The war between the United States and Spain was caused by
unsettling tension between the two countries; Spain, at that
time, one of the world's great powers, maintained colonies
including Cuba, which lay only ninety miles from U.S. soil.
Lasting from April until August, 1898, the war was fought to
liberate Cuba from Spanish rule. During the course of the
war the United States acquired Guam, Puerto Rico and the
Philippines, and emerged as a world power.
In 1823, James Monroe issued a bold proposal called the
Monroe Doctrine, that stated one of the goals of the U.S.
government was to prevent further European influence in the
western hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine proclaimed that the
United states would fight rather than to have Europe to
obtain more land or interfere in the western world.
American citizens of the late 19th century had vivid
memories of the Cuban revolt of 1868-1878, a long and
exhausting conflict called the "Ten-Years War" that
essentially ended in a draw. In 1895 a depression in Cuba
made conditions worse, and revolution again broke out
threatening to go on indefinitely as the rebels would be
strong enough win, nor would the Spanish forces be powerful
enough to defeat them.
American newspapers, especially the yellow press of
rival publishers, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph
Pulitzer, printed outlandish stories of the Spanish
oppression in Cuba. They included wildly exaggerated
accounts that a quarter of the Cuban population had been
killed at the hands of their Spanish oppressors. President
William McKinley was urged to pressure Spain into granting
Cuba limited self-government. Under the disguise of a
"courtesy call," the United States Navy battleship
‘Maine’,was sent to Havana in January, 1889, to protect US
citizens and interests in Cuba.
On February 15 a mysterious explosion blew up the
battleship, which was moored in Havana Harbor, killing 260
officers and men. An outraged American public fed by yellow
journalism blamed Spain, although to this day no one knows
why the battleship exploded. Out of this unfortunate episode
an American battle cry emerged: “Remember the 'Maine' -- To
Hell with Spain."
On April 25, 1898, after a series of diplomatic
solutions were played out, the United States formally
declared that a State of War existed with Spain on the
matters of both humanitarian and economic grounds. When war
was declared the Navy had a well-trained corps of officers
and was equipped with modern, coal-burning steamships. The
Army's 26,000 men, however, were scattered widely across the
country and poorly equipped. They had little training or
experience in units larger than a regiment (about 1000 men).
It was decided to recruit volunteer troops to swell the
ranks, men who would serve in the Army for a limited period
of time, generally the duration of the war. These recruits
were very different from members of the regular army who
were, for the most part, career soldiers.
In late April of 1898, Congress passed a bill
authorizing the Secretary of War to organize three regiments
of volunteer cavalry units to come from the states and
territories of the West where, as Theodore Roosevelt wrote,
"the feeling for war was strongest."
Roosevelt, Under Secretary of the Navy at this time,
announced that he intended to resign his post to join the
fighting in Cuba. He was offered the command of the 1st
Regiment of Volunteer Cavalry by Secretary of War Russel
Alger, to be organized in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and
Indian Territories; President McKinley's personal physician,
Dr. Leonard Wood, who was previously also in the navy as was
Roosevelt, was placed in command with Lt. Col. Roosevelt
being second in command of the 1st Regiment Volunteer
The 2nd Regiment was recruited in Wyoming, the 3rd
Regiment in the Dakotas. These two regiments remained in the
United States during the fighting. Only a portion of the 1st
Regiment, the ‘Rough Riders’, saw action in Cuba. They
received their nickname from the press in recognition of
their superior skill on horseback.
The largest single source of the ‘Rough Riders’ was
from the New Mexico Territory, 358 men, including 168 from
Santa Fe. When the call went out across the New Mexico
Territory for volunteers to form the 1st Regiment Volunteer
Cavalry the response was overwhelming. In a matter of days
all the men needed had enlisted.
New Mexicans were eager to serve for a variety of
reasons. Some eastern newspapers suggested that New Mexico
might side with Spain because of its high proportion of
Spanish-speaking citizens and its first Hispanic-surnamed
governor under American rule, Miguel Otero. New Mexicans
wanted to demonstrate to the rest of the country that the
territory was doing its part on the national level and thus
was ready for statehood.
Some ambitious men saw participation in