Rough Riders flag at Arizona state capitol

ASU's Rough Riders and the path to statehood

By

Scott Seckel

It’s March 20, 1911. Former President Theodore Roosevelt is in town for the dedication of a dam 60 miles northeast of the Salt River Valley. His visit to Tempe is only intended to be two or three minutes long. He’s expected to speak standing from his car.

When he arrives at the campus of Tempe Normal School — now Arizona State University — he is greeted by hundreds. A huge flag hangs from the balcony of Old Main. Roosevelt bounds up the steps (he rarely does anything slowly) and speaks for 13 minutes in his patrician New York accent.

He speaks about the importance of an educated citizenry and the “far-sighted wisdom” of the Territory of Arizona. The dam is a sign that Arizona has left its wild past of gunfights and massacres behind. The territory is finally ready to earn its star on the flag and become a state.

Former president Theodore Roosevelt speaking at Old Main, ASU 1911

Former President Theodore Roosevelt delivers an address from the steps of Old Main in March 1911. Photo courtesy of ASU Archives 

“It is a rare pleasure to be here, and I wish to congratulate the Territory of Arizona upon the far-sighted wisdom and generosity which was shown in building the institution,” Roosevelt said. “It is a pleasure to see such buildings, and it is an omen of good augury for the future of the state to realize that a premium is being put upon the best type of educational work. Moreover, I have a special feeling for this institution, for seven of the men of my regiment came from it.”

***

That regiment was the famous Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War. The group was an all-volunteer cavalry regiment of cowboys, Native Americans, college athletes, East Coast blue bloods, ranchers, sheriffs, miners and policemen who banded together in 1898 to drive the Spanish out of Cuba. The regiment lasted for exactly four months and 13 days, and the last member died in 1975, yet they gained immortality with their legendary charge up San Juan Hill.

That charge, which happened 121 years ago July 1, propelled the Rough Riders into American myth. And when it was over, the hundreds of Arizonans in their ranks came home, rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

They became Arizona's governors, postmasters general, adjutants general, clerks of the Supreme Court, state historians and legislators, deputy game wardens, superintendents of schools — just about any government position in existence. They put the final touches on a territory that had long yearned for respectability, transforming it from unruly child to honorable brother.

The seven men who returned to Tempe Normal School were no different. This is their story.

***

Cubans had been revolting against Spain for some time. The U.S. was reluctant to enter the war because the country had just come out of a depression. President William McKinley wanted to stay out of it. But when the American battleship USS Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana’s harbor, the yellow press, led by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, inflamed populists with the cry “Remember the Maine!” (It was much later discovered that the ship's powder magazines likely blew it up, not a Spanish mine.) Congress issued a joint resolution, McKinley signed it, and the country was in its first war intervening with a foreign power.

The Spanish had a standing army of about 200,000 (not all in Cuba). The U.S. had a standing army of about 20,000.

“It was like, ‘Oh my God, we need volunteers yesterday,’” said reenactor David Williamson, president of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, A Troop, Arizona Rough Riders Historical Association, based in Prescott. Williamson’s group gives talks to schools and marches in parades on holidays.

Roosevelt knew exactly where to look for the perfect volunteers. In the mid-1880s he had had a ranch in North Dakota. He learned to hunt, rope and ride Western style, eventually earning the respect of local cowboys. The West consumed Roosevelt, and around lawmen who had been in gunfights and the like, he was like a kid. He couldn't get enough of their stories.

“Roosevelt was like, ‘We’ve got the perfect guys already,’” Williamson said. “‘They don’t need to be trained. They’re the cowboys from out West. They already know how to ride a horse. … They certainly know how to shoot a gun. They’re used to eating lousy food and having lousy life conditions because they’re used to being out on the range.’ It was a perfect fit.”

Capt. Leonard Wood, who had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Apache Wars and who had been appointed temporary medical officer of the Department of Arizona in 1887, was chosen as commander. Roosevelt resigned his position as assistant secretary of the Navy, and with no military experience at all he was appointed lieutenant colonel.

Four areas were selected for recruiting: the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, Texas and the Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory (now one state). Thousands turned out to enlist.

"They volunteered in droves," Williamson said. “‘Being a soldier, well, I’m already kind of doing that.’ It was nothing new for them.”

Rough Rider uniform, Tempe History Museum

A typical canvas uniform of the members of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment is on display at the Tempe History Museum. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Thirty years after the war, Arizona Rough Rider James McClintock admitted that none of the Arizonans gave much of a damn about Cuba or Spain. They were in it for the adventure. A lot of the volunteers hadn’t been out of their towns, much less out of their state.

Roosevelt also put out the word among his peers in New York and New England. Harvard boxers, members of the Meadowbrook Polo Club and young men who knew steeple chasing and duck hunting with addresses at Fifth Avenue, Southampton and the Knickerbocker Club signed up.

Out West, there was criticism that the “cowboy regiment” was more hat than cattle. “The members of this so-called ‘cowboy’ regiment seem to have been recruited from the sort of cowboys that ranges up and down Washington Street, Phoenix,” an Arizona paper opined. “Many of them are not horsemen in the mildest construction, and as crack marksmen have yet to distinguish themselves.”

That was a criticism that could have been leveled at several of the Normal School’s Rough Riders.

Crantz Cartledge, J. Oscar Mullen, James C. Goodwin, J. Wesley Hill and John “Jack” A.W. Stelzreide all came from comfortable families. Cartledge and Stelzreide were avid tennis players and often won doubles matches together. The two best friends and Mullen all played football.

Jack Stelzreide, Tempe Normal School football player and Rough Rider

Jack Stelzreide, a member of the 1899 Territorial Cup-winning Tempe Normal School football team, was a member of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (Troop C of Col. Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders). Photo courtesy of the ASU Library

Cartledge and Mullen played the first two known years of football at the Normal School in Tempe. Cartledge started at tackle on the school’s first officially recorded season in 1897 and played for two athletic seasons. Mullen played center as a senior on the school’s first football team in 1896. Stelzreide helped win the Arizona Territorial Football League Championship Cup in 1899 after the Normal team defeated the University of Arizona and went on to win the league championship.

The Arizona contingent weren’t any rougher — or posher — than any of their comrades, said Western historian Mark Lee Gardner, author of "Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill."

“I think they were very similar,” Gardner said. “It was a broad slice of society. There was criticism that the units weren’t actual cowboys/Westerners/frontier types. They were very similar to the guys from New Mexico and Oklahoma and the Indian Territory in that you had teachers, students, athletes — it really was a broad makeup of individuals and varying backgrounds. There were a few real cowboys.”

While being good horsemen and marksmen was important, the cri de coeur also sought “men of fine upstanding and moral character,” Gardner said. “That was just as important to make up the Rough Riders.”

In the end, whether they had never washed a shirt in their life or never owned two shirts at once didn’t matter.

“What’s to their credit is how these men of varying backgrounds came together so well,” Gardner said. “They became the clichéd band of brothers, not that they didn’t have their issues with one another at times. When it came time to support each other, they fought side by side very well.”

Another motivation — and a big one for the Arizona troopers — was statehood.

“They were all interested in doing whatever they could to promote Arizona,” Williamson said. “It wasn’t exactly the Wild West anymore, but it certainly wasn’t civilized. People were like, ‘Why would I want to go live in Arizona where it’s nothing but desert and jackrabbits? Those people out there are all crazy. It’s hot, it’s dry, there’s no water and the Indians are trying to kill everyone.' … Of course all the dime novels didn’t help.’”

William "Buckey" O’Neill was the most famous Rough Rider besides Roosevelt himself. He was a popular sheriff of Yavapai County known for capturing train robbers after a gunfight, an entrepreneur, attorney, newspaperman and later mayor of Prescott, among many other occupations.

“O’Neill’s big thing was, ‘Who wouldn’t give his life for a star?’” Williamson said. “He was talking about a star on the flag, because obviously Arizona was still a territory.”

One of O’Neill’s best friends was James H. McClintock. McClintock Drive, McClintock High School and McClintock Hall at ASU are all named in his honor. McClintock was one of the five graduates who made up the first class of the Normal in 1887.

When McClintock attended the Normal, the "library consisted of a dictionary, and the apparatus was a nice terrestrial globe — nothing more,” he said years later, according to various historical sources. “Drinking water was to be found in an olla (a large-mouthed pot) by the side of the front door. The water came from a well equipped with bucket and rope. Near it was the lavatory, comprising one tin basin.

"Almost everyone rode to and from school on horseback,” he said. “Many were the spirited races run on what is now known as Eighth Street, and occasionally one of the students would ride an unbroken colt to school that he might contribute to the gaiety of the day's session."

McClintock was 23 when he graduated. He bought an interest in and managed the Tempe News, acted as justice of the peace and deputy road overseer and ran his own 160-acre barley farm south of Tempe.

"In the early part of 1898 my old friend O'Neill dropped in on me with a great scheme for a cowboy regiment for the impending war with Spain,” McClintock wrote years later. “So a few weeks later I left Phoenix in April to what I believe was the first detachment for the Spanish War. Then came a lot of experiences!"

All the Normal men enlisted up in Prescott in the first few days of May. McClintock, who had experience working for the adjutant general at the Whipple Barracks during the last Geronimo campaign, was named captain of Troop B. The other six served in Troop C.

Thomas F. Grindell, 26, was an English teacher at the Normal. He resigned his position to join the Rough Riders. Just a week after he enlisted, he was promoted to sergeant.

Mullen (class of 1897) was a California native. Working as a rancher when the war broke out, the 21-year-old football player signed up on May 2. After four months, he was promoted to corporal.

J. Oscar Mullen, Rough Rider and Tempe Normal School student and football player

Undated photo of J. Oscar Mullen (1879–1954), who served with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Photo courtesy of the Robert L. Mullen Collection in the ASU Archives of the ASU Library

Goodwin, from Missouri, had settled in Tempe and immediately become active in the community. Before the war, he built a free-service mule-drawn streetcar running from the river down Mill Avenue to Eighth Street (now University Drive), then east to the canal near Rural Road. He and McClintock were friends. McClintock convinced Goodwin to donate land south of Tempe for a schoolhouse, where McClintock began teaching. The pair convinced a number of Mexican families to move onto the land, then talked the local board of supervisors into creating a new school district. Their next move was to persuade the board to build roads around the school and name them road commissioners.

Goodwin and his half brothers designed and built Goodwin Stadium, now Sun Devil Stadium. He was one of the 15 donors who came up with the $500 to establish the Normal. Goodwin himself did not enroll until after the war, when he briefly studied mining.

Hill was 21 when he signed up. A California native, he had studied at normal schools in the Golden State. He completed his degree with a year at Tempe Normal, class of 1898. 

Wesley Hill, Rough Rider and Tempe Normal School student

Wesley Hill circa 1900. Photo courtesy of Annlia Hill 

Cartledge, class of 1899, was the son of a wealthy farmer and something of a man about campus. A half-inch shy of 6 feet tall, he played football and was in the debate society (in November 1899 he argued against the proposition “Resolved, that the expulsion of the Chinese is just” in a Friday evening program). The class president was so popular the class presented him with a gold ring before he shipped out with the others to train in Texas.

Cartledge’s best friend was Stelzreide, whose father was a section foreman for the Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad who later became a Tempe city councilman. They lived at Sixth Street and Ash Avenue. Stelzreide played in a string band at the Normal and gave readings for the literary society. He also debated in the Hesperian Society with his buddy Cartledge and played baseball in a Tempe team.  

On May 1, classes were called off. “It was too sad a time to study,” reported the Arizona Republican. “At 12:30 the school was called to order and addressed by Dr. McNaughton, who spoke briefly of the leaving for war of the teacher, T.F. Grindell, and the students, Crantz Cartledge, Oscar Mullen and Wesley Hill. Those who were to leave soon entered. The school sang patriotic songs, and tokens of remembrance were presented to the departing friends.”

At some point, someone in Tempe wrote down the names of all the Troop C men on the wall of the Laird and Dines drugstore on Mill Avenue. (When the building was renovated in the mid-1990s, the section of wall was removed and preserved at the Tempe Historical Museum.)

Salvaged piece of wall includes names of six of the seven members of volunteer group of cavalry in the Spanish-American War who attended Tempe Normal School

A salvaged piece of wall on display at the Tempe History Museum includes the names of six of the seven members of the volunteer group of cavalry in the Spanish-American War who attended Tempe Normal School. 

“The Phoenix volunteers are a fine-looking lot of young men and their captain, Jas. H. McClintock, looks every inch a soldier,” reported the Prescott Arizona Weekly Journal Miner on May 4.

The Arizona Rough Riders traveled by train to join the rest of the regiment in San Antonio for training. Training lasted all of about three weeks, most of it teaching the men how to ride as a disciplined cavalry instead of cowpunchers chasing a herd.

“It was wham, bam, thank you ma’am,” Williamson said. “How quickly can you get an army together and basically throw it at the enemy? It was absolutely insane. It’s amazing they pulled it off. … ‘I train for three weeks, and then I’m on a ship and a month and a half later I’m shooting Spanish in Cuba.’ Just think about how fast that happened. It’s mind-boggling. And they won.”

Not only is it mind-boggling, it’s unique in military history, according to Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley. A professor of practice of leadership for Arizona State University and a special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow for leadership initiatives, Freakley recently retired from the U.S. Army after more than 36 years of active military service, including leading troops in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He’s also a native of Prescott, the home of the Arizona Rough Riders.

The regiment’s short lifespan has no parallel, Freakley said.

“Not to the level in which they were rapidly organized, deployed to Cuba, employed and then came home and disbanded,” he said. “There are cases of militia more like in the Revolutionary War or Civil War where a local militia would be rapidly formed to try to do local protection of parts of our country, and then the militia would go back to what they were doing, but I think this is much more deliberate.”

Rough Riders Troop C, San Antonio, Texas 1898

1898 photo of members of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

...