Miners, Prospectors, And The Rough Riders
By Harold Hough
The best known member of the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders) may have been Col. Theodore Roosevelt, but many others were miners who later made a name for themselves. In fact, the number of miners and prospectors equaled the number of cowboys in the Rough Riders; many of whom gave up lucrative claims or mining jobs to serve their country.
The Rough Riders were authorized by Congress to tap the vast experience of the western frontiersman. It was a well known fact that frontiersmen were better shots, knew how to handle horses, were better hunters, had fought Indians and outlaws, and knew how to rough it. In other words, these westerners were the ideal material for soldiers.
In his book about the Rough Riders, Roosevelt made it clear that he thought the miners under his command were some of the best soldiers. He later wrote, “The three types were those of the cowboy, the hunter, and the mining prospector…In all the world there could be no better material for soldiers…They were hardened to life in the open, and to shifting for themselves under adverse circumstances. They were used, for all their lawless freedom, to the rough discipline of the round-up and the mining company.”
One of those miners was Major Alexander Brodie, who later became territorial governor of Arizona from 1902 to 1905. Brodie was a West Point graduate, who was later stationed in Arizona. When he left the military, he remained and became a mining engineer. Even before the declaration of war, Brodie was trying to form an Arizona volunteer cavalry unit. When the USS Maine was blown up, he quit his job at the mining company and began to bring his Arizona “Rough Riders” into reality. His Arizona riders were to merge with the 1st US Vol. Cavalry, where he was in charge of the Arizona units. He would later take Roosevelt’s position as second-in-charge.
As would be expected of a Western miner, he had no fear under fire. Roosevelt would later remark how he stayed visible to his troops even while under fire. That would later lead to his being wounded, when a bullet struck him and shattered his arm. Even then, he refused to leave the battle until it became so painful that he was forced to go back to a first aid station.
Another miner was Frank Brito, whose father was a Yaqui mine owner. He was 21 when he joined and listed “miner” as his occupation when he filled out his enlistment papers. He never saw combat, but when he returned to New Mexico after the war, he worked as a hoisting engineer at several mines. He died in 1973 at the age of 96.
Buckey O’Neill, whose statue in Prescott, AZ honors the Rough Riders was also a miner. Buckey grew prosperous from developing onyx mines near Mayer, Arizona, and promoted copper mining in the Grand Canyon as well as a railroad to its South Rim. As Adjutant General of Arizona Territory, he helped to organize its National Guard. On July 1, 1898, Captain O'Neill was killed in combat below Kettle Hill while commanding Troop A of the Rough Riders.
Some who joined had come out west originally to find their fortune as miners. One such person was William Henry Harrison Llewellyn who was born in 1851 in Monroe, Green County, Wisconsin. In 1866, at the age of fifteen, William went to Montana to seek his fortune in mining gold at Trinity Gulch. The quest lasted eight years but failed to make him rich. When the Spanish American War broke out, he joined and was given the rank of Captain.
In Cuba Captain Llewellyn was credited with an important contribution to the American victory in the battle for a hill at San Juan. Dubbed “Kettle Hill”, a sentry named Ralph McFie had been posted for night duty, when he heard the stirrings of Spanish troops moving into position. Retreating to his own lines he was intercepted by Captain Llewellyn. The Captain lost no time to notify headquarters, causing Roosevelt to order an early counterattack that went into history as the celebrated charge of the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill. Llewellyn’s prompt action earned the latter a promotion to Major. When Roosevelt became President in 1901 he appointed him United States attorney for New Mexico.
However, it was another Arizona miner, Henry Bardshar, who, stayed with Roosevelt, during the charge up the San Juan Hill. And, it was Roosevelt’s conspicuous bravery during this charge that would make him a national hero and lead to his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor eighty years later (politics kept him from receiving the award earlier, while still alive).
But the medal was well earned. When an officer from the 9th Division refused to advance with Roosevelt because of the heavy fire, the future president said, “Then let my men through, sir.”
It was a moment that makes legends and great men. Instead of staying in the safety of the trenches while trying to talk other officers in joining the attack, TR decided to charge the hill – by himself if necessary. He rode out of the trench and urged his men to follow him. Roosevelt’s bravery was so inspiring that the other units also joined the Rough Riders in the charge. Correspondent Richard Davis later wrote, “No one who saw Roosevelt take that ride, expected him to finish it alive….mounted high on horseback and charging the rifle pits at a gallop and quite alone, made you feel that you would like to cheer.”
Well, not quite alone. One soldier remained by the future president’s side the whole time – the miner Henry Bardshar. Roosevelt later wrote of the charge of the Rough Riders, “Henry Bardshar, who had run ahead very fast in order to get better shots at the Spaniards, who were now running out of the ranch buildings. Sergeant Campbell and a number of the Arizona men, and Dudley Dean, among others, were very close behind. Stevens, with his platoon of the Ninth, was abreast of us; so were McNamee and Hartwick. Some forty yards from the top I ran into a wire fence and jumped off Little Texas (his horse), turning him loose. He had been scraped by a couple of bullets, one of which nicked my elbow, and I never expected to see him again. As I ran up to the hill, Bardshar stopped to shoot, and two Spaniards fell as he emptied his magazine. These were the only Spaniards I actually saw fall to aimed shots by any one of my men, with the exception of two guerillas in trees.”
As a result of their gallantry, Roosevelt and Bardshar were the first to overrun the Spanish trenches on San Juan Hill. On the other side was the ultimate goal, Santiago. Although neither Roosevelt nor Bardshar knew it, the way was now open for the American victory. The Spanish forces in Santiago were now unable to harass the American forces besieging them. Two days later the American fleet defeated the Spanish squadron defending the seaward approaches and a few days later Santiago surrendered. Within a month, Spain agreed to an armistice that transferred much of their empire to the US.
Although that moment made a hero of Roosevelt, it also was to define the future of America. This single charge by miners and cowboys broke the back of the Spaniards, which gave America an empire and the respect of the world. And, Teddy Roosevelt, as president would insure that the Europeans knew that this brash new world power was here to stay.