Rough Riders (miniseries)

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This article is about 1997 television miniseries. For 1927 silent film, see The Rough Riders (film).
Rough Riders
Rough Riders (film).jpg
Written by John Milius
Hugh Wilson
Directed by John Milius
Starring Tom Berenger
Sam Elliott
Gary Busey
Theme music composer Peter Bernstein
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Tom Berenger
Running time 184 minutes
Budget $19 million

Rough Riders is a 1997 television miniseries directed and co-written by John Milius about future President Theodore Roosevelt and the regiment known as the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry; aka the Rough Riders. The series prominently shows the bravery of the volunteers at the Battle of San Juan Hill, part of the Spanish–American War of 1898. It was released on DVD in 2006. The series originally aired on TNT with a four-hour running time, including commercials, over two consecutive nights during July 1997.[1]


In 1898 the US government decided to intervene on the side of the Cuban rebels in their struggle against Spanish rule. Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt decides to experience the war first hand by promoting and joining a volunteer cavalry regiment. The regiment, later known as the Rough Riders, brings together volunteers from all corners of the nation and all walks of life. When Roosevelt and his men finally land on Cuba, they face ambush, intense enemy fire, and a desperate, outnumbered charge up a defended hill.



A script had been written and was offered to John Milius to direct by executive producer and star Tom Berenger.[2] He agreed provided he could rewrite the script.

It was filmed in Texas over 48 days on a budget of $19 million.[3]

Milius considers the film one of his best:

"They had a lot of controls on me, at Turner, and I just ran over them... They hated me, but I got the film made, didn't I?... That's what you have to do. You have to be true to the vision that you start out to do, otherwise what are you even there for?"[4]

Historical inaccuracies[edit]

Buckey O'Neill commanded 'A' Troop of which Henry Nash was indeed a member, not 'G' Troop. Craig Wadsworth was a member of 'K' Troop and was not a member of O'Neill's troop.

Henry Nash was not a stagecoach robber but a miner and a schoolteacher. Nash and O'Neill did not have an antagonistic relationship due to O'neill's "6th Sense" that Nash was a criminal. Bucky O'Neill and Henry Nash were actually friends. It has been speculated that Milius based Nash's character on William Sterin. In 1889, Sterin and three other men robbed a train in Arizona. O'Neill led the posse that captured Sterin & the three men who were subsequently sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison. In 1897, the men were pardoned and in 1898 Sterin joined the Rough Riders under an assumed name. It is believed that Sternin may have been killed in action during the "Battle of San Juan Hill."

Bucky O'Neill is not buried in the Arizona desert as portrayed in the final scene; instead he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

There would indeed be a statue dedicated to Buckey O'Neill as Nash stated there would be, however, Nash had nothing to do with it. The statue was created after Henry Nash died.

Major General Joseph Wheeler is implied to be older and more experienced than Major General William Rufus Shafter, the V Corps commander. In reality, Shafter was two years older than Wheeler and also a Civil War veteran (and Medal of Honor recipient).

Wheeler issued the order to attack San Juan Heights not to 1st Lieutenant John J. "Black Jack" Pershing of the 10th Cavalry, but to Brigadier General J. F. Kent, Commander of the 1st Division of the 5th Army Corps, who led his division in the main assault of San Juan Hill while the Rough Riders & the 10th Cavalry attacked Kettle Hill.

No Spanish machine gun was present at San Juan Hill. The volume of quick firing Mauser rifles was mistaken as machine gun fire. There also were no German advisors with the Spanish forces.

"Fighting Joe" Wheeler's son, a West Point graduate who was on his staff, was actually named Joseph Jr. and not William as depicted.


The final scene of the movie begins with the caption "22 Years Later." Since the previous scene took place at the conclusion of the 1898 Battle of San Juan Hill, then the final scene must have taken place in 1920. The final scene is where Henry Nash, played by Brad Johnson, is in the desert, presumably Arizona, and is talking to the headstones of Buckey O'Neill and George Neville. In his conversation with the tombstones, Nash mentions 1) He just saw Teddy Roosevelt at Roosevelt's New York home and that Teddy was "doing poorly," 2) that Roosevelt lost his son " the First World War," 3) that Nash was a millionaire, and 4) that Nash's son was at Harvard.

However, Nash could not have met Roosevelt in 1920 because Roosevelt died in 1919 and Nash died in 1902 in Manila, Philippines. In 1920, people called World War I "The Great War." No one could have possibly imagined in 1920 that there would be a Second World War a generation later. Nash was never a millionaire businessman; he was a schoolteacher and his last salary, in 1902 in Manila, was for $1,200 per year. Henry Nash never had a son who went to Harvard. In fact, he never married and never had any children.


A reviewer for Variety called it "a rough, sometimes silly, take on extraordinary American history"[5] while a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times wrote that "it rarely manages to surface above a seemingly endless array of skirmishes, firefights, ambushes, infantry charges, hand-to-hand combat, carnage and killing."[6]


  1. ^ "Rough Riders". TV Tango. 
  2. ^ Brady, James (20 July 1997). "In Step. With TOM BERENGER". The Washington Post. p. I16. (subscription required (help)).  Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  3. ^ Sterngold, James (13 July 1997). "In TNT's 'Rough Riders,' John Milius presents the Spanish–American War as a great way to build character.: For Teddy, War Was Heaven". New York Times. p. H33. 
  4. ^ "An Interview with John Milius". IGN. 7 May 2003. Retrieved 5 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Scott, Tony (17 July 1997). "Review: 'Rough Riders'". Variety. 
  6. ^ Heckman, Don (19 July 1997). "'Riders' Characters Prove Roughly Drawn". Los Angeles Times. 

External links[edit]