During this time, many non-Indians
also began to take up residency on the island, including the homeless
and many from the San
Francisco hippie and drug culture.
fell apart when Richard Oake’s 13 year old stepdaughter fell three floors
down a stairwell to her death. Following her death, Oakes left the island,
leaving it without a strong leader. The two competing groups then
began to maneuver back and forth for leadership.
also found themselves faced with the same problems that had hindered both
the military and prison administrations – the lack of natural resources
and the requirement that all supplies, food, and water be ferried by boat. The process was not only exhausting, but also extremely expensive.
Despite the prohibition
of drugs and alcohol by the
the contraband soon began to be brought onto the island by the many non-Native
Americans who had also encamped upon
Alcatraz. Without strong leadership, the situation quickly became unmanageable and
the organization of the community fell apart. Daily reports from the
government caretaker on the island, as well as complaints from the
remaining original occupants, described the open use of drugs, destruction
of property including graffiti and vandalism, and the general disarray of
Alcatraz Indian Occupation, photo by Ilka Hartman,
courtesy California State University
Without the equalitarian
form of government that was supposed to prevail, there was no one with
whom the government could negotiate.
In response, the government, in an attempt to evacuate the island, shut
off all electrical power and removed the water barge which provided fresh
water for those occupying the island. Three days after the removal of the
water barge, on June 1, 1970, a fire was accidentally started and raged
through several of the buildings. When the blaze finally died out, the
Warden's home, the lighthouse keeper's residence, and the Officers' Club
were burned to the ground. Also severely damaged was the historic
lighthouse built in 1854.
The Native Americans were soon forced to resort to drastic measures in order to
survive and began to strip copper wiring and tubing from the buildings to
sell as scrap metal. Three of the occupiers were arrested and found
guilty of selling some 600 pounds of copper. This story, along with other
news of the events taking place on the island began to be told in the
press. Before long, little support could be found for the
In January, 1971, when
two oil tankers collided in the San Francisco Bay, it pushed the federal
government into action. Though no blame was held against the
occupiers of the island, a removal plan began to be developed. Designed to
take place with as little force as possible and at a time that the
smallest number of people were on the island, the forced removal took
place on June 10, 1971.
On that date, the
occupation ended when 20 armed federal marshals, assisted by the Coast
Guard, swarmed the island, removing five women, four children, and six
unarmed Indian men.
Though the specific
demands for the island itself were not realized, the initial underlying
goals of the first occupants were to awaken the American public to the
reality of the Native American plight. As a result, the official government policy of
tribes was ended and a new policy of
self-determination was recognized.
The occupation also
resulted in the return of Blue Lake and some 48,000 acres of land to the
Taos Indians, a Native American University near Davis,
and hiring of Native Americans to the Bureau of
Affairs offices in Washington, D.C.
The occupation was the longest of any federal
facility by Native Americans to this day.
Golden Gate National
On October 12, 1972,
Congress created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the island
became part of the National Park Service. After some slight
modifications to the facility to make it safe for the public and razing of
the guard’s residences that were deteriorated beyond repair, the park
opened in the fall of 1973. Since that time, it has become one the
most popular of the Park Service sites, with more than a million visitors
Along with its rich history and the prison itself, visitors also marvel at
the wildlife, expansive gardens and dramatic views of the Golden Gate
Bridge, downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, and Treasure Island.
As one looks east towards
the San Francisco Bay, it is easy to imagine the island as the location of
a luxurious resort. But as visitors continue their tour, the reality
of the cell house, solitary confinement cells, and the pitch black "hole”
quickly brings back the reality of the Island and its past.
The "thrill” of
has been portrayed in a number of Hollywood movies over the years, such as
1962’s "Birdman of Alcatraz,” Clint Eastwood’s popular 1979 film, "Escape from
"Murder in the First” in 1995, and "The
Rock” in 1996. Though none of these movies are completely accurate
in their historic details, they have provided a glimpse at prison life
upon the "Rock.”
Fort Point and Golden Gate today, March, 2005, Jon Sullivan.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Many former inmates of
the prison that are still alive today find it extremely hard to grasp the
idea of why so many people would want to visit a place that represented to
them only anguish and despair. To them, the term "recreation area”
is an oxymoron in the extreme.
But, visit we do, so much
so that if you are planning a trip to the island, reservations are
recommended days in advance as the tours fill up fast. The tour
provides a brief orientation from a park ranger, a ranger-led or
self-guided tour, and an orientation film. An audio tour is also
available for a couple of extra dollars that is well worth it, as guards
and former prisoners share their experiences of the prison.
Today, the military base barracks, prison cell
house, the oldest lighthouse on the west coast, and several other
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is much more
than just Alcatraz Island, it also is one of the largest urban parks in the world, with acreage
spanning 2 ˝ half times the size of San Francisco County.
Not one situated in one continuous location,
the numerous sites of the park that contains 739 historic structures,
including 5 National Historic Landmarks and 12 National Register
Properties, stretches from northern San Mateo County to southern Marin
County, and includes several areas of San Francisco. Encompassing 69 miles
of bay and ocean shoreline, the park features military fortifications that
span centuries of California history, various cultural landscapes,
numerous archeological sites, the homeland of the Coastal Miwok and Ohlone
people, and displays collections of more than 3 million historic objects,
documents, images and specimens.
Point Bonita Lighthouse, July, 2009, Dave
North of the Golden Gate
Bridge in Marin County, the park includes Bolinas Ridge, Forts Baker,
Barry, and Cronkhite; Gerbode Valley, Kirby Cove, Marin Headlands, Muir
Woods National Monument, Beach and Overlook, the Nike Missile Site, Olema
Valley, Point Bonita Lighthouse, Stinson Beach, and Tennessee Valley.
South of the Golden Gate Bridge in San
Francisco County, are the sites of Alcatraz
Island, Baker Beach, Battery Chamberlin, China Beach, the Cliff House
& Sutro Baths, Crissy Airfield, Beach and Field Center; Forts Funston,
Point; Lands End, Ocean Beach, the Pacific West Regional Information Center,
Sutro Historic District, and the
Presidio of San Francisco.
South of San Francisco, in San Mateo County, the park includes Milagra
Ridge, Mori Point, the Phleger Estate, and Sweeney Ridge.
National Park Service
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Fort Mason, Building 201
Visitor Information - 415-561-4900
Reservations - 415- 705-5555
of America, updated April, 2017.