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Statue inspires Prescott man to look for Rough Rider grave

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- Charlie Mitchell was researching the history of Buckey O'Neill online about a month ago when he discovered that Prescott's favorite son was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

By pure coincidence, Mitchell planned to be staying in Arlington in about three weeks while attending a boat show in Annapolis, Md.. He decided he had to visit O'Neill's grave.

Mitchell grew up in Phoenix and spent his summers in the Prescott area before moving there full time 12 years ago. He has many fond memories of playing on the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza with his siblings, and admiring the statue of the Rough Rider that dominates the north side of the plaza.

Capt. William ``Buckey'' O'Neill died while fighting alongside his fellow Rough Riders during a Spanish-American War battle for Cuba's Kettle Hill on July 1, 1898. O'Neill helped organize the Rough Riders here in Prescott.

``The (Rough Rider) statue always fascinated me,'' Mitchell said, and he figured it must be O'Neill although technically it's not modeled after O'Neill.

``I thought he was just a cowboy who joined the military and got killed,'' he said of O'Neill.

But when Mitchell started researching him a month ago, he was surprised to find out how prominent O'Neill was in the Prescott community.

O'Neill was at various times Prescott's mayor, Yavapai County's sheriff and school superintendent, a local newspaper editor and publisher, probate judge, court reporter, local militia captain, adjutant general of Arizona Territory (who called up the volunteer militia when needed), volunteer firefighter, fiction writer, mine developer and Grand Canyon railroad promoter during his 16 years in Prescott. His home was located where the Waffle Iron restaurant now stands.

``He was the embodiment of the halcyon days of Arizona, and the best of old Prescott,'' said John Langellier, director of the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott and an expert in U.S. military history.

Charlie Mitchell, his brother Danny Mitchell and Danny's girlfriend Michelle Rall were happy to find that Arlington was not closed because of the government furlough when they visited on Oct. 13.

They watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, then watched the wreath laying ceremony before going in search of O'Neill's grave. Because of the furlough, they had to walk through the 624-acre cemetery instead of riding a bus.

Danny Mitchell and Rall were clearly running out of patience when Charlie Mitchell summoned the spirit of O'Neill to help him find the grave, and it worked.

``I was lucky to find Buckey because it's a pretty big cemetery,'' Charlie Mitchell said, happy with his spontaneous rhyme.

He was impressed at the size and beauty of O'Neill's tombstone, as he toasted O'Neill with a shot of whiskey and sprinkled a bit on the grave.

He then picked up an oak leaf to bring back to the Rough Rider statue on the plaza.

O'Neill's wife Pauline chose to bury O'Neill at Arlington, possibly because of the honor, possibly because his Civil War veteran father was buried nearby, and possibly because of the expense of bringing O'Neill's remains all the way home, Langellier said.

Mitchell is glad O'Neill is buried in Arlington instead of Prescott, because it's an honor and because he believes everybody should visit the nation's capitol and see its monuments.

Mitchell has his own historic site, too. He lives on the Boblett ranch along Lynx Creek, where Sharlot Hall's uncle, Sam Boblett, once lived. His family has owned the property since he was born, and he has found many of the remnants of the past there.

Hall was a contemporary of O'Neill and joined the rest of Prescott to mourn his loss at the untimely age of 38.

``He's like the patron saint of Prescott,'' Mitchell said.

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