A man that desired to accomplish a great many things and actually did is a credit to society. William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill was that kind of man. His life began February 2, 1860, not in the Arizona Territory but much further east. Three places can lay claim to this great man: St. Louis, Missouri, Washington, D.C., or Ireland. Most scholars would discredit the Ireland claim because his parents lived in the United States in the 1850’s. William O’Neill came from a family of military service. His father, John O’Neill served in the Union army during the American Civil War. He was a captain in the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Captain O’Neill was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg and unable to continue as a combat soldier. Despite being severely wounded his father continued to serve the Union as a reserve fulfilling non-combat duties. This tireless spirit and a desire to serve certainly became a part of the personality of Buckey.
He graduated from National University and became a lawyer in Washington, D.C. but apparently this life was not the path that best suited him. In 1879, Buckey felt the call of the west and headed to the Arizona Territory. He made stops in Tombstone and Phoenix but eventually settled in Prescott, Arizona in 1882. Buckey O’Neill did a great many things in Prescott, Arizona from probate judge to Mayor. He also wrote fiction published in the newspaper and was editor of the “Hoof and Horn”, a magazine he founded dedicated to the livestock industry. However, his role as sheriff is his major claim to fame. He captured men in Diablo Canyon after they had committed a train robbery. His heroic actions in bringing these men to justice gained him fame throughout the west and he eventually came to the notice of future President Theodore Roosevelt.
As tension in the mid-1890’s increased between the United States and Spain, Buckey O’Neill became Mayor of Prescott, Arizona. When war broke out he followed his father’s earlier example and helped to assemble a volunteer unit for the war. He became the captain of Troop A of the 1st US Volunteer Calvary. This unit is better known as the “Rough Riders.” The “Rough Riders” were led by Colonel Wood and took the fight to Spain in Cuba. Theodore Roosevelt as second in command of the “Rough Riders” went on to become the most famous of this gallant group. Several stories circulate about Captain Buckey O’Neill during his time in Cuba. Some people claim he jumped into the water upon arrival in Cuba to rescue some black soldiers that had just capsized. Others claim he paraded in front of the enemy fire at San Juan Hill to calm his men before the impending battle. Whether he did these things or not, the stories always speak of a courageous man tackling every aspect of his life with vigor. Captain Buckey O’Neill led his troops at the Battle of San Juan Hill and was unfortunately killed in the fight. His body was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. However, he will always be remembered in the town of Prescott, Arizona. People may wonder of his birthplace, but this town proudly claims him as one of their own.