Prescott's favorite son turns 150
The Sharlot Hall Museum is throwing a 150th birthday party Saturday for Prescott's favorite hometown hero, Buckey O'Neill.
The public event starts at 1 p.m. and features the A Troop of the Arizona Rough Riders Historical Association, a unique birthday cake, and a limited number of free jumbo postcards featuring Capt. Buckey O'Neill on his horse. The museum is located at 415 W. Gurley St.
Buckey died during a Spanish-American War battle for Cuba's Kettle Hill on July 1, 1898. He was boldly standing in front of his troops when he was shot.
William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill was born on Feb. 2, 1860, in Washington, D.C. His Irish immigrant father was a Civil War veteran. Buckey, a tall and slender man, got his nickname from his uncanny ability to "buck the tiger," or beat the odds at the then-popular card game of faro.
Buckey came to Arizona in 1880, first writing for the Tombstone Epitaph during the time of the infamous OK Corral shootout.
He came to Prescott in 1882. Only 38 at the time of his death, Buckey had lived a life fuller than many who die of old age.
He was at various times Prescott's mayor, Yavapai County's sheriff and school superintendent, a local newspaper editor and publisher, probate judge, court reporter, local militia captain, adjutant general of Arizona Territory (who called up the volunteer militia when needed), volunteer firefighter, fiction writer, mine developer and Grand Canyon railroad promoter during his 16 years in Prescott. His home was located where the Waffle Iron restaurant now stands.
"He was the embodiment of the halcyon days of Arizona and the best of old Prescott," Sharlot Hall Museum Director John Langellier said. If he would have lived long enough, Buckey could have been elected to national office or widely remembered as a Wild West character with the aid of dime novels, he added.
Perhaps Buckey's most publicized exploit as sheriff was his tracking down of four men who robbed a train in Canyon del Diablo. He captured them after a gunfight in Utah.
"Mr. O'Neill was always cheerful and happy at home, looking on the bright side of life on every occasion," Buckey's wife Pauline wrote for the San Francisco Examiner shortly after his death. "He never wavered when he thought that duty called him to perform any task."
Buckey's only child, Buckey Jr., died at the age of 2 weeks in 1887. Ten years later he and Pauline adopted a son named Maurice. After Buckey's death, Pauline married Buckey's brother and became a member of the Legislature, where she sponsored a bill to buy the territorial governor's mansion in Prescott at the request of Sharlot Hall.
While Buckey is buried near his father in Arlington Cemetery, he also has a memorial in Prescott in the form of the Rough Riders statue that graces Prescott's courthouse plaza, where Buckey himself planted shade trees when he was sheriff.
While mayor, Buckey helped raise the First Volunteer U.S. Cavalry to fight the Spaniards 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 the men to the train station, according to the late Sharlot Hall.
Col. Teddy Roosevelt remarked that he was going to join a regiment of rough riding men, and hence the Arizona volunteers became known as "Roosevelt's Rough Riders," Hall related in a pamphlet she wrote.
"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.
Roosevelt later wrote about Buckey in his book titled "The Rough Riders." Roosevelt called Buckey "the iron-nerved, iron-willed fighter from Arizona ... A staunchly loyal and generous friend ... He alone, among his comrades, was a visionary, an articulate emotionalist.
"He was less apt to tell tales of his hard and stormy past than he was to speak of the mysteries which lie behind courage, and fear, and love."