Click here to read an interview with Frank McArty from September, 1898
Frank McArty was a Private in Troop A of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, also known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders.” He participated in the battle at La Guasimas on June 24, 1898, Kettle and San Juan Hills on July 1, 1898 and the siege of Santiago. In many of the rosters for the Rough Riders, McArty is listed as Frank McCarty or Frank McCarthy.
Francis Marion “Frank” McArty, the son of Charles Wesley McArty and Mary Jane “Molly” Bear was born in Willow Branch Township, Piatt County, Illinois on November 27, 1867. His parents owned a farm where he learned farming and he attended the local schools. He passed the teacher’s examination in April 1889, taught school for a short time and attended Illinois State Normal University in 1890.
McArty was elected Justice of the Peace in Willow Branch in 1894, and in 1895 and 1896 was elected chairman of the Republican Committee. On June 25, 1893, Frank married Nellie May Jones and on August 9, 1894, a son, Francis Marion McArty, Jr. was born. Sadly, Nellie May came down with pneumonia and passed away February 16, 1896. Sometime in 1897, Frank left his young son with the maternal grandparents and traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona to work on a ranch. It was while he was working as a ranch hand that the call went out for men to join with Theodore Roosevelt to fight the Spanish in Cuba. Frank, was now thirty years old
Coconino County, where Frank was working was allotted twenty-five men out of a total of two hundred to be taken from Arizona and in three hours after the call was issued in Flagstaff, 148 men had signed the muster roll. The men decided among themselves that the mayor of Flagstaff should select the twenty-five men. The decision worked in Frank’s favor for the Mayor was influenced by politics and, luckily, his political beliefs was in accord with the mayor and he was among those selected. The Rough Riders’ records indicate that Frank had light brown hair, brown eyes, and stood five foot, seven inches tall.
The group of men chosen by the mayor traveled by passenger train to Prescott, Arizona, then marched two miles to Ft. Whipple, an abandoned post where they were to be examined and swear their allegiance. This was Sunday, May 1, 1898.
On May 4, the men boarded a special Santa Fe train and traveled through New Mexico to El Paso, Texas where they switched onto the Southern Pacific and headed for San Antonio. Frank arrived in San Antonio at 3 a.m. Saturday morning, May 7, and went into camp with his fellow travellers. Three days later, Col. Leonard Wood arrived at the camp from Washington and immediately assumed command. Wood was followed on May 15 by Lieut. Col. Roosevelt, who arrived so quietly that many of the men didn’t know of his presence until the next day. Training with the horses began on the 16th with many of the horses being wild, unbroken horses. Thus the nickname “Rough Riders” was given to their unit.
From San Antonio another special train took Frank and the Rough Riders to Port Tampa, Florida, leaving on May 29 and arriving on June 3. On June 6 they received orders that only seventy men from Troop A would board the transport bound for Cuba and they would go as a dismounted cavalry and the horses would be left in charge of the 13 troopers left behind. Frank was one of the seventy chosen. After boarding the transport YUCATAN they were told word had come that Spanish naval forces had been spotted, and the invasion flotilla would have to wait for the navy to clear them away. The reports were untrue, but the men remained anchored in the bay until June 13 when they finally set sail. On June 21 they dropped anchor in Daiquiri Bay where they witnessed the NEW YORK, TEXAS and a few other naval veesels bombard the coast, throwing shells at everything that was thought to contain a Spanish soldier.
Finally, on June 22, a Cuban pilot came aboard and guided the YUCATAN to within 200 yards of the dock and they took rowboats to land. Camp was finally set up on foreign soil. Frank saw action at Siboney, Las Guasimas, San Juan Hill, Kettle Hill and the siege of Santiago. He was only twenty feet from Capt. “Bucky” O’Neill when he was shot, dying instantly. One of Frank’s fellow troopers, Ed Liggett, was also killed while fighting not far from him. Frank was not wounded but had a close call when a bullet hit a tree, rebounded and struck him between the shoulders as he was lying on the ground. He did, however, contract Malaria and suffered reoccurring bouts throughout his life.
While on leave due to the Malaria, prior to being mustered out, Frank wrote an article for the Decatur, Illinois, Herald-Despatch. Later on, another unknown newspaper contacted him about writing of his experiences in the war and printed his comments in serial form.
Frank was mustered out of the Army at Ft. Sheridan, IL on October 18, 1898.
After the war, Frank returned to Rising Station, Champaign County, Illinois where he managed a grain elevator for the B.C. Beach Company. On March 28, 1904 he remarried, this time to Grace Viola Hollenbeck and three daughters, Irma, Anna and Madge were born to the couple. Frank retired in 1928 and he and Grace moved to the city of Champaign where he enjoyed membership in the VFW and Masonic Lodge. After many years of applying, Frank finally received a pension from the government because of his poor health. He was an avid reader, enjoying Shakespeare, mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and also worked the daily crossword puzzle more quickly than anyone else around. He was a quiet man who occasionally smoked a pipe and always looked forward to the daily newspaper.
Sometime after 1945, Frank’s youngest daughter, Madge, divorced her husband and came home to live with her two daughters. The oldest daughter, Judy, remembers hearing her “Grandpa Mac” talk about Teddy and their many experiences, but was too young then to realize that it was the famous Theodore Roosevelt he was describing.
On March 23, 1951, Frank began having serious medical problems and was
taken to the Illinois State Hospital at Kankakee, Illinois where he
passed away due to Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease on July 18, 1951. He
was buried in Grandview Memorial Gardens, Champaign County, July 20,
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Family genealogical research by Judy Brown based primarily on articles that appeared in newspapers in Piatt County, IL
Jones, Virgil Carrington, Roosevelt's Rough Riders. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1971) 314.