- Historic Sites
Before The Colors Fade
Last of the Rough Riders
August 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 5
We loaded up at night. One end of the car on which I was riding was reserved for the boys who were not feeling well. We had a fellow with us called San Antone, and he had killed a couple of men, and he was a tough hombre. I was on guard when he walked up and grabbed a sick man by the foot and pulled him off the seat. I went up and I said, “Look, this is for the boys who are ailing and you’ll have to get out of this seat.” So he pulls a knife on me, and I threw a carbine down on him and took him out of there.
Well, the next day the train was stopped above a big slough, and we had to go down the embankment to get water to wash. I brought my basin up to wash on the steps of the car, and by golly, this guy come up and kicked me in the face and knocked me clear down the embankment. Well, I just come up that embankment punching mad, you know—he tried to kick me again, but I grabbed his foot and pulled it aside, and I grabbed him by the top of his shirt and put his head through the car window and cut a gash all under his ear. That took care of him.
At Tampa, Roosevelt requisitioned a coal train—he had to force the engineer to take us because the train was on some other mission—and we loaded onto that and went to the port where the boats were located. There was a boat there that had been assigned to another outfit, but Roosevelt got us on before they got there. He made sure that we were going to Cuba, and he got us there. That’s the reason we landed—because Teddy just suddenly took over and saw that we got there.
The regiment sailed on June 14. Life on board ship was “pretty tough.”
They furnished us with a lot of embalmed beef. It was supposed to keep in any weather. Well, we had it hung all around the deck and it commenced to explode. We had to throw it all overboard, and then we lived on canned meat and tomatoes. After we got in Cuba, of course, we all starved. Roosevelt didn’t get any food for us. He’s a little bit mistaken about the food he mentioned in his history. At least I didn’t see any of it. Food didn’t get to many of the privates. I’m giving you the facts. I’ll tell you, the officers had the best of it.
By the time the Rough Riders embarked at Tampa, an American fleet was waiting off Santiago de Cuba, where a Spanish naval force lay under protection of land batteries. The mission of the American land forces, of which the Rough Riders formed a part, was to capture the port of Santiago while the fleet kept the enemy ships bottled up.
Of the invading army of 17,000, the Rough Riders were among the first to land. Two days later, on June 24, the ist Volunteer Cavalry—minus their horses, j which had been left in Florida—led a victorious attack on a Spanish position at Las Gudsimas, east of Santiago.
For the next six days the Americans lay in camp, organizing their drive toward Santiago.
The Spaniards had fallen back to a ridge on the outskirts of Santiago, along San Juan and Kettle hillsᑜ the latter highland named for the huge kettles on its crest remaining from a former sugar distillery. These kettles would be the Riders’ goal.
I’ll have to start before Kettle Hill. We woke up [after a night march] at El Poso on the morning of the first. El Poso was about a mile and a half before you get to San Juan River, which you had to cross to go to San Juan Hill. There was a road there, and there was [an American observation] balloon there that was attracting the fire of the Spaniards and made it pretty tough. I mention that as a sort of side issue so you can get a picture of the whole thing.
Anyhow, that morning Grimes’s battery opened up from El Poso on the Spanish batteries in Santiago. Well, of course they had the range of El Poso ans some of our men got wounded there. We began to duck.
That was one time I saw Teddy lose his temper. He came running up and said, “What in hell’s the matter with you fellows? Damn it, what are you, a bunch of sheep?” He says, “Get up there and line up.” Yes, sir, and then, “Cleck, call the roll,” We had to line up on top of that hill under fire, and the cleck called the roll. “Dress on sergeant Higgins,” Roosevelt told us-but Higgins was stooping over just like the rest of us! “Now,” Roosevelt says, “march down here under fire.” That was him. And by golly, there lay a soldier right in front of him with a leg shot clear off. Laying right in front of him.
That was just prior to the march down to the river to go across to San Juan Hill. We marched down the road and underneath the balloon and into the San Juan River, so Roosevelt had to deploy us out of the line of fire when we reached the far bank. We just lay there spread out about 150 yards along the bank until the officers went across the river and looked the ground over. I had been over there the night when we took Captian John H. Parker and his battery of Gatling guns over there and set them up. They were already there, on the far side of the river.
As we came out of the river, why, Henry Haywood, who was a New York policemen, was shot just as we came out of the ford; it sounded like somebody put their first into a pillow. And he says, “I'm hit!” He was shot in the abdomen, right there by the river. He died.