Rough Riders: heroes of a specific past

First to the front, Rough Riders from Durango, Colo., sign up to join the fray.
Teddy Roosevelt, center, with other Rough Riders on San Juan Heights in 1898.
Photo
Rob Carrigan
Posted

When a kid, looking through the portraits of U.S. Presidents, naturally picks out one he identifies with, it’s no surprise. There is a fellow, wide-faced, bespectacled, with a barrel chest, bushy mustache, and remember, a cowboy countenance ...

I came by my interest in Theodore Roosevelt, quite naturally.

The whole town considered him a fragment of their own history. “Rough Riders” were the prominent heroes of our specific past. At least three of the 1,250 1st United States Volunteer Calvary hailed from the little town of Dolores, where I grew up. The 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry was first commanded by Colonel Leonard Wood.

Dolores cowboys James E. Akin and William H. Brumley, Jr. were both in Troop G, and Carl John Scharnhorst (or Schornhorst in some muster info), Jr., who served first in Troop F, then transferred to Troop I in San Antonio.

When American newspapers cried out, “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain,” the boys from Dolores, along with group from Durango, and Theodore Roosevelt, serving at the time as assistant secretary of the Navy, dropped everything to heed the call. Roosevelt resigned his office on May 6, 1898 — the day he secured a commission — and set about putting together a calvary regiment to lead into battle.

Roosevelt helped put together and train the outfit comprised of cowboys, hunters, miners, Indians, policemen, bronc busters and men from Harvard, Yale and Princeton, becoming “The Rough Riders,” a moniker adopted from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Most of the members of G Troop were from the New Mexico Territory, a total of 37. The second most prolific state was Illinois with 12. Other states represented include Texas, Arizona, Missouri, New York, Massachusetts, the Indian Territory, Louisiana, Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota, Michigan, Colorado, New Jersey, Kentucky, California, West Virginia and Nebraska. Most all enlisted at Santa Fe in early May, 1898, and were to receive their training at San Antonio which was selected as the training center for the 1st US Vol. Cavalry.

Colonel Wood arrived in San Antonio on Thursday, May 5, 1898. The contingent from New Mexico arrived on May 10. For the time being they were quartered in the Exposition Hall near the center of the fairgrounds. On May 11, Colonel Wood announced that there would be three squadrons of four troops each. Each troop would contain 65 but later was increased.

On May 12, the regiment was taken on a long extended drill of marching several miles from camp and over two hours of drill. Squadron drill came in the afternoon, followed by first regimental drill formation. On May 14, G Troop was issued their Krag Model 1896 carbine.

Roosevelt, by his monied connections and notable influence, had made that happen, as well, by “hurrying up the different bureaus and telegraphing my various railroad friends, so as to insure our getting carbines, saddles and uniforms that we needed from the various armories and storehouses,” as he wrote in his book, “Rough Riders.”

May 18, had the excitement of the demonstration of a new weapon, Colt’s rapid fire guns. These guns could fire 500 rounds per minute. On May 19, tents arrived at the camp. These were dog tents consisting of two pieces four feet wide, and six-and-a-half feet long, buttoned together over a ridge pole about three feet high.

Drill continued all through May. The heat was punishing with several of the Rough Riders suffering its effects, but they continued to drill. May 29 reveille sounded at 3 a.m., an hour earlier than usual. By 9 a.m., the regiment was on their way to the stockyards to load on the waiting trains.

The Rough Riders reached Tampa June 2. Not having enough transport ships, the Rough Riders would go as dismounted cavalry. They would operate as infantry while in Cuba.

G Troop would travel to Cuba on the transport ship the “Yucatan” and arrive at Daiquiri on June 22. The landing at Daiquiri was unopposed. Any Spanish in the area had already took off toward Santiago.

William H. H. Llewellyn served as the captain of Troop G.

Llewellyn had previously served as Indian Agent on Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico. He soon became one of the few agents who considered the welfare of his charges, worked for their betterment, subjected them to discipline and won their respect. He organized an Indian police force and strove to bring the lawless situation on the reservation under control. Going hunting with them, the Mescaleros called him “Tata Crooked Nose”.

In 1883 he also became agent for the Jicarilla Apaches and supervised their transfer to the Mescalero reservation. Later he established an Indian boarding school, added a doctor to the agency staff and had the Indians join the Cattle Growers Association.

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. McFie was also from Las Cruces and Llewellyn knew him well. The Captain lost no time to notify headquarters, causing the promoted Colonel Roosevelt to order an early counterattack that went into history as the celebrated charge of San Juan Heights.

McFie’s vigilance and Llewellyn’s prompt action earned the latter a promotion to Major. The campaign also caused him to contract yellow fever and put him into the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

As Roosevelt’s comrade-in-arms on San Juan Heights, Llewellyn returned to Las Cruces as something of a war hero.

Since the 1890s Llewellyn had been a member of the New Mexico Territorial Militia, and when he was appointed Judge Advocate General of the New Mexico National Guard, he was promoted to Colonel. He also was active since at least 1899 in New Mexico’s long drawn out struggle for statehood, in fact serving as Speaker of the House in the Territorial Legislature. He served in the Constitutional Convention of 1910 and in November 1911, was chosen a member of New Mexico’s first state legislature, where he represented Dona Ana County.

President Roosevelt never lost his affection for his battle buddies and appointed them to important political offices whenever the opportunity presented itself. Among his special friends was Colonel William H. H. Llewellyn of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who was close enough to the President to dine with him at the White House, to escort Mrs. Roosevelt to the Theater, and who is one of the few 1st Calvary soldiers the President mentions in his autobiography.

I picked out the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., as a kid, because I identified with him. And the whole town consider him a fragment of our history. We came by it quite naturally. And it is no surprise.