Simmons and Carolle Wallace, granddaughter of Rough Rider Nelson Eli Bartoo.
History credits Teddy Roosevelt with coining the Rough Rider nickname for the war's First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. A reporter caught then-Colonel Roosevelt remarking he would be joining a regiment of rough-riding men, and the moniker stuck.
"They came from cattle range and mining camp - men of the out-of-doors - of the Old Frontier - and brought with them that spirit of romance and adventure which was the West - and which no written record can ever quite catch," historian Sharlot Hall wrote in a 1928 booklet about the monument.
"It was the thing to do," Wallace recalls her grandfather saying whenever anyone asked why he left his railroad-building job to join the Rough Riders.
Wallace remembers her grandfather as small in stature but large in character. He started each day with a clove of garlic.
"So needless to say, I didn't want to have much to do with him," Wallace laughs. "He'd offer me a nickel to come sit beside him."
Like hundreds of other men, Trooper Bartoo arrived at Prescott to take the train to Florida before embarking for Cuba in 1898.
With a strong desire to honor their fallen heroes and friends - including Prescott's own mayor Buckey O'Neill, who helped organize the Rough Riders and commanded its Troop A - Prescott-area residents helped the Territorial Legislature raise $10,000 for a Rough Rider statue.
An old-time rancher named Joe Crane donated a monster pumpkin to the highest bidder. A local cigar maker named his best cigar the "Buckey O'Neill" and donated all proceeds to the cause. Arizona's copper mines donated the matte copper.
The Legislature appointed a commission to select a suitable memorial, and commission member R.E. Morrison of the Prescott City Council headed to New York City to find a sculptor. Just as he was losing his faith that he'd find a worthy artist for the relatively small sum of $10,000, well-known sculptor Solon Borglum approached Morrison and volunteered.
"This was a big deal for this small community to come up with a noted artist to produce the Rough Rider monument," said John Langellier, director of the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott who has authored several books on military history. He's been one of Buckey's admirers ever since he was growing up in Tucson.
"It's one of the most famous equestrian statues in the United States," said Jay Eby, captain of the Arizona Rough Riders Historical Association. Borglum's brother Gutzon, who created Mount Rushmore, said it was the greatest monument he'd ever seen.
Of course, anyone familiar with the Spanish-American War knows the Rough Riders had to leave their horses behind, as well as most of their sabers and pistols.
Yet the statue embodies the Rough Rider mystique to perfection.
"The bronze Rough Rider stands on the plaza where O'Neill and his comrades gathered and walked and talked and said goodbye to their friends and went away to die," Hall wrote. "It stands a memorial to them - but to us who pass and repass under its shadow, the heroic bronze figure is a daily reminder to make our lives and our citizenship worthy of them."
Many of the Rough Riders went on to prominent positions, with Roosevelt being the most obvious. Alexander Brodie became Arizona's governor, and another Rough Rider became a Congressman from New Mexico.
"Had Buckey not been killed that day, who knows where his star would have set," Langellier said.