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North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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Historically Speaking: Editor, Miner, Politician, Gambler and Rough Rider

By Tom Morrow

One of the Old West’s most colorful characters, yet relatively unknown was William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill. Bucky had enough careers and vocations than any 10 men. At one time or another he was a sheriff, newspaper editor, miner, politician, geologist, gambler, and lawyer, primarily in the Territory of Arizona.

Born Feb. 2, 1860, his nickname came from his tendency to “buck the tiger,” which is a gambler’s phrase for “playing contrary to the odds” at faro or other card games. Buckey later became a captain in Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and died in battle during the Spanish-American War. But, what an exciting life he led
Buckey attended Georgetown Law School. During the first part of 1879, he responded to an item in the Washington Star calling for men to migrate to Arizona Territory. He arrived in Phoenix, riding a burro, in September the same year. Upon his arrival in town he was hired as a printer by the Phoenix Herald. By late 1880, he sought to experience the “Real West” in the boomtown of Tombstone.
O’Neill took the opportunity to experience the local saloons before taking a job with the famed Tombstone Epitaph newspaper. By mid-1881 he again felt a wanderlust and left town. In early 1882, he was back in Phoenix working as a deputy marshal. Several weeks later O’Neill moved to Prescott, his home for the next 15 years.
Buckey became captain of the Prescott Grays in 1886, the local unit of the Arizona Militia. In April 27, 1886, he married Pauline Schindler.
In 1888, while serving as Yavapai County judge (manager), Buckey was elected county sheriff on the Republican ticket. After his term was up, O’Neill was elected unanimously Mayor of Prescott. In 1894 and 1896 he ran for Delegate to the United States House of Representatives from Arizona Territory, running on the Populist Party ticket.
One interesting note: one of Buckey’s best friends was gunman Tom Horn, whom this column wrote about some weeks ago.

In 1898, war broke out between the United States and Spain. O’Neill joined the Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders as a Captain.
On the morning of July 1, 1898, the Rough Riders were stationed below Kettle Hill where O’Neill was killed in action. Theodore Roosevelt wrote about the death of O’Neill, in part:
“The most serious loss I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged. … As O’Neill moved (along the front line) to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, ‘Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.’ O’Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, ‘Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me.’  … As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out at the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness.
Before the fighting was over, O’Neill’s men had buried him on the slope of San Juan Hill. After the war, Buckey’s well-preserved body was exhumed and was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery.
On July 3, 1907, a monument by sculptor Solon Borglum was dedicated to O’Neill on the lawn of the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott. Some 7,000 people gathered to witness the unveiling of a “Rough Rider” galloping on horseback. A U.S. postage stamp was issued in 1948, depicting Buckey’s Prescott statue. Buckey O’Neill is one of the main characters in a television movie “Rough Riders,” portrayed by Sam Elliott.
There are a number of legends written about Buckey, one having him in a brief gunfight that allegedly took place in the House chambers of the Arizona Territorial Capitol building. Supposedly, no one was hurt.
Buckey O’Neill – a true character of “The Old West..

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Historically Speaking: Editor, Miner, Politician, Gambler and Rough Rider