Originally Published: April 6, 2008 8:26 p.m.
William O. "Buckey" O'Neill is not a well-known historical name throughout the West, but he's well known locally as Prescott's hometown hero.
The late author William McLeod Raine described Buckey as "the most many-sided man Arizona ever produced." That's quite a compliment when one ponders the wealth of fascinating characters who came to the Arizona Territory in its formative years.
Buckey's Prescott home was where the Waffle Iron now stands along Sheldon Street.
Only 38 years old at his death, Buckey already had lived as a sheriff, newspaper editor and publisher, mayor, court reporter, mining investor, Grand Canyon railroad promoter and probate judge - and that was just during his 16 years in Prescott.
He earned his nickname "Buckey" from his skill at "bucking the tiger," which was a nickname for the faro card game that he enjoyed playing.
While mayor, Buckey helped muster the First Volunteer U.S. Cavalry to fight the Spanish in Cuba.
The Arizona volunteers gathered at Fort Whipple in Prescott on May 4, 1898. The city's entire population, with bands playing and flags flying, followed them to the train station, according to the late historian Sharlot Hall, who founded Prescott's museum. The train depot still stands near the corner of Sheldon and Montezuma streets.
Col. Teddy Roosevelt remarked that he was going to join a regiment of rough riding men, and hence they became known as "Roosevelt's Rough Riders," Hall related in a pamphlet. Buckey commanded Rough Rider Troop A. Roosevelt later wrote about Buckey in his book titled "The Rough Riders."
"As long as I live, it will be to me an inspiration to have served with Buckey O'Neill," Roosevelt said during a 1903 speech at the Grand Canyon, when he also asked that no building ever mar the site.
Buckey died on Cuba's San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., the city where he grew up.
However, a gallant memorial to Buckey and the Rough Riders is the centerpiece of Prescott's courthouse plaza.
It is the same plaza where Buckey planted many trees as mayor.
"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 as a memorial to them - but to us who pass and re-pass under its shadow, the heroic bronze figure is a daily reminder to make our lives and our citizenship worthy of them."
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