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Reporter finds connection between the Rough Riders, ASU and Arizona's statehood

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, July 9, 2019 - 12:32pm
Updated: Tuesday, February 15, 2022 - 4:54pm

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Former President Theodore Roosevelt delivers an address from the steps of Old Main
University Archives Photographs, Arizona State University Libraries
Former President Theodore Roosevelt delivers an address from the steps of Old Main in March 1911.

LAUREN GILGER: OK so Mark I know you're something of a history buff, right?

MARK BRODIE: Of course. Yeah yeah.

GILGER: So you clearly know who the Rough Riders are.

BRODIE: Yeah. You know, I often think about watching the History Channel, I don't always get to it. The Rough Riders though are famous for that charge up San Juan Hill against Spanish, right?

GILGER: That's right. So you are a history buff, OK. But did you know some of those Rough Riders were from Arizona before it was a state, and they played a pretty big role in getting Arizona statehood?

BRODIE: I must have missed that a documentary on the History Channel.

GILGER: I didn't see one either, but it is interesting, and that is why ASU Now reporter Scott Seckel dug deep into the history of the Rough Riders and he begins by taking us to the steps of what is now ASU's Old Main where, President Theodore Roosevelt came to give a speech.

SCOTT SECKEL: Roosevelt was in town to dedicate the Roosevelt Dam, which wasn't officially the Roosevelt Dam until much, much later. I think it started as Salt River Valley Dam No. 2 or something, but anyway he was in town to dedicate it, and he'd done that two days before. And he stopped by the Tempe Normal School, which is the precursor to ASU. And it was a college that had been established to teach teachers. So Roosevelt was there to give a speech, and he wasn't supposed to even get out of the car because they are afraid he's going to take too long, too much glad handing. But he jumped out of the car and gave this impromptu speech for 13 minutes and you could stand where he gave the speech today on the second landing going up the steps of Old Main, and he talks about how Arizona is really ready to become a state. He used the phrase "a community that has ceased being a frontier community." And he meant with things like the dam and the university, that it was ready to earn its star on the flag.

GILGER: So this is 1911, so Arizona is a territory at this point. So this call for statehood, was this a surprise at the time? Was this a really big deal?

SECKEL: Yeah. People had been bucking for statehood for a long time. It was the motto of the state Republican Party: "Statehood Now." Buckey O'Neill, a famous Rough Rider from Prescott, famous quote from him he said, "I'd do anything for a star." So the whole state was really gunning for it.

GILGER: So in this speech and as he's calling for statehood and saying, you know, the state is ready, he mentions these seven men who came from the Tempe Normal School and became Rough Riders right? So first I want to start with the basic history question here which is who were the Rough Riders?

SECKEL: They were an all-volunteer cavalry regiment that was raised in a split second to go help drive the Spanish out of Cuba, who was America's first foreign intervention overseas, militarily.

GILGER: And why did they come from Arizona?

1898 photo of members of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
Robert L. Mullen Collection, Arizona Collection, ASU Library
A 1898 photo of members of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (Troop C of Col. Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders).

SECKEL: Well, the Spanish at the time had a standing army of about 200,000, not of all of whom were in Cuba. We had a standing army of about 20,000. So the thinking was "we need men tomorrow." And Roosevelt said, I know exactly the people we want, we want the cowboys from out West. They're used to living outside, they know how to ride, they know how to shoot, they eat lousy food. They'd be perfect. We'd have instant instant army. And he had had a ranch in the Dakotas in the 1880s, and he was like a little boy when it came to the West. I mean he would just get around these lawmen who'd been in gunfights, views them like a little kid just awed by them. So he wanted a cowboy regiment.

GILGER: Is that what he ended up getting?

SECKEL: He got a regiment that was a pretty good cross slice of American society. He had not just cowboys but he had gamblers, teachers and then he had people — men of his class from back East, Harvard boxers, polo players, men who were used to shooting at docks and riding steeplechase, not necessarily chasing cows. So there'd been some criticism that the Rough Riders were more hat then cattle, but it was a pretty even sprinkling. There were quite a few honest-to-God cowboys.

GILGER: Yeah, and how did they get the name the Rough Riders?

SECKEL: That was bestowed on them by the press. And it was kind of cultivated, their uniform. They wore khaki pants and a blue shirt with a neckerchief and a slouch hat. So they looked kind of rough, but the press called them Woods Walkers at first, after Leonard Wood, who was their commander, called them Teddy's Terrors for a while. And the Rough Riders eventually stuck.

GILGER: OK, so give us a little bit of the lowdown on what they did in Cuba. I mean, how did they make a name for themselves? Why do we all still know the name the Rough Riders today?

SECKEL: They really went over there and turned the tide. They really helped win the war in two fights, one in which they barely won. And the second one is the famous charge up San Juan Hill, which was just crazy. It was a Civil War-style frontal assault, and they basically scared the hell out of Spanish, just all these men rushing up the hill at them, and they won against all odds.

GILGER: And this is from people who are from a territory, not even a state, right? So it makes sense that that the legacy like that contributes to statehood, but you also kind of zero in on the stories of these seven men from the Tempe Normal School that the president mentions in that speech. Tell us a little bit about some of them.

James H. McClintock
Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records
James H. McClintock who also served as acting adjutant general for the territory of Arizona from August 29, 1907, to February 6, 1908.

SECKEL: Well the most famous one is James McClintock. We have a dorm at ASU named after him, McClintock Drive in Tempe and McClintock High School are all named after him. He was older, he commanded one of the troops. He was the only one of them to actually go to Cuba. The other six guys never made it. McClintock made it, was badly wounded the first battle, sent to Staten Island in New York to recover in a hospital, but he came back. He was called Colonel or Captain most the rest of his life. Very well respected in Arizona. Roosevelt appointed him Postmaster General. He was the state historian. He served on all kinds of boards. He was on the team that rode out to the Superstitions to find the site of the Salt River Dam. He did all kinds of things and was very active in all aspects of Arizona life.

GILGER: And you have this great quote from McClintock in this story about him saying years later that they were all in it for the adventure.

SECKEL: They could not have cared less about Spain or Cuba. It's like, "This is going to be a lot of fun! Let's go, I want to go!"

GILGER: Why is it important do you think that people who know the institution today for what it is today and know Arizona today as a state and don't even really, you know, think about a time when it wasn't, that we know this kind of history and the people who contributed to it?

SECKEL: It really wasn't that long ago, 1911 was just not that long, or 1912 rather, when we got statehood. It's pretty close history, and I think it's important that people remember it and how we came to be.

GILGER: All right, Scott Seckel with ASU Now. Thank you so much for coming in.

SECKEL: Lauren, thank you. It's been a pleasure.

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