by Wilfried E. “Fred”
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of the grave site of the Llewellyn Family
William H. H. Llewellyn served as the captain of Troop G of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, also known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders.”
President Theodore Roosevelt never lost his affection for his erstwhile Rough Rider comrades in arms and appointed them to important political offices whenever the opportunity presented itself. Among his special friends was Colonel William H. H. Llewellyn of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who was close enough to the President to dine with him at the White House, to escort Mrs. Roosevelt to the Theater, and who is one of the few Rough RidersRoosevelt mentions in his autobiography.
William Henry Harrison Llewellyn was born on September 9, 1851 in Monroe, Green County, Wisconsin. His father, Joseph Llewellyn was an officer of the 2nd Kansas Cavalry in the Civil War who lived in Iowa, where his son William received his education in the public schools and later attended Tabor College. In 1866, at the age of fifteen, William went to Montana to seek his fortune in mining gold at Trinity Gulch. The quest lasted eight years but failed to make him rich. Moving to Omaha, Nebraska in about 1874 Llewellyn speculated in land and worked briefly as a collector for the McCormick Reaper Company, both without much success.
In 1877 President Hayes appointed him a special agent in the Justice Department. His superiors sent him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were he was working to protect the pony herds of the Sioux from raids by gangs of White outlaws, foremost among them the notorious Doc Middleton gang. By all accounts he was a courageous law officer, and the experience prepared him for his later assignment in New Mexico.
While in Nebraska Llewellyn married Ohio born Ida May Little, a marriage that produced seven children.
On June 16, 1881 Llewellyn arrived on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico where he had been appointed Indian agent. He soon became one of the few agents who considered the welfare of his charges, worked for their betterment, subjected them to discipline and won their respect. He organized an Indian police force and strove to bring the lawless situation on the reservation under control. Going hunting with them, the Mescaleros called him “Tata Crooked Nose”. In 1883 he also became agent for the Jicarilla Apaches and supervised their transfer to the Mescalero reservation. Later he established an Indian boarding school, added a doctor to the agency staff and had the Indians join the Cattle Growers Association.
A staunch Republican, when Democrat Grover Cleveland won the election and became President, Llewellyn resigned his position as Indian agent in the summer of 1885. He moved to Las Cruces, formed a partnership with Rynerson and Wade, prominent attorneys in southern New Mexico and began to practice law. Later he served as livestock agent for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company, a position he held for eight years.
In 1896 he served his first term in the Territorial House of Representatives were he was chosen speaker. The same year Llewellyn became involved in the infamous and still unsolved Albert Jennings Fountain murder case, investigating and testifying for the prosecution, which ultimately failed to make their case in a bitterly contested and intensely partisan trial in 1897 in Hillsboro.
When the Spanish-American war broke out in April 1898 New Mexico Governor Miguel A. Otero called for volunteers for a cavalry regiment that would become known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. The New Mexico component was to consist of four troops, designated E, F, G and H, and was officially mustered into service on May 6 and 7. Llewellyn assisted with the recruitment and became Captain of troop “G”, while his eighteen-year-old son Morgan joined troop “H” that was under the command of future governor Captain George Curry. Major H. B. Hersey took command of the four troops that now formed the second squadron of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.
The squadron went by train to San Antonio, Texas where the recruits observed a man tacking a canvas sign to the side of a streetcar. The sign read: “Take This Car For The Exposition Grounds Where Roosevelt’s Famous Rough Riders Are Camped”. A famous regiment had been named and the name stuck.
At the San Antonio Exposition grounds horses were allotted to the various troops by color, and the training began with Colonel Leonard Wood and Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in command. Only a few days later on the twenty-ninth of May the regiment boarded a train for Tampa. When it was time to embark for Cuba orders were received for one of the four New Mexico troops to stay behind in Florida. The toss of a coin decided the issue and to their everlasting disappointment the lot fell on Curry’s troop “H”. It was thus that Llewellyn’s son Morgan missed his chance to participate in the Cuban campaign.
In Cuba Captain Llewellyn was credited with an important contribution to the American victory in the battle for a hill at San Juan. Dubbed “Kettle Hill”, a sentry named Ralph McFie had been posted for night duty, when he heard the stirrings of Spanish troops moving into position. Retreating to his own lines he was intercepted by Captain Llewellyn. McFie was also from Las Cruces and Llewellyn knew him well. The Captain lost no time to notify headquarters, causing the promoted Colonel Roosevelt to order an early counterattack that went into history as the celebrated charge of Roosevelt's Rough Riders up San Juan Hill. McFie’s vigilance and Llewellyn’s prompt action earned the latter a promotion to Major. The campaign also caused him to contract yellow fever and put him into the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
As Roosevelt’s comrade-in-arms on San Juan Hill, Llewellyn returned to Las Cruces as something of a war hero. When Roosevelt became President in 1901 he appointed him United States attorney for New Mexico. At the same time Rough Rider Morgan O. Llewellyn received an appointment as surveyor general of the territory, a position not less important and nearly equal in power to that of governor. The involvement of the two Llewellyn in a scandal involving land and mineral acquisitions by the Pennsylvania Development Company and others caused both men to resign their respective positions effective January 1, 1908.
Since the 1890’s Llewellyn had been a member of the New Mexico Territorial Militia and when he was appointed Judge Advocate General of the New Mexico National Guard he was promoted to Colonel. He also was active since at least 1899 in New Mexico’s long drawn out struggle for statehood. He served in the Constitutional Convention of 1910 and in November 1911 was chosen a member of New Mexico’s first state legislature, where he represented Dona Ana County.
William Henry Harrison Llewellyn died in the U.S. Army William
hospital in El Paso on June 11, 1927 and was buried in the Masonic
in Las Cruces.
Curry, George. George Curry 1861-1947 An Autobiography. (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1958).
Keleher, William A. The Fabulous Frontier. (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1962).
Larson, Robert W., George Curry. New Mexico Historical Review XLIII:4, 1968.
Price, Paxton P. Pioneers of the Mesilla Valley. (Las Cruces, N.M., Yucca Tree Press, 1995).
Sonnichsen, C.L. The Mescalero Apaches. (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1973).
--------, Tularosa, Last of the Frontier West. (Old Greenwhich: The Devin-Adair Company, 1972).
Twitchell, Ralph Emerson. The Leading Facts of New Mexico History Vol. II. (Cedar Rapids: The Torch Press, 1912).