Days Past: Buckey O'Neill's widow relays sacrifices of war
On July 1, 1898, William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill was killed at Kettle Hill, Cuba. Efforts to commemorate O'Neill and his comrades-in-arms, the Arizona Rough Riders, began soon after and finally resulted in the statue that stands on the courthouse plaza. While the Rough Rider monument is a powerful statement of Prescott's loss, it is this grief-stricken memorial written by Buckey's 33-year-old widow, Pauline, that is a most moving declaration of the personal sacrifices of war. First published in the San Francisco Examiner a month after her husband's death, Pauline's tribute is excerpted here.
"When the (USS) Maine was blown up (in Havana Harbor, Feb. 15, 1898) and the whole nation was discussing the question of the war that might follow, Mr. O'Neill felt that his country would demand his services. A meeting was held here (Prescott) in the Court-House on the evening following the receipt of the news. Mr. O'Neill again declared that he was ready and willing to shed his heart's last drop for his flag, his country. He was then, as always, entirely devoid of fear. When the audience applauded his words, my heart sank, for I knew that in case of war his honor would demand that he keep the promise so solemnly made to his fellow men. He never wavered when he thought that duty called him to perform any task. Single-handed and alone, as sheriff, he captured the hardest desperadoes.
"Until he received his commission, I would not believe that he was in earnest. He joked and laughed about going, and I thought that the idea that he was needed had left him. On April 28, he returned from Phoenix with his Captaincy in his pocket, and the following day he was mustered in - the first volunteer in the whole United States to offer his services and his life, if need be, to his country. From that day on, my heart began to break, although I made no sign. I went to the train on May 4 to see the gallant Rough Riders leave. My eyes were tearless, while my heart was wrung in agony - at the last good-bye he said: "My dear, the war will not last long, and I will return in ninety days."
"Every day since our marriage (1886), whenever we were separated, I wrote a letter to my beloved, and he always wrote to me one each day. Thus we were ever in touch with each other - no matter how far apart we were. His letters were sometimes short after he left (with the Rough Riders) for San Antonio, for his duties as Captain kept him busy from sunrise until midnight, but he always reported, as it were, with a few lines to let me know that he was well. Yet, despite my feelings, I have always endeavored to be cheerful in all of my letters, only occasionally letting my feelings reveal themselves. He, too, though he felt lonely and homesick, disguised his words. In one of his last letters, he even planned to have me visit him at Havana next winter.
"The last letter I received was written the day after the first fight, June 26. It was short and only written to let me know that he was still unharmed. He had to make the letter brief, because he wanted to help bury the dead.
"When the news of the next battle came, I was out of town, in a neighboring city on business. Fortunately, the telegram did not reach me until I stepped off the train, when kind hands and loving hearts led me home. The agony was so great that I could not weep for days. Later reports say that he fell, killed instantly as he was leading his men to victory. A second before he went to his death he said to one of the boys that the Spanish bullet was not made that could kill him.
"You ask me if I gave him up willingly to fight for our flag? No, a thousand times, no. Do we give up our heart's blood, or our children, or our loved ones willingly? Can we say "Go," when we feel there is no coming back in this world? "When the news (came) that Santiago de Cuba had fallen, after four days' battle, with a death list of 2,000 men, did you think for a moment how many homes were that day desolate, and how many of us were sitting with tear-dimmed eyes and folded hands trying so hard to bear up under the burden of sorrow, while you celebrate(d) your glorious victory.
"And so it all ended. Of what use is the Medal of Honor that he was to have for trying to rescue the two soldiers, of what use the praise and the laurels, the undying glory of being a nation's hero, the thanks of a grateful country - of what use to me, who has lost the most precious being of my life?
"Yet I am not alone, for thousands weep with me, and refuse to be comforted, while thousands of others are still waiting and praying that the dread news will not come to them.
"To you, grief-stricken ones, I say: 'Let us pray that God will help us bear this heavy cross, and that He will some day show us why it was good that it should be so.'
"To you who will celebrate our nation's success, when your spirits are raised in triumph and your songs of thanksgiving are the loudest, remember that we, who sit and weep in our closed and darkened homes, have given our best gifts to our country and our flag."
Sharlot Hall Museum honors our veterans and service personnel worldwide with a special tribute to those who have given their "last full measure of devotion."