July 1, 1898: “Don, the Dog” leads the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill

don a dogTeddy Roosevelt considered Hamilton Fish one of his closest friends. Ham was captain of his crew at Columbia (and grandson to the Secretary of State) so he fit right in with the other elite college men and the cowboys and ranchers who made up the “Rough Rider” First Cavalry Brigade.When Ham joined the Rough Riders, Teddy gave him a dog named “Don” to keep him company in camp. Don quickly became Ham Fish’s faithful companion and the regiment mascot, accompanying Fish wherever he went.

The United States Army was weak in 1898, still depleted from the Civil War thirty years prior. With minimal logistical support the volunteer Rough Riders made their way from Texas to Cuba. They landed “in a shambles” and then started towards Santiago. The campaign was hot, and the mosquitoes were fierce. Local Cubans brought word that two thousand Spaniards were in Las Guasimas and the brigade made camp.

The time in camp anticipating battle brought the men (and their trusted companions) together. On June 23rd, Ham and Teddy sat in their campground and talked heart to heart.

“I said, ‘Well, Fish, we have all got to die sometime, and after all, we cannot die in a better way,’ and he nodded and said, ‘That is just how I feel, Colonel, and it is one of the reasons that made me come.’”

The next morning Sgt Hamilton Fish took a bullet to his heart; the first American soldier to die in the Spanish American War.

A week later, on July 1st, his remaining comrades, led by TR and Ham’s dog Don, rushed San Juan Hill. Assisted by the overwhelming power of Gatling guns, the Rough Riders seized the hill, which led to the American victory over Spain, and eventually placed the nation among the world’s great powers

TR looked back on his four months in Cuba with more pride and satisfaction than any other time of his life, and lobbied hard to receive the Medal of Honor for his service.

After the war, Don the Dog was adopted by Col. William Wallace, then when Wallace died, Wallace’s physician, a Dr. Hadley looked after him. Don quietly retired to the Quaker town of Whittier, California, until a big touring car containing four persons rounded a corner at a high speed and the old dog, walking quietly along, could not get out of its way.

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