Rough Riders

The Rough Riders was a nickname given to the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, one of three such regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish–American War and the only one to see combat. The United States Army was small, understaffed, and disorganized in comparison to its status during the American Civil War roughly thirty years prior. Following the sinking of the USS Maine, President William McKinley needed to muster a strong ground force swiftly, which he did by calling for 125,000 volunteers to assist in the war. The U.S. had gone to war in opposition to Spanish colonial policies in Cuba, which was then torn by a rebellion. [1] The regiment was also nicknamed "Wood's Weary Walkers" for its first commander, Colonel Leonard Wood. This reflected their dissatisfaction that despite being cavalry, they ended up fighting in Cuba as infantry, since their horses were not sent there with them.

First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
Country United States of America
Branch United States Army
Nickname(s)Rough Riders
EngagementsSpanish–American War
Leonard Wood
Theodore Roosevelt

Wood's second in command was former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, a strong advocate of supporting of the Cuban War of Independence. When Wood was promoted to become commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, the regiment became known as "Roosevelt's Rough Riders." That term was borrowed from Buffalo Bill, who called his travelling Western show "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World".

The original plan called for the regiment to be composed of frontiersmen from the Indian Territory, the New Mexico Territory, the Arizona Territory, and the Oklahoma Territory. However, after Roosevelt joined the ranks, it attracted an odd mixture of Ivy League athletes, glee club singers, Texas Rangers, and Native Americans.[2] All accepted into the regiment had to be skilled horsemen and eager to see combat. The Rough Riders would receive more publicity than any other Army unit in that war, and they are best remembered for their conduct during the Battle of San Juan Hill, though it is seldom mentioned how heavily they outnumbered Spanish soldiers who opposed them. Several days after the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Spanish fleet sailed from Cuba, and in only a few weeks an armistice ending the fighting would be signed. Despite the brevity of their service, the Rough Riders would become legendary, thanks in large part to Roosevelt writing his own history of the regiment, plus the silent film reenactments made years later.

Early history


The volunteers were gathered in four areas: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. They were gathered mainly from the southwest because the hot climate region that the men were used to was similar to that of Cuba where they would be fighting. "The difficulty in organizing was not in selecting, but in rejecting men."[3]:5 The allowed limit set for the volunteer cavalry men was promptly met. With news trickling down of Spanish aggression and the sinking of the USS Maine men flocked from every corner of the regions to display their patriotism. They gathered a diverse bunch of men consisting of cowboys, gold or mining prospectors, hunters, gamblers, Native Americans, and college boys—all of whom were able-bodied and capable on horseback and in shooting. Among these men were also police officers and military veterans who wished to see action again, most of whom had already retired. Thirty years removed from any armed conflict, men who had served in the regular army during campaigns against Native Americans or during the Civil War sought out to serve as higher ranking officers,[3]:10 since they already had the knowledge and experience to lead and train the men. The unit thus would not be without experience. Leonard Wood, an Army doctor who served as the medical adviser for both the President and Secretary of War, was appointed colonel of The Rough Riders, with Roosevelt serving as lieutenant colonel.[4] One particularly famous spot where volunteers were gathered was in San Antonio, Texas, at the Menger Hotel Bar. The bar is still open and serves as a tribute to the Rough Riders, containing much of their, and Theodore Roosevelt's, uniforms and memorabilia.[5]


Before training began, Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt used his political influence as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to ensure that his volunteer regiment would be properly equipped to serve as any regular Army unit. The Rough Riders were armed with Model 1896 Carbines in caliber .30 US (i.e. 30-40 Krag). "They succeeded in getting their cartridges, Colt Single Action Army revolvers, clothing, shelter-tents, and horse gear ... and in getting the regiment armed with the Springfield Krag carbine used by the regular cavalry."[3]:5 The Rough Riders also used Bowie knives. A last-minute gift from a wealthy donor were a pair of modern tripod mounted, gas-operated M1895 Colt–Browning machine guns in 7mm Mauser caliber.

In contrast, the uniforms of the regiment were designed to set the unit apart: "The Rough Rider uniform was a slouch hat, blue flannel shirt, brown trousers, leggings, and boots, with handkerchiefs knotted loosely around their necks. They looked exactly as a body of cowboy cavalry should look."[3]:22 This "rough and tumble" appearance contributed to earning them the title of "The Rough Riders."


Training was very standard, even for a cavalry unit. They worked on basic military drills, protocol, and habits involving conduct, obedience and etiquette. The men proved eager to learn what was necessary, and the training went smoothly. It was decided that the men would not be trained to use the saber as cavalry often did, as they had no experience with it. Instead, they used their carbines and revolvers as primary and secondary weapons. Although the men, for the most part, were already experienced horsemen, the officers refined their techniques in riding, shooting from horseback, and practicing in formations and in skirmishes. Along with these practices, the high-ranking men heavily studied books filled with tactics and drills to better themselves in leading the others. During times which physical drills could not be run, either because of confinement on board the train, ship, or during times where space was inadequate, there were some books that were read further as to leave no time wasted in preparation for war. The competent training that the volunteer men received prepared them best as possible for their duty. They were not simply handed weapons and given vague directions to engage in a disorderly brawl.[3]:1–22 While training methods were standard, mass mobilization of troops from many different regions led to a very high death rate due to disease, especially typhoid fever. The total number of deaths attributed to disease and "other causes" during the Spanish–American War was 5,083. A significant number of these deaths actually occurred at training areas in the southeastern United States.

Spanish–American War

Departure from the United States

On May 29, 1898, 1060 Rough Riders and 1258 of their horses and mules made their way to the Southern Pacific railroad to travel to Tampa, Florida where they would set off for Cuba. The lot awaited orders for departure from Major General William Rufus Shafter. Under heavy prompting from Washington D.C., General Shafter gave the order to dispatch the troops early before sufficient traveling storage was available. Due to this problem, only eight of the twelve companies of The Rough Riders were permitted to leave Tampa to engage in the war, and many of the horses and mules were left behind. Aside from Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt's first hand mention of deep, heartfelt sorrow from the men left behind, this situation resulted in a premature weakening of the men. Approximately one fourth of them who received training had already been lost, most dying of malaria and yellow fever. This sent the remaining troops into Cuba with a significant loss in men and morale.[6]

Upon arrival on Cuban shores on June 23, 1898, the men promptly unloaded themselves and the small amount of equipment they carried with them. Camp was set up nearby and the men were to remain there until further orders had been given to advance. Further supplies were unloaded from the ships over the next day including the very few horses that were allowed on the journey. "The great shortcoming throughout the campaign was the utterly inadequate transportation. If they had been allowed to take our mule-train, they could have kept the whole cavalry division supplied."[3]:45 Each man was only able to carry a few days worth of food which had to last them longer and fuel their bodies for rigorous tasks. Even after only seventy-five percent of the total number of cavalry men was allowed to embark into Cuba they were still without most of the horses they had so heavily been trained and accustomed to using. They were not trained as infantry and were not conditioned to doing heavy marching, especially long distance in hot, humid, and dense jungle conditions. This ultimately served as a severe disadvantage to the men who had yet to see combat.[3]:45

Battle of Las Guasimas

Within another day of camp being established, men were sent forward into the jungle for reconnaissance purposes, and before too long they returned with news of a Spanish outpost, Las Guasimas. By afternoon, The Rough Riders were given the command to begin marching towards Las Guasimas, to eliminate opposition and secure the area which stood in the path of further military advance. Upon arrival at their relative destination, the men slept through the night in a crude encampment nearby the Spanish outpost they would attack early the next morning.[7] The American side included the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, under Leonard Wood, the 1st U.S. Regular Cavalry, and the 10th U.S. Regular Cavalry (this consisted of Afro-American soldiers, then called Buffalo soldiers). Supported by artillery, the American forces numbered 964 men,[8]:9 supported by 800 men from Castillo.[9]:124

The Spanish held an advantage over the Americans by knowing their way through the complicated trails in the area of combat. They predicted where the Americans would be traveling on foot and exactly what positions to fire on. They also were able to utilize the land and cover in such a way that they were difficult to spot. Along with this, their guns used smokeless powder which did not give away their immediate position upon firing as other gunpowders would have. This increased the difficulty of finding the opposition for the U.S. soldiers. In some locations the jungle was too thick to see very far.[7] Rough Riders on both left and right sides of the trail moved forward and eventually forced the Spaniards back to their second line of trenches. Continuing to advance, the Rough Riders eventually forced the Spanish to withdraw completely from their final positions. Rough Riders from A Troop on the far right linked up with their regular counterparts and helped them seize the Spanish positions on the long finger-like hill to the right of the right road, with both Rough Riders and Regulars meeting at the base of the finger-like hill. By this time it was approximately 9:30. Reinforcements from the regular 9th Cavalry arrived, but it was already 30 minutes after the fight.[10]

General Young, who was in command of the regulars and cavalry, began the attack in the early morning. Using long-range, large-caliber Hotchkiss guns he fired at the opposition, who were reportedly concealed along trenches, roads, ridges, and jungle cover. Colonel Wood's men, accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt, were not yet in the same vicinity as the other men at the start of the battle. They had a more difficult path to travel around the time the battle began, and at first they had to make their way up a very steep hill. "Many of the men, footsore and weary from their march of the preceding day, found the pace up this hill too hard, and either dropped their bundles or fell out of line, with the result that we went into action with less than five hundred men."[3]:50 Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt became aware that there were countless opportunities for any man to fall out of formation and resign from battle without notice as the jungle was often too thick in places to see through. This was yet another event that left the group with fewer men than they had at the start.

Regardless, The Rough Riders pushed forward toward the outpost along with the regulars. Using careful observation, the officers were able to locate where the opposition was hidden in the brush and entrenchments and they were able to target their men properly to overcome them. Toward the end of the battle, Edward Marshall, a newspaper writer, was inspired by the men around him in the heat of battle to pick up a rifle and begin fighting alongside them. When he suffered a gunshot wound in the spine from one of the Spaniards another soldier mistook him as Colonel Wood from afar and ran back from the front line to report his death. Due to this misconception, Roosevelt temporarily took command as Colonel and gathered the troops together with his leadership charisma. The battle lasted an hour and a half from beginning to end with The Rough Riders suffering only 8 dead and 31 wounded, including Captain Allyn K. Capron, Jr. Roosevelt came across Colonel Wood in full health after the battle finished and stepped down from his position to Lieutenant-Colonel.[3]:49-60

The United States had full control of this Spanish outpost on the road to Santiago by the end of the battle. General Shafter had the men hold position for six days while additional supplies were brought ashore. During this time The Rough Riders ate, slept, cared for the wounded, and buried the dead from both sides. During the six day encampment, some men died from fever. Among those stricken by illness was General Joseph Wheeler. Brigadier General Samuel Sumner assumed command of the cavalry and Wood took the second brigade as Brigadier General. This left Roosevelt as Colonel of The Rough Riders.[6]

Battle of San Juan Hill

The order was given for the men to march the 8 miles (13 km) along the road to Santiago from the outpost they had been holding. Originally, Colonel Roosevelt had no specific orders for himself and his men. They were simply to march to San Juan Heights, where over one thousand Spanish soldiers held the area, and hold position. It was decided that Brigadier General Henry Lawton's division would be the main fighters in the battle while taking El Caney, a Spanish stronghold, a few miles (kilometers) away. The cavalry was to simply serve as a distraction while artillery and battery struck the Spanish from afar. Lawton's infantry would begin the battle and The Rough Riders were to march and meet with them mid-battle. In this way, The Rough Riders were not seen as a critical tool to the United States Army in this battle.[3]:69–70

San Juan Hill and another hill were separated by a small valley and pond; the river ran near the foot of both. Together, this geography formed San Juan Heights. Colonel Roosevelt and The Rough Riders made their way to the foot of what was dubbed Kettle Hill because of the old sugar refinement cauldrons which lay along it.[6] The battle of San Juan Heights began with the firing of the artillery and battery at the Spanish location. Soon after battery-fire was returned and The Rough Riders, standing at the position of the friendly artillery, had to promptly move to avoid shells. The men moved down from their position and began making their way through and along the San Juan River towards the base of Kettle Hill. There they took cover along the riverbank and in the tall grass to avoid sniper and artillery fire that was being directed towards their position, however they were left vulnerable and pinned down. The Spanish rifles were able to discharge eight rounds in the twenty seconds it took for the United States rifles to reload. In this way they had a strong advantage over the Americans. The rounds they fired were 7mm Mauser bullets, which moved at a high velocity and inflicted small, clean wounds. Although some of the men were hit, few were mortally wounded or killed.[3]:70–80

Theodore Roosevelt, deeply dissatisfied with General Shafter's inaction with sending men out for reconnaissance and failure to issue more direct orders, became uneasy with the idea of leaving himself and his men sitting in the line of fire. He sent messengers to seek out one of the generals to try to coax orders from them to advance from their position. Finally, the Rough Riders received orders to assist the regulars in their assault on the hill's front. Roosevelt, riding on horseback, got his men onto their feet and into position to begin making their way up the hill. He claimed that he wished to fight on foot as he did at Las Guasimas; however he would have found it difficult to move up and down the hill to supervise his men in a quick and efficient manner on foot. He also recognized that he could see his men better from the elevated horseback, and they could see him better as well.[3]:75 Roosevelt chided his own men to not leave him alone in a charge up the hill, and drawing his sidearm promised nearby black soldiers separated from their own units that he would fire at them if they turned back, warning them he kept his promises. His Rough Riders chanted (likely in jest): "Oh he always does, he always does!" The soldiers, laughing, fell in with the volunteers to prepare for the assault.[3]:49

As the troops of the various units began slowly creeping up the hill, firing their rifles at the opposition as they climbed, Roosevelt went to the captain of the platoons in back and had a word with him. He stated that it was his opinion that they could not effectively take the hill due to an insufficient ability to effectively return fire, and that the solution was to charge it full-on. The captain reiterated his colonel's orders to hold position. Roosevelt, recognizing the absence of the other Colonel, declared himself the ranking officer and ordered a charge up Kettle Hill. The captain stood hesitant, and Colonel Roosevelt rode off on his horse, Texas, leading his own men uphill while waving his hat in the air and cheering. The Rough Riders followed him with enthusiasm and obedience without hesitation. By then, the other men from the different units on the hill became stirred by this event and began bolting up the hill alongside their countrymen. The 'charge' was actually a series of short rushes by mixed groups of regulars and Rough Riders. Within twenty minutes, Kettle Hill was taken, although casualties were heavy. The rest of San Juan Heights was taken within the following hour.

The Rough Riders' charge on Kettle Hill was facilitated by a hail of covering fire from three Gatling Guns commanded by Lt. John H. Parker, which fired some 18,000 .30 Army rounds into the Spanish trenches atop the crest of both hills. Col. Roosevelt noted that the hammering sound of the Gatling guns visibly raised the spirits of his men:

"There suddenly smote on our ears a peculiar drumming sound. One or two of the men cried out, 'The Spanish machine guns!' but, after listening a moment, I leaped to my feet and called, 'It's the Gatlings, men! Our Gatlings!' Immediately the troopers began to cheer lustily, for the sound was most inspiring."[11][12]

Trooper Jesse D. Langdon of the 1st Volunteer Infantry, who accompanied Col. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in their assault on Kettle Hill, reported:

"We were exposed to the Spanish fire, but there was very little because just before we started, why, the Gatling guns opened up at the bottom of the hill, and everybody yelled, 'The Gatlings! The Gatlings!' and away we went. The Gatlings just enfiladed the top of those trenches. We'd never have been able to take Kettle Hill if it hadn't been for Parker's Gatling guns."[13]

A Spanish counterattack on Kettle Hill by some 600 infantry was quickly devastated by one of Lt. Parker's Gatling guns recently emplaced on the summit of San Juan Hill, which killed all but forty of the attackers before they had closed to within 250 yards (230 m) of the Americans on Kettle Hill.[14] Col. Roosevelt was so impressed by the actions of Lt. Parker and his men that he placed his regiment's two 7mm Colt–Browning machine guns and the volunteers manning them under Parker, who immediately emplaced them—along with 10,000 rounds of captured 7mm Mauser ammunition—at tactical firing points in the American line.[15]

Colonel Roosevelt gave a large share of the credit for the successful charge to Lt. Parker and his Gatling Gun Detachment:

"I think Parker deserved rather more credit than any other one man in the entire campaign ... he had the rare good judgment and foresight to see the possibilities of the machine-guns..He then, by his own exertions, got it to the front and proved that it could do invaluable work on the field of battle, as much in attack as in defense."[16]

The charge up an obscure Cuban hill on 1 July 1898 was a pivotal point in Theodore Roosevelt's political career. When war broke out with Spain in April of that year, Roosevelt was serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He quit his post immediately to arrive in Cuba in time for the Battle of San Juan Hill.

America's conflict with Spain was later described as a "splendid little war" and for Theodore Roosevelt it certainly was. His combat experience consisted of one week's campaign with one day of hard fighting. "The charge itself was great fun" he declared, and "Oh, but we had a bully fight." His actions during the battle earned a recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor but politics intervened and the request was denied. The rejection crushed Roosevelt. As though in consolation, the notoriety from the charge up San Juan Hill was instrumental in propelling him to the governorship of New York in 1899. The following year Roosevelt was selected to fill the Vice Presidential spot in President McKinley's successful run for a second term. With McKinley's assassination in September 1901, Roosevelt became President.

In the confusion surrounding their departure from Tampa, half the members of the Rough Riders were left behind along with all their horses. The volunteers made the charge up San Juan Hill on foot. They were joined in the attack by the 10th (Negro) Cavalry. The 10th never received the glory for the charge that the Rough Riders did, but one of their commanders - Captain "Black Jack" Pershing (who later commanded American troops in World War I) - was awarded the Silver Star.

Siege of Santiago

Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders played a key role in the outcome of the Spanish–American War by assisting the American forces in forming a constricting ring around the city of Santiago de Cuba. The ultimate goal of the Americans in capturing the San Juan Heights (also known as Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill) was to attain a strategic position from which to move downhill and attack Santiago, a strong point for the Spanish military. The Spanish had a fleet of cruisers in port. The United States drove the Spanish cruisers out of their port by taking areas around Santiago and subsequently moving in on the city from multiple directions. Two days after the battle on San Juan Heights, the US navy destroyed Spain's Caribbean cruiser fleet at Santiago Bay. This took a tremendous toll on the Spanish military due to their widespread empire and heavy reliance upon naval capabilities.[17]

The primary objective of the American Fifth Army Corps' invasion of Cuba was the capture of the city of Santiago de Cuba. U.S. forces had driven back the Spaniards' first line of defense at the Battle of Las Guasimas, after which General Arsenio Linares pulled his troops back to the main line of defense against Santiago along San Juan Heights. In the charge at the Battle of San Juan Hill U.S. forces captured the Spanish position. At the Battle of El Caney the same day, U.S. forces took the fortified Spanish position and were then able to extend the U.S. flank on San Juan Hill. The destruction of the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba allowed U.S. forces to safely besiege the city.

However, the sinking of the Spanish cruisers did not mean the end of the war. Battles continued in and around Santiago. On July 16, after both governments agreed to the terms of capitulation ("surrender" was avoided), in which Toral surrendered his garrison and all troops in the Division of Santiago, an additional 9,000 soldiers.[9]:210 The Spanish also ceded Guantanamo City and San Luis. The Spanish troops marched out of Santiago on July 17.[9]:210 By July 17, 1898, the Spanish forces in Santiago surrendered to General Shafter and the United States military. Various battles in the region continued on and the United States was continuously victorious. On August 12, 1898, the Spanish Government surrendered to the United States and agreed to an armistice that relinquished their control of Cuba. The armistice also gained the United States the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. This large acquisition of land elevated the United States to the level of an imperial power. The Spanish–American War also began a trend of United States intervention in foreign affairs which has lasted to the present day.[17]


Return home

On August 14, the Rough Riders landed at Montauk Point on Long Island, New York. There, they met up with the other four companies that had been left behind in Tampa. Colonel Roosevelt made note of how very many of the men who were left behind felt guilty for not serving in Cuba with the others. However, he also stated that "those who stayed had done their duty precisely as did those who went, for the question of glory was not to be considered in comparison to the faithful performance of whatever was ordered."[3]:130 During the first portion of the month that the men stayed in Montauk they received hospital care. Many of the men were stricken with Malarial fever (described at the time as "Cuban fever") and died in Cuba, while some were brought back to the United States on board the ship in makeshift quarantine. "One of the distressing features of the Malaria which had been ravaging the troops was that it was recurrent and persistent. Some of the men died after reaching home, and many were very sick."[3]:129 Aside from malaria, there were cases of yellow fever, dysentery and other illnesses. Many of the men suffered from general exhaustion and were in poor condition upon returning home, some twenty pounds lighter. Everyone received fresh food and most were nourished back to their normal health.[3]:129

The rest of the month in Montauk, New York was spent in celebration of victory among the troops. The regiment was presented with three different mascots that represented the Rough Riders: a mountain lion by the name of Josephine that was brought to Tampa by some troops from Arizona, a war eagle named in Colonel Roosevelt's honor brought in by some New Mexican troops, and lastly a small dog by the name of Cuba who had been brought along on the journey overseas. Accompanying the presented mascots was a young boy who had stowed away on the ship before it embarked to Cuba. He was discovered with a rifle and boxes of ammunition and was, of course, sent ashore before departure from the United States. He was taken in by the regiment that was left behind, given a small Rough Riders uniform, and made an honorary member. The men also made sure to honor their colonel in return for his stellar leadership and service. They presented him with a small bronze statue of Remington's "Bronco Buster" which portrayed a cowboy riding a violently bucking horse. "There could have been no more appropriate gift from such a regiment ... most of them looked upon the bronze with the critical eyes of professionals. I doubt if there was any regiment in the world which contained so large a number of men able to ride the wildest and most dangerous horses."[3]:133 After the turning over of their gift, each and every man in the regiment walked by and shook Colonel Roosevelt's hand and bid him a good-bye.[3]:133


On the morning of September 15, 1898, the regimental property including all equipment, firearms and horses were turned back over to the United States government. The soldiers said one last good-bye to each other and the United States First Volunteer Cavalry, Roosevelt's Rough Riders, was disbanded. Before they returned to their homes across the country, Colonel Roosevelt gave them a short speech commending their efforts, expressing his profound pride, and reminding them that although heroes, they would have to integrate back into normal society and work as hard as everyone else. Many of the men were unable to regain the jobs they had whey had left to join the war. Some, due to illness or injury, were unable to work. A number of wealthier supporters donated money to help the needy veterans, though many were too proud to accept.[3]:134–138

A first reunion of the Rough Riders was held in the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1899.[18] Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, attended this event.[19] In 1948, fifty years after the Rough Riders disbandment, the U.S. Post office issued a commemorative stamp in their honor and memory. The stamp depicts Captain William Owen "Bucky" O'Neill, who was killed in action while leading troop A at the Battle of San Juan Hill, July 1, 1898.[20] The Rough Riders continued to have annual reunions in Las Vegas until 1967, when the sole veteran to attend was Jesse Langdon. He died in 1975.[19]

Crafting an image of American manliness

Roosevelt's heroism at the Battle of San Juan Hill was the culmination of years of conscious personal transformation and hard work. At the turn of the 20th century, industrialism and immigration had upset the old social orders, and the dominance of Northern white Protestant males was being threatened by radical unions, strikes and class conflicts, urban slums, and the rise of the independent "New Woman". For Roosevelt, the vigorous, unbridled life of the Western cowboy was the perfect antidote to the softness of comfortable city living that drained men of their "life juices". When the Spanish–American War broke out in 1898, Roosevelt immediately resigned his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and won approval to recruit a volunteer regiment that Roosevelt originally called the "cowboy cavalry" but quickly became known as the Rough Riders. This feat was the physical manifestation of Roosevelt’s new masculine ideal, a mix of hardened frontier riflemen, skilled horseman and Texas Rangers, plus elite athletes from Eastern colleges, including championship quarterbacks and steeplechase riders. Through Roosevelt’s own breathless account of the battles of San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill, published that same year, and Remington’s painting "The Charge of the Rough Riders" (commissioned by Roosevelt), a highly fictionalized but enduring image of the cowboy soldier was permanently lodged in the American psyche. While the image served as a fabulous reminder to what this group accomplished, "Roosevelt wants the Rough Riders as an army regiment to be seen in the eyes of the public as the true inheritors of the cowboy tradition of white, aggressive, armed, nationalist manhood", which was evidently embodied by his policies as future president. In crafting an image of American manliness, Roosevelt felt paintings like Remington's displayed to the people that war was a necessity to open the path to America's global greatness "the country needed more vim and bullishness" and a "war, preferably one that could be easily won, was the best tonic" for a struggling economy and disrupted social order.

Shifts in foreign policy

After the assassination of President William McKinley in March 1901, that September, Roosevelt took office and remains the youngest person to ever become President of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt and his band of Rough Riders successfully demolished and out-maneuvered the Spanish fleet in less than four months, boosting American exceptionalism. This added boost led to further intervention in foreign affairs. Although McKinley and Roosevelt in hindsight would refer to the Spanish–American War as a "splendid little war", it was much more complex than that. As the Rough Riders made quick work of the Spanish fleet, this war would now be defined forever as the formation of American imperialism. For the first time, U.S troops intervened in a foreign conflict outside of their sovereignty. In schools nationwide his legacy is kept alive as the president, hunter, soldier, family man, conservationist, and naval strategist. Even so, however, his male-dominated rhetoric and perversion of politics "struck a nerve" with middle class workers, who didn’t want to be accused of "shrinking from strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation".

As wagon loads of sensationalist journalism documented the situation in Cuba and the Philippines, men finally felt they had an opportunity to prove their manhood on the front lines. Roosevelt took the executive office and trajectory of U.S foreign policy toward what became known as a "bully pulpit" to enact American interests abroad, and social interests domestically. Because the American psyche had consequently shifted from within to abroad, U.S leadership now suddenly heard the calls of every oppressed nation yearning for democracy and independence. Long served interests in the building the Panama Canal later on served as an example to this shift, the expanding Navy and parading of the Great White Fleet on a world tour to project United States naval power around the globe.

Two sides of Roosevelt

There were two sides to Theodore Roosevelt. One was the trust-busting progressive who reined in industrialist excess, won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War, and set aside millions of acres of public land for wildlife conservation. The other was the self-made cowboy soldier", a former asthmatic weakling who hardened his body and will by exposing himself to the harsh elements and lawless violence of the Western frontier. This Roosevelt, historians argue, helped seal the image of the cowboy soldier and physically embodied a new ideal of manliness—epitomized in a band of fighters he formed, called the "Rough Riders" who would see battle in the Spanish–American War. Mark Twain would come to describe Roosevelt as "clearly insane… and insanest upon war and its supreme glories".

Described as the wild-eyed hunter, which was actually the first persona to emerge, and the second was the product of being labeled a "wimp" (his father’s loving term) and a "Nancy boy" as a young New York assemblyman. Like other Eastern elites of the late 19th century, Roosevelt came to abhor both his own physical weakness and what he saw as the larger "degeneration" and "effeminization" of American civilization.

Last survivors

The last three surviving veterans of the regiment were Frank C. Brito, Jesse Langdon, and Ralph Waldo Taylor.

Brito was from Las Cruces, New Mexico. His father was a Yaqui Indian stagecoach operator. Brito was 21 when he enlisted with his brother in May 1898. He never made it to Cuba, having been a member of H Troop, one of the four left behind in Tampa. He later became a mining engineer and lawman. He died on 22 April 1973, at the age of 96.

Langdon, born in 1881 in what is now North Dakota, "hoboed" his way to Washington, D.C., and called on Roosevelt at the Navy Department, reminding him that his father, a veterinarian, had treated Roosevelt's cattle at his Dakota ranch during his ranching days. Roosevelt arranged a railroad ticket for him to San Antonio, where Langdon enlisted in the Rough Riders at age 16. He was the next-to-last surviving member of the regiment and the only one to attend the final two reunions, in 1967 and 1968. He died on 29 June 1975, at the age of 94, twenty-six months after Brito.

Taylor was just 16 years old in 1898, when he lied about his age to enlist in the New York National Guard, serving in Company K of the 71st Infantry Regiment. Despite the name, he averred that nearly all the horses had been left behind before arriving at San Juan Hill, with the Rough Riders mostly walking, and the only actual rider was the general himself, who reportedly weighed in at 300 pounds (140 kg). He died on 15 May 1987, at the age of 105.[21]

World War I

Just after the United States entered the war against the Central Powers, the U.S. Congress gave Roosevelt the authority to raise up to four divisions similar to the Rough Riders. In his book Foes of Our Own Household (1917), Theodore Roosevelt explains that he had authorization from Congress to raise four divisions to fight in France, similar to his earlier Rough Riders, the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment and to the British Army 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. He had selected eighteen officers (including Seth Bullock, Frederick Russell Burnham, James Rudolph Garfield, John M. Parker, and Henry L. Stimson) and directed them to actively recruit volunteer troops shortly after the United States entered the war. With the help of John Hays Hammond, the New York-based Rocky Mountain Club enlisted Major Burnham to raise the troops in the Western states and to coordinate recruitment efforts.[1] Wilson ultimately rejected Roosevelt's plan, refused to make use of the volunteers, and Roosevelt disbanded the unit.

Outside the volunteer division, one of Roosevelt's most trusted officers from the Rough Riders, Brigadier General John Campbell Greenway, served in the 101st Infantry Regiment. Greenway, a colonel at the time, was especially praised for his heroic conduct in battle and was cited for bravery at Cambrai. France awarded him the Croix de Guerre, the Legion of Honor, and the Ordre de l'Étoile Noire for commanding the 101st Infantry Regiment during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.[22] He also received a Distinguished Service Cross.

Muster roll

  • Mustered In:
Officers: 56
Enlisted Men: 994
  • Mustered Out:
Officers: 76
Enlisted Men: 1,090
  • Total Number Accounted for on Muster Out Roll:
Officers: 52
Enlisted Men: 1,185
  • Losses While in Service:
  • Officers:
Promoted or Transferred: 0
Resigned or Discharged: 2
Dismissed: 0
Killed in Action: 2
Died of Wounds: 0
Died of Disease: 1
Died of Accident: 0
Drowned: 0
Suicide: 0
Murdered: 0
Total Officer losses: 5
  • Enlisted Men:
Transferred: 0
Discharged for Disability: 9
Discharged by General Court Martial: 0
Discharged by Order: 31
Killed in Action: 21
Died of Wounds Received in Action: 3
Died of Disease: 19
Died of Accident: 0
Drowned: 0
Suicide: 14
Murdered or Homicide: 0
Deserted: 12
Total enlisted Losses: 95
  • Wounded:
Officers: 7
Enlisted Men: 97
  • (Source: The Adjutant General's Office, Statistical Exhibit of Strength of Volunteer Forces Called Into Service During the War With Spain; with Losses From All Causes. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899) As presented in an Electronic Edition by the US Army Center of Military History)

Theatrical productions

In the 1880s Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders were popularly portrayed in Wild West shows such as Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World and in Minstrel shows such as William H. West's Big Minstrel Jubilee. Roosevelt himself had a hand in popularizing the legends of the Rough Riders, recruiting Mason Mitchell, a fellow Rough Rider with theatrical talent, to perform for the Republican State Committee of New York.[23] More than anyone else, William Frederick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, can be credited with helping to create and preserve the dramatic myth of the Rough Riders and the American Old West. His extravaganzas glamorized it into an appealing show for Eastern American audiences and helped permanently preserve the legends. The 'cult' of the cowboy was born, for Roosevelt, the vigorous, unbridled life of the Western cowboy was the perfect antidote to the softness of comfortable city living.

See also


  1. Paul Mathingham Hutton, "T.R. takes charge", American History 33.n3 (August 1998), 30(11).
  2. Library of Congress,
  3. Roosevelt, Theodore (1899). Rough Riders. P.F. Collier & Son Publishers. Retrieved September 30, 2013.
  4. David S. Pierson, "What the Rough Riders lacked in military discipline, they made up for with patriotic fervor and courage" Military History, XV (June 1899), 10.
  5. Stuck, Eleanor. "Menger Hotel". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  6. Hutton, "T.R. takes charge," 30(11).
  7. Pierson, "What the Rough Riders lacked ...," 10.
  8. Wheeler, J., 1899, The Santiago Campaign in Campaigns of Wheeler and His Cavalry, Atlanta: Hudgins Publishing Company
  9. Roosevelt, Theodore, The Rough Riders Chapter III, page 18, Bartleby Website
  10. Parker, John H., The Gatlings At Santiago, preface by Theodore Roosevelt, Middlesex, U.K.: Echo Library (reprinted 2006)
  11. Roosevelt, Theodore, The Rough Riders, Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 25, May 1899, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 568
  12. Jones, V.C., Before The Colors Fade: Last Of The Rough Riders, American Heritage Magazine, August 1969, Vol. 20, Issue 5, p. 26
  13. Parker, John H. (Lt.), The Gatlings At Santiago, Middlesex, U.K.: Echo Library (reprinted 2006), pp. 59–61
  14. Parker, John H. (Lt.), History of the Gatling Gun Detachment, Kansas City, MO: Hudson-Kimberly Publishing Co. (1898), pp. 160–161
  15. Roosevelt, Theodore (Col.), The Rough Riders, Scribner's Magazine, p. 568
  16. Dale L. Walker, "from the San Juan Heights," Military History, XXV (Jul/Aug 2008), 17.
  17. "New Mexico History / Plaza Hotel". Trips into History. July 23, 2012. Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  18. Harris, Richard K. (November 1, 2006). New Mexico. Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 978-0-7627-4205-9. Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  19. Smithsonian National Postal Museum: Rough Riders Issue
  20. Times Wire Services (1987-05-19). Ralph Waldo Taylor Was 105 : Last of Rough Riders Dies. Los Angeles Times, 19 May 1987. Retrieved from
  21. Kinsolving, Arthur Barksdale (1922). The Story of a Southern School. The Norman, Remington Co. p. 305. ISBN 9781331302483.
  22. "Theodore Roosevelt Arranges a Dramatic Presentation About the Rough Riders, 1898". Shapell Manuscript Collection. SMF.


  • "Rough Riders". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
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