By Pat Atchison

In 1898, the residents of Prescott showed an increase of interest in the observance of Memorial Day.  This was due to the "existing war with a foreign foe".  War had been declared against Spain by United States President William McKinley on April 25th.  In a great flurry of activity, volunteers were recruited to serve in the Spanish-American War.


Buckey O'Neill worked hard to enroll volunteers.  It was his belief that a star on the United States flag, designating Arizona statehood, would be the reward for the Territory's participation in the War.  Indeed, by May 30th it had been less than a month since the townspeople had gathered to watch the lst Volunteer Cavalry (later called the "Rough Riders") depart from the Prescott train depot. 

On the eve of Memorial Day, a service was held at the Methodist Church.  This was a traditional part of the town's observance.  As in the past, seats were reserved for former members of the military and the ladies of the "Women's Relief Corps" (an auxiliary of the "Grand Army of the Republic").  On this evening, there were twice as many of these special people as there were reserved seats.  In anticipation of a larger than normal crowd, additional public seating had been provided.  This, too, was quickly filled, as was the standing room.  Many people were compelled to leave. 

Those who were fortunate enough to find space in the church were greeted with an artistically decorated sanctuary.  It was draped with flags and bunting of red and white.  A tiny flag had been placed on the back of each seat reserved for a veteran.  The sermon was very patriotic, as was the music. 

At ten o'clock the next morning, a procession formed.  The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Civil War veterans, was represented by forty men.  Many more private citizens than usual participated in the march.  The procession made its way to Citizens' Cemetery. 

The Woman's Relief Corps had earlier strewn flowers on the graves of the deceased veterans in the cemetery.  After the procession arrived, the usual services of the Grand Army of the Republic were held at the gravesite of Captain James Butler. 

James Butler, a native of the Isle of Man and naturalized citizen of the United States, had served in both the Battles of Chancellorsville (Virginia) and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania ) during the Civil War.  He did, in fact, serve in the United States Army for 22 years. Following his retirement he was described as, "a typical soldier of the old school, a class of men enjoying the admiration of the nation and the utmost respect of their neighbors."  Having resided in Prescott with his family since l882, Captain Butler died here on December 1l, l897. 

On Memorial Day evening, an event was held at the courthouse.  The program consisted of several patriotic recitations and musical numbers performed by local residents.  Eugene Brady O'Neill delivered the address.  The Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner stated, "Mr. O'Neill's address was received with great applause, as it breathed a spirit of patriotism from its opening words to its closing sentence, dwelling on the valor and achievements of the boys in blue in saving as a heritage, not only to the present, but to future generations a united country, and closed with the admonition given to him by his dying father, an admonition which contains all the elements of good citizenship to every man who heeds it, 'be true to your mother, your God and your Country."' 

The Spanish-American War served to heal the rift between the North and South. Patriotism was at a very high level during this period in both our country's and our city's history.  The annual Memorial Day observances played an important role in furthering this spirit. 

During this time, the custom of having a flag flying from every school began.  It was hoped that this would inspire the hearts of the young with a love and devotion for the flag.  It was also hoped by many that our national hymns and patriotic songs would be taught to all the children in the land. 

Patriotism continues in the hearts of many, one hundred years later, in l998 . Prescott again pays homage to the brave "Rough Riders".  The brave warriors of a more recent war were honored as thousands viewed "The Wall That Heals", the Traveling Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, when it was brought to Prescott in February of this year. 

On Memorial Day, join in remembering the dead of all wars and all others who have passed away, no matter what the circumstances.  Two observances are held in Prescott.  One will be held at the historic Citizens Cemetery on Sheldon Street at l0:00 a.m. on Monday, May 5.  The other will be at the Prescott National Cemetery on the grounds of the VA (or Old Fort Whipple) at l:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. 

Pat Atchison is the Chairperson of the Yavapai Cemetery Association.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(pb110f2p13c). Reuse only by permission.
In July 1907 Prescott's most famous memorial, the William O'Neill Rough Rider Monument was dedicated to the soldiers who died in the Spanish-American War.  Two of Prescott's cemeteries will have Memorial Day observances this week.