Rough Riders Stamp

U.S. #973 was issued on this day in 1948.

On October 27, 1948, the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of the Rough Riders. The issue date was Theodore Roosevelt’s 90th birthday.

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Theodore Roosevelt was serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy when the battleship Maine suddenly exploded in Havana Harbor in February 1898. Ten days later, Roosevelt’s superior was unconscious for four hours, making him Acting Secretary. Wasting no time, Roosevelt told the Navy to prepare for war, ordered ammunition and supplies, consulted experts, and asked Congress for the authority to recruit sailors, which helped move America toward the Spanish-American War.

U.S. #557 was issued on Roosevelt’s birthday in 1922.

With America’s declaration of war, Roosevelt resigned from his post to raise a group of volunteers to fight. He got cowboys from the West and Ivy League friends from New York, creating the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed the “Rough Riders.” Landing in Daiquiri, Cuba, on June 23, 1898, the Rough Riders marched past the 1st Infantry Division and engaged with the Spanish forces at the Battle of Las Guasimas. They forced their way through the Spanish lines, causing the enemy to retreat earlier than planned.

The Rough Riders then marched to San Juan Heights on the outskirts of Santiago. Inspired by Roosevelt, who rode on horseback, the Rough Riders claimed Kettle Hill. By August, the Spanish surrendered their control of Cuba to the U.S. The Rough Riders were disbanded the following month, but their reputation for bravery lived on.

U.S. #973 FDC – Rough Riders Classic First Day Cover.

The Story Behind the Stamp

U.S. #973 was issued in Prescott, Arizona, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Rough Riders. While the Rough Riders are most often associated with Theodore Roosevelt, the stamp shows an image of William “Buckey” O’Neill.

U.S. #1039 from the Liberty series.

O’Neill was a journalist in Prescott who also served in the Arizona Militia. He eventually became mayor. In 1889, O’Neill took part in a four-man posse who captured four train robbers. When the Spanish-American War broke out, he helped form the volunteer unit of the Rough Riders and was named captain of Troop A. In an odd twist, one of the train robbers he had captured nine years earlier, William Sterin, served in O’Neill’s company as a sergeant under the name “Henry Nash.”

O’Neill was killed in action during the Battle of San Juan Hill. Roosevelt later wrote that O’Neill’s death was “the most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered.”

The image on the stamp is of a statue made in O’Neill’s honor by Gutzon Borglum, the chief sculptor of Mount Rushmore. The statue stands at the north entrance of Yavapai County Court House in Prescott. At the time of its release, there was controversy that a stamp honoring the Rough Riders didn’t include Roosevelt, its most famous member. But the stamp’s first day of issue was on October 27, 1948 – the 90th anniversary of Roosevelt’s birth.

U.S. #1039 FDC – Roosevelt Classic First Day Cover.

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  1. “This Day In History” has produced some great articles. In my opinion this is right up there as one of the best.

  2. Love the article. The statue in Prescott is one of my favorites. I never knew there was a stamp, and am definitely going to buy some. Couldn’t help noticing a small error in the text where it says, “In 1889, Prescott took part ….” It should say “O’Neill took part ….” Thank you!

  3. Roosevelt was a rich kid from New York City, who went to Harvard, and was awarded government jobs for his patronage to the “party.” And no, he wasn’t an officer in the Navy. Roosevelt gave campaign speeches for McKinley, and for that was rewarded with the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897. In fact, he had zero military training. Yet he was made a colonel. That is why the Rough Riders had the highest casualty rate of all of the regiments involved in the actions in Cuba. He was a few bullets away from being the next Custer; leaving the 1st Regiment behind in search for glory.

  4. Wonderful history lessons that are available through the history of stamp collecting. A great read of a great man and his accomplishments. Keep up the good and wonderful work.

  5. Teddy Roosevelt was by no means the first Secretary of the Navy–that title, along with Secretary of War (Army)–goes way back to Washington’s time. He was only Assistant Secretary of the Navy during McKinley’s first term, and his moment of glory was when he became acting secretary. It is interesting to note that both Teddy and Franklin D. served in that post, as well as Governor of New York. There were several parallels between their careers, even though their political philosophies were as different as night and day.

  6. I was so intrigued that the sculptor was also the chief sculptor of Mt. Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, per your article. I wanted to read more about it and found that the O’Neill/Rough Riders sculpture in Prescott was actually done by Solon Borglum, Gutzon’s brother. You can read more about it in Wikipedia’s article on the “Bucky O’Neill Monument.” And there is also an interesting article about the brothers on the website of the Phippen Art Museum in Prescott. Thanks again for your always interesting and fun articles! For the last couple of years I’ve been giving my nieces and nephews a special stamp like this one, along with a print out of your articles.

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