By Richard Gorby

On the night of February 15, 1898, the Battleship Maine, of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, was riding quietly at anchor in the harbor of Havana, Cuba.  At twenty minutes before ten the Maine was racked with a terrific explosion that shattered window glass in Havana and sent rocket-like fingers of brilliant light skyward from the mangled decks.  In seconds the Maine became a crushed mass of floating wreckage as flames leapt from one ammunition locker to another, causing internal explosions.  In only a few minutes the great ship had sunk, with only her superstructure poking above the water.  She took 263 men with her to their deaths.


The death of the Maine was reported almost immediately to Prescott, now a growing town of about 3,000, due to its relatively new telegraph on Montezuma Street.  Public reaction, however, was anything but intense.  Prescott seemed more interested in its own going's on: 

The Prescott Courier reported: 

"The Picnic at the race track yesterday under the auspices of the W.O.W. and A.O.U. lodges was well attended.  The little folks had all imaginable fun and parents, guardians, teachers and other folks had their share of pleasure. 

Some ugly man's bulldog invaded this office yesterday afternoon and killed the Courier cat. 

Mr. Baird, son-in-law of Chas Donaldson, is accredited with gallant conduct in stopping a runaway team on the streets of Prescott. 

J.F. Haines, while target shooting with a revolver in the valley today accidentally shot himself.  The bullet entered about the center of his left hand and passed out through the base of his middle finger. This has been the third time Haines has accidentally been his own victim. 

Local hunters are flooding the market with wild ducks which come from adjacent ponds and lakes. 

The people of Walnut Grove noted for their social entertainments, indulged in a masquerade ball at the school house Friday evening last which is said to have brought together more people that any pervious event of the kind in that locality.  There were about 50 couples present. The costumes were fully up to date and creditable in all respects. Dancing was kept up nearly all night. 

Lola, the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Tinker, was bitten by a dog on the street, a few days ago." 


This seeming lack of interest in events in Cuba was not reflected in Prescott's Mayor, William "Buckey" O'Neill.  Almost immediately, Buckey worked with others in putting together a plan for Arizona's contribution to the war effort, if and when the declaration came.  The plan called for making up a full regiment of volunteer cavalry. 


Buckey immediately and successfully began calling up volunteers for his part on the operation.  When war began on April 25, word was received that "The President directs that Capt. Leonard Wood of the U.S. Army be authorized to raise a regiment of cowboys and mounted riflemen, and to be its Colonel, and has named The Honorable Theodore Roosevelt as Lt. Colonel.  All other officers will come from the vicinity where the troops are raised." 


Buckey, in "... the vicinity where the troops are raised," had already called up many volunteers, and two days after the war declaration, Prescott recruiters began conducting their duties in makeshift offices set up in the Aitkens and Robinson Cigar Store (site of today's Raskin's Jewelers on Gurley Street).  The main criteria for enlistment were that the applicants be eighteen to forty-five years old, physically sound, good horsemen, and good shots. 


Those recruits passing the tests were marched the three miles to Whipple Barracks and assigned a bunk, given a blanket and mess equipment, and told to wait.  The recruits found the place cold, their bunks hard as a rock and filled with vermin.  The army rations of coffee, bacon, beans, and hardtack were monotonous and tasteless.  As a result, Prescott's restaurants and Whiskey Row establishments did a land-office business, and the volunteers crowded into Montezuma street restaurants and bars before running out of money.  The Palace, run by Robert Brow, was a particular favorite, along with the Cabinet, Moctezuma, Lafayette Liquor House (at today's Helig-Meyer's Furniture), and Sam Lee Restaurant, the Gem Saloon, and Jake Marks Liquors (all at the location of today's Galloping Goose at Montezuma and Goodwin). 


With recruiting complete, Troop A was formed to become part of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the "Rough Riders," and Buckey became Captain O'Neill.  About two months later, Captain Buckey O'Neill died in Cuba. 

Richard Gorby is a volunteer at Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (mil270p)
Reuse only by permission.

A tangled mass, once the battleship Maine, which sank in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, February 15, 1898.  The best known slogan of the Spanish-American War was "Remember the Maine," often followed by "to Hell with Spain." Pieces of iron, reputedly from the Maine's hull, were sold as mementos.