Prescott, Arizona never had another hero like William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill. One-hundred years after his death, local businesses still adopt his name, from "Bucky's (sic) Casino," to "Bucky (sic) O'Neill Sporting Goods." Probably part of his long-lived popularity is due to the prominence of the "Captain William O'Neill Rough Rider Monument" on the Yavapai County Court House Plaza. This heroic-sized bronze by Solon H. Borglum was dedicated on July 3, 1907, and has become a Prescott landmark.
Buckey was born on February 2, 1860, either in St. Louis, Missouri, or Washington, D.C., although he sometimes listed Ireland as his birthplace (e.g. the Great Register of Yavapai County, 1894). This last is doubtful since his parents had been in the United States since the 1850's. During the Civil War, his father, John, served as a captain in the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers of the "Irish Brigade," and was severely wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
William Owen O'Neill came to Arizona Territory in 1879, and arrived in Prescott in the spring of 1882 after stopovers in Tombstone and Phoenix. He rapidly progressed from court reporter to editor of the Prescott Journal Miner, then founded, edited, and published Hoof and Horn, a paper for the live stock industry. He was elected Yavapai County Probate Judge and School Superintendent, tax assessor-collector, Yavapai County Sheriff, and finally, Mayor of Prescott. He ran twice (1894 and 1896) for territorial delegate to Congress as a populist, losing both times to major party candidates.
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. In 1894, he led a Smithsonian expedition to explore the prehistoric Sinaguan ruin called "Montezuma's Castle" on Beaver Creek in the Verde Valley. He was Captain of the "Prescott's Grays" militia, and a volunteer fireman on the "Toughs" hosecart team. As Adjutant General of Arizona Territory, he helped to organize its National Guard.
On top of these accomplishments, O'Neill found the energy and time to write. He created much of the copy for Hoof and Horn, as well as pamphlets boosting Arizona including, "Resources of Arizona" (1887) and "Central Arizona For Homes For Health" (probably 1888). Perhaps Buckey's least known talent was fiction, which he is said to have written at night, as his wife Pauline played the piano. Apparently all of his stories (about ten are known) followed dark themes set in Arizona Territory, and appeared in the San Francisco Examiner or Argonaut magazine between 1891 and 1910.
At least one of Buckey's stories reflects an incident of his life. On February 5, 1886, the Prescott Grays, commanded by Captain O'Neill, stood as honor guard at the hanging of murderer Dennis Dilda. When the trap dropped, Buckey fainted. This must have been a tremendous loss of face for a Victorian gentleman and officer, and he probably took considerable kidding about it. An apparent effort to clear the air, "A Horse of the Hash-Knife Brand," appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on February 15, 1891. In it, a member of a cowboy posse admits to nearly fainting at the hanging of a horse thief.
In 1898, together with Alexander Brodie and James McClintock, O'Neill founded the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, later famed as Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Through the spring of 1898, as relations worsened between the United States and Spain, the three planned an entire regiment of Arizona cowboys. Eventually, two (later three) troops were authorized, and on May 29, 1898, Buckey became the first man to volunteer for the regiment. On July 1, 1898, Captain O'Neill was killed in combat below Kettle Hill while commanding Troop A of the Rough Riders.