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First Name: William

Last Name: O'Neill

Birthplace: St. Louis, MO, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Militia - Other Engagements

Middle Name: Owen

Date of Birth: 02 February 1860

Date of Death: 01 July 1898


Years Served:
William Owen O’Neill

•  Spanish-American War (1898)


William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill
Brevet Major, U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders)

William Owen O'Neill was born on 2 February 1860 in St. Louis, MO. During the Civil War, his father, John O'Neill, served as a Captain in the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Irish Brigade, and was severely wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Tombstone, AZ

In 1879, O'Neill left home, heading for Arizona Territory. In 1880, he settled in Tombstone, AZ. During this time the Earp Brothers (city policemen) and the Clanton-McLaury Gang (a group of rustlers and murderers) were at war with each other. O'Neill joined the Tombstone Epitaph. Since it was a pro-Earp newspaper, he frequently talked with, and became a casual acquaintance of, the Earps. On 26 October 1881, the war escalated with the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. O'Neill may have been the man to report on the scene. He left Tombstone shortly after, heading for Prescott, AZ.

Prescott, AZ

O'Neill arrived in Prescott in the spring of 1882. There he rapidly progressed in his journalistic career. Starting as a court reporter, he soon founded his own newspaper, Hoof and Horn, a paper for the livestock industry.

He became Captain of the Prescott Grays in 1886, the local unit of the Arizona Militia. On 5 February 1886, Dennis Dilda, a convicted murderer, was hanged. O'Neill and the Prescott Grays stood honor guard for the event. When the trap dropped, O'Neill fainted, which caused him severe embarrassment. He later wrote a story called "The Horse of the Hash-Knife Brand." In it, a member of a posse admits to nearly fainting at the hanging of a horse thief.

In April 1887, he married Pauline Schindler. They had a son, but he died shortly after being born premature.

In 1888, while serving as Yavapai County, AZ, judge, he was elected County Sheriff, running on the Republican ticket.

On 20 March 1889, four masked men robbed the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad passenger train in Diablo Canyon. A four-man posse, made up of O'Neill, Jim Black, Carl Holton, and Ed St. Clair, was soon formed and they took off after robbers. On 21 March, O'Neill and his posse caught up with the robbers. After exchanging rifle shots, the posse captured the four men. During the fight, no men were injured, but O'Neill's horse was killed.

The four men were William Sterin, John Halford, Daniel Harvick, and J.J. Smith. All four were sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison, but were pardoned eight years later. In 1898, William Sterin enlisted in the Rough Riders under the name Henry Nash, posing as a school teacher from Strawberry, AZ. He served as a Sergeant under O'Neill, although the latter was unaware of his past.

After his term was up, O'Neill was elected unanimously Mayor of Prescott. One of his best friends was Tom Horn.

Rough Riders

In 1898, war broke out between the U.S. and Spain. O'Neill joined the Rough Riders and became Captain of Troop A. First Lieutenant Frank Frantz served as O'Neil's Deputy Commander. Along with Alexander Brodie and James McClintock, he tried to make an entire regiment made up of Arizona Cowboys. Eventually though, only three troops were authorized.

The Rough Riders landed at Daiquirí on 22 June 1898. Two Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry fell overboard. Upon seeing this, O'Neill jumped into the water in full uniform and sabre. He searched for the men for two minutes, before having to come up for breath.

On 25 June 1898, the Rough Riders saw their first action. O'Neill led his men at the front of the line in the Battle of Las Guasimas, capturing the Spanish flank. During the action he saw several men, whom he believed were Spaniards, across the road from him, and shouted "Hostiles on our right, fire at will!" He learned after the firing ceased that the men he exchanged shots with were Cuban rebels.

On 1 July 1898, at about 10 a.m., the Rough Riders and the 10th Cavalry were stationed below Kettle Hill. The Spaniards, who were on top of the hill, poured machine gun and Mauser fire down on the Americans. Buckey O'Neill was killed in action.

Theodore Roosevelt, commander of the Rough Riders, wrote about the death of O'Neill:

"The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged. O'Neill was strolling up and down in front of his men, smoking his cigarette, for he was inveterately addicted to the habit. He had a theory that an officer ought never to take cover - a theory which was, of course, wrong, though in a volunteer organization the officers should certainly expose themselves very fully, simply for the effect on the men; our regimental toast on the transport running, 'The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted.' As O'Neill moved 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.' A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. 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."


• On 3 July 1907, a monument by sculptor Solon Borglum was dedicated to O'Neill and the other Rough Riders in their memory in Prescott, AZ. Seven thousand people gathered to witness the unveiling.

• Bucky (sic) O'Neill is a main character in the TNT movie Rough Riders, portrayed by Sam Elliott.

Death and Burial

Brevet Major William Owen O'Neill was killed in action on 1 July 1898 in Cuba. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 2920   Created by: MHOH




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