“This is a pistol with a history,” he said, fondling his revolver affectionately. “It was taken from the wreck of the Maine. When I took it to Cuba, I made a vow to kill at least one Spaniard with it, and I did…” – Theodore Roosevelt, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
There is likely no man to whom history can attribute such a singularly important role in the U.S. victory over Span in the Spanish-American war than Theodore Roosevelt. Only months before his famous charge on San Juan Hill, Cuba, he had been a suit-and-tie politician. As assistant Naval Secretary — though he was all cowboy underneath — he spent his days fighting red-tape rather than Spaniards. However, even in the role of Assist. Secretary, he still managed to whip the Navy into supreme fighting condition, demanding an increase in battle-maneuvering exercises and strict physical requirements to be adhered to. Those men who could not “shape-up” were soon shipped out.
The explosion of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba — the cause of which has never been confirmed — tipped the scales of peace and war in the favor of the latter. Roosevelt, now in his 30’s, was itching for a true fight. Shortly after the declaration of war, Roosevelt relinquished his political seat in hopes that he may be able to take part in the conflict. He did.
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Roosevelt’s Infamous .38 Colt Revolver
It was Roosevelt’s brother-in-law, US Navy Captain William Cowles, who led the salvage crew for the USS Maine after its demise. Cowles recovered a .38 Colt revolver pistol and gave it to Roosevelt as a gift. You can almost see the strings of history revolving around this man.
As Roosevelt and his Rough Riders trained and waited for the call to fight, the U.S. Naval fleet was making quick work of the Spanish ships. It was necessary to prevent the entrance of more Spanish ships into Cuban waters, else the ability for American forces to intervene would greatly hindered. News came quickly that the U.S. Navy had dealt a swift defeat to the Spanish fleet on their home turf, and that it was Roosevelt who deserved the credit.
Though Roosevelt had seen a few skirmishes prior to San Juan Hill, he had not yet, to his knowledge, killed a man. This was likely due to his poor eyesight and the thick jungle cover of the enemy, something any cowboy used to shooting in open terrain would have trouble with. Yet, he carried the pistol recovered from the Maine which his brother-in-law had given him as his sidearm and as they charged up that famous hill, Roosevelt would make yet another mark upon the history of this war.
Roosevelt recounts this event in his typical fashion:
“Two Spaniards leaped from the trenches and fired at us, not ten yards away. I closed in and fired twice, missing the first and killing the second…He doubled up as neatly as a jack rabbit.” – Theodore Roosevelt
You can find out more about the Maine and Roosevelt’s revolver at the following links.
Revolver stolen and then found: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2006-07-04/news/REVOLVER04_1_sagamore-hill-theodore-roosevelt-revolver
The USS Maine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Maine_%28ACR-1%29