by Drew Desmond
Everything was ready for the unveiling of the Rough Rider monument except for one minor detail: the statue was missing! W.A. Drake, vice president of the railway, instructed a special agent to find it and get it to Prescott in time for the unveiling. It turned out that the railcar carrying the heavy bronze broke an axle and the statue was “buried in the yard at Albuquerque," the Weekly Journal-Miner disclosed. After being loaded into a new railcar and sent express, it broke another axle at Winslow. After several hours of repair, the journey continued. At Ash Fork, a special express engine was waiting to race the cargo to Prescott without further incident.
“In anticipation of the three-day celebration,” the Weekly Journal-Miner wrote, “Prescott is already assuming its holiday attire: flags, bunting, and the red white and blue being displayed on every side. Not the least of the downtown decorations will be the numerous electrical displays which, at night, will make the Plaza a veritable blaze of vari-colored lights. The [old] county court house is being decorated from dome to foundation with flags and bunting and numerous incandescent lights; four strings of lights running from the four corners of the building…to the four corners of the Plaza, [adding to] the beautiful effect.” The statue was mounted onto its base the day before the unveiling, which was the ninth anniversary of Buckey’s death. “A guard was sent over the statue [that] night to prevent anyone removing the wrappings,” the paper wrote.
Promptly at 10:30 AM on July 3rd, a parade started at the corner of Gurley and Mt. Vernon Streets. The grand marshal led the parade atop the black charger ridden by Captain O'Neill himself while in command of Troop A. Several other prominent Rough Riders followed on horseback. Many dignitaries, including the governor, were also in the parade. The procession traveled down Gurley to Montezuma to circle the plaza to Goodwin.
After several inspiring addresses, the daughter of MJ Hickey and Buckey's adopted son, Maurice, were brought into the rope enclosure surrounding the statue. ”They gracefully drew the drapery down, exposing the magnificent equestrian feature,” the paper described. “When the veils were torn aside and the beautiful bronze statue stood revealed, a mighty cheer went up from the hundreds assembled. While the band played ‘America,’ those present did homage to the memory of brave Buckey O’Neill.” Although the ceremonies were over by 12:40 PM, the assembled crowd, including the Rough Rider veterans, tarried for another two hours as they stood admiring the memorial. The day would be remembered as one of the proudest in Prescott history.
Over 20 years later, on September 11, 1928, Gutzon Borglum, Solon’s older brother, visited Prescott and, for the first time, observed “the great bronze equestrian statue which is ranked as the greatest work of his dead brother, Solon,” the Evening Courier reported. “Much moved, [Gutzon] walked up and down under the trees, viewing the great figure from all sides. When he could speak he said: ‘although the work is the product of my brother’s hand, I am forced to forget the relationship and to say that the Buckey O'Neill monument is a marvel. In my opinion it has no equal in the country—in so far as I know, it is unexcelled abroad.’”
Officially the statue is known as the Rough Rider Monument, but in the hearts and minds of the people of Prescott, it will forever be Buckey riding that horse.
Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at email@example.com for information or assistance with photo requests.