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A tale of St. Louis and the Transvaal – 1: Rough Riders February 10, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history, serial fiction.
Tags: , , ,
7 comments

The Rough Riders were the subject of much attention 1898-1899 and beyond

I have decided to have a little fun here and try writing some good old-fashioned serial fiction.  I’d like you to meet Jack Brown, a young American, age 25, who lives in St. Louis. The time is the fall of 1899. Jack is an imaginary person; the settings are as historically accurate as I can make them. We will travel from the U.S. to South Africa—and back—with some side references to Cuba, Mexico, and Patagonia.

Jack had just received a visit from his friend Russell, who’d had the adventure of his life the year before down in Cuba. Actually, he’d barely come out of it alive. When the Rough Riders had landed back in Montauk on Long Island in August 1898, it seemed as though the majority were down with the Cuban fever, including Russell. He’d be fine for a few days, and then a change of temperature or the onset of rain would bring a severe attack of the chills and make him so weak he felt like he couldn’t pick up a spoon, or so he said. Even now he still had spells of the fever.

But he’d been there on San Juan Hill with Roosevelt, spurred on by the sound of the Gatling guns to dash up the hill toward the Spanish position. That hadn’t been the original plan—they were supposed to creep up the hill, avoiding presenting a target, returning fire slowly and carefully. But Roosevelt had decided on a charge, and once the Gatlings started up, the Riders and the regulars from other units on the hill had kind of gone crazy, Russell said. They’d run up the hill and captured it within an hour. Jack asked him if he’d been afraid, and Russell said no, it was quite an interesting experience. He’d felt apprehensive earlier in the day, but once they started charging, he felt an indescribable elation.

Roosevelt and the Rough Riders atop San Juan Hill

Jack wondered about that “indescribable elation.” He imagined not many of the Riders would have used such a five-dollar word to describe their emotion, but then, Russell was a newspaper man like himself. Russell had been on the staff of the Harvard student magazine—along with Roosevelt. The recruiters had drawn on a few of Roosevelt’s college classmates, but the vast majority hailed from the southwest. Cowboys, former military men, just general adventurers, sunburned and scruffy, from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Indian territory.

Jack had been feeling that he was settling into a groove with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, perhaps a little too early. He was still young—there was still perhaps an opportunity for some grand adventure, some inspiring endeavor of one sort or another before he became an entirely predictable individual. He’d been hearing some interesting things about a place over in South Africa called the Transvaal, and he thought he might investigate that further. In fact, he’d even heard that “Transvaal Leagues” were being formed in the larger American cities. He knew that U.S. citizens already over there in connection with gold exploration were forming fighting units. A lot of them were Irish-Americans.

Part of the reason Jack felt drawn to the cause was his gut-level dislike of the idea that the British Empire was picking on a small, independent republic. But he realized that the official position of the U.S. toward the conflict was ambiguous.

(To be continued)

Top of San Juan Hill after the battle