Wednesday, July 6, 2016

William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill

The Diablo Canyon Posse, from left to right: Carl Holton, Ed Sinclair (St. Clair), William O. “Buckey” O’Neill & Flagstaff Deputy, Jim Black
William Owen O'Neill never lacked confidence. It's how he earned his nickname. He was a relentless gambler who liked to buck the odds.
His self-assurance was well founded because Buckey O'Neill succeeded at virtually everything he tried. But that confidence would also prove to be his downfall.
Born in St. Louis in 1860, O'Neill arrived in the Arizona Territory as an adventure-seeking 19-year old. He drifted to the rowdy boomtown of Tombstone, arriving as the Earp-Clanton feud heated up. He worked as a reporter for the Tombstone Epitaph, gaining experience that would benefit him later on.
O'Neill landed in Prescott in 1882 and put down roots. By the time he was 30 he had served as court reporter, probate judge, superintendent of schools, tax assessor and newspaper editor and publisher. He would go on to become sheriff of Yavapai County and mayor of Prescott.

On March 20, 1889, while serving as Yavapai county sheriff, four masked men robbed the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad passenger train in Diablo Canyon. A four-man posse, made up of O'Neill, Jim Black, Carl Holton, and Ed St. Clair, was soon formed and they took off after robbers. On March 21, O'Neill and his posse caught up with the robbers. After exchanging rifle shots, the posse captured the four men. During the fight, no men were injured, but O'Neill's horse was shot out from under him.

In 1898, war broke out between the United States and Spain. O'Neill joined the Rough Riders and became Captain of Troop A. First Lieutenant Frank Frantz served as O'Neil's Deputy Commander. Along with Alexander Brodie and James McClintock, he tried to make an entire regiment made up of Arizona Cowboys. Eventually though, only three troops were authorized.

On July 1, 1898, at about 10am, the Rough Riders and the 10th Cavalry were stationed below Kettle Hill. The Spaniards, who were on top of the hill, poured machine gun and Mauser fire down on the Americans. Buckey O'Neill was killed in action.

Theodore Roosevelt, commander of the Rough Riders, wrote about the death of O'Neill:

"The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged. O'Neill was strolling up and down in front of his men, smoking his cigarette, for he was inveterately addicted to the habit. He had a theory that an officer ought never to take cover—a theory which was, of course, wrong, though in a volunteer organization the officers should certainly expose themselves very fully, simply for the effect on the men; our regimental toast on the transport running, 'The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted.' As O'Neill moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, 'Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.' O'Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, 'Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn't made that will kill me.' A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out at the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness."

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