A man that desired to
accomplish a great many things and actually did is a credit to society.
William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill was that kind of man. His life
began February 2, 1860, not in the Arizona Territory but much further
east. Three places can lay claim to this great man: St. Louis, Missouri,
Washington, D.C., or Ireland. Most scholars would discredit the Ireland
claim because his parents lived in the United States in the 1850's.
William O'Neil came from a family of military service. His father, John
O'Neill served in the Union army during the American Civil War. He was a captain in the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Captain
O'Neill was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg and unable to continue as a combat soldier. Despite
being severely wounded his father continued to serve the Union as a
reserve fulfilling non-combat duties. This tireless spirit and a desire to
serve certainly became a part of the personality of Buckey.
He graduated from
National University and became a lawyer in Washington, D.C. but apparently
this life was not the path that best suited him. In 1879, Buckey felt the
call of the west and headed to the Arizona Territory. He made stops in Tombstone
and Phoenix but eventually settled in Prescott, Arizona in 1882. Buckey
O'Neill did a great many things in Prescott, Arizona from probate judge to
Mayor. He also wrote fiction published in the newspaper and was editor of
the "Hoof and Horn", a magazine he founded dedicated to the
livestock industry. However, his role as sheriff is his major claim to
fame. He captured men in Diablo Canyon after they had committed a train
robbery. His heroic actions in bringing these men to justice gained him
fame throughout the west and he eventually came to the notice of future
As tension in the
mid-1890's increased between the United States and Spain, Buckey O'Neill
became Mayor of Prescott, Arizona. When war broke out he followed his
father's earlier example and helped to assemble a volunteer unit for the
war. He became the captain of Troop A of the 1st US Volunteer Calvary.
This unit is better known as the "Rough Riders." The "Rough
Riders" were led by Colonel Wood and took the fight to Spain in Cuba.
Theodore Roosevelt as second in command of the "Rough Riders"
went on to become the most famous of this gallant group. Several stories
circulate about Captain Buckey O'Neill during his time in Cuba. Some people
claim he jumped into the water upon arrival in Cuba to rescue some black
soldiers that had just capsized. Others claim he paraded in front of the
enemy fire at San Juan Hill to calm his men before the impending battle.
Whether he did these things or not, the stories always speak of a
courageous man tackling every aspect of his life with vigor. Captain
Buckey O'Neill led his troops at the Battle of San Juan Hill and was
unfortunately killed in the fight. His body was laid to rest in Arlington
National Cemetery. However, he will always be remembered in the town of
Prescott, Arizona. People may wonder of his birthplace, but this town
proudly claims him as one of their own.
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