Before Alcatraz Island was a Federal prison, it was a military fortification and jail. But before it was a fort, it was a fishing spot of the local Native American tribes.
In 1775 Juan Manuel de Ayala charted San Francisco Bay and named the island “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” which translates as “The Island of the Pelicans”. The California Brown Pelican no longer nests on the island, but at the time so many birds covered the land you could hardly see the ground. Now a visitor is more likely to see Western Gulls, cormorants, and egrets, as well uncountable flowers. Gardens originally planted by those posted at the fort and prison are being restored by volunteers and staff members.
The isle boasts the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast of the United States. The original lighthouse was built in 1853, but was moved to Alaska and replaced with another in 1902. Four years later, during the San Francisco earthquake, the lighthouse was again replaced, and has been automated since 1963. It is now part of the museum, and can be toured.
In 1969 Alcatraz Island was occupied by the United Indians of All Tribes, a group of American Indians protesting the government’s treatment of Native Americans. This occupation lasted almost two years. The group wanted to have the island turned into an education, ecology and cultural center for the Native Americans. In 2011, 42 years later, a permanent multimedia exhibit was opened in part of the former prison. It focuses on the 19 month long occupation, and serves as the requested cultural center. Every Thanksgiving and Columbus Day American Indian groups go back to the island to hold “Sunrise Gatherings” and other ceremonies.
Cie McCullough Buschle | Cie McCullough Buschle lives with her dog Einstein and a cat named Burton Guster Took. She enjoys researching history through holidays, toys, and everyday objects. Cie is a sculptor and clay hand builder and spends her time traveling back in time to the Middle Ages as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism.