Alcatraz as a Military Prison

1859 - The Army garrisons the island, bringing with it the first military prisoners who are members of the 3rd Artillery. Crimes unknown.

1861 - The Alcatraz guardhouse designated as the military prison for the Department of the Pacific.

1863 - The crew of the schooner Chapman, Confederate sympathizers who'd intended to blockade San Francisco Bay, are arrested and held on Alcatraz.

1865 - The last seccessionists leave the island.

1867 - The wooden cellhouse is torn down and replaced with a brick one.

1871 - Convict labor adds two wings to the cell house.

1873 - "Paiute Tom" of Nevada arrives on the Rock. He is shot dead during an alleged escape attempt.

1873 - Modoc warriors Broncho and Sloluck are convicted of conspiracy to kill Brigadier General E.R.S. Canby and sentenced to life imprisonment. Broncho dies of scrofula in 1875. In 1878, Sloluck is transferred to Leavenworth.

1878 - Two prisoners steal a rowboat and row to San Francisco.

1884 - Chiracahua Apache Chief and Geronimo ally Ka-e-te-na arrives for a two year stay on the Rock.

1895 - Chief Lomahongyoma and eighteen other Hopis are incarcerated on Alcatraz for resisting Bureau of Indian Affairs' efforts to create a new farming system and educate Hopi children in Bureau schools.

1900 - Word arrives that the Alcatraz prison population of one hundred and fifty will soon be increased by the arrival of 135 prisoners from Manila. The Department of the Pacific demands and gets funding for a new cell-house on the south end of the island.

1902 - A report counts 461 convicts on the rock.

1902 - A lantern causes a fire in the old cellhouse. Though a guard quickly extinguishes the flames with a bucket of sand, for weeks prisoners dread being trapped in their cells during another conflagration.

1903 - A cabal of four prisoners forges release documents for themselves and are set free until military authorities get wise and recaptures them only a few days later.

1904 - Prison laborers extend the stockade to enclose the parade ground.

1905 - A judge advocate general reports that no solitary confinement has been imposed on the island in more than a year.

1906 - Four prisoners try to paddle to the mainland in a large butter vat. Strong winds and currents bring them back to the island.

1907 - Three convicts try to escape in a bread-kneading trough. Another prisoner floats away on a log, but is hit by a ferry boat and returned to the island.

1907 - The War Department designates the post as "Pacific Branch, U.S. Military Prison, Alcatraz Island" and ends most defense-related activities on the island.

1908 - Convicts are set to the task of tearing down the fifty-year old Citadel, leaving the lower-most floor to serve as a dungeon for the new prison building.

1911 - Work on the new cellhouse is complete.

1912 - The first convicts move into the new cellhouse.

1912 - Two prisoners construct a driftwood raft for an escape attempt.

1913 - Two congressional bills to convert Fort Point into a military prison and turn Alcatraz over to the Bureau of Immigration die in committee.

1915 - The prison is renamed "Pacific Branch, United States Disciplinary Barracks".

1916 - A pair of convicts attempt to leave the island on a log.

1918 - Two prisoners don stolen officer's uniforms and flu masks, board a boat to the Presidio, and disappear for two weeks into the California heartland.

1918 - The Army imprisons a group of Quakers claiming conscientious objector status.

1918 - German consul general Franz Bopp is kept on the island while he is tried for wartime offenses.

1926 - The warden thwarts a mass breakout by inviting prisoners to swim the Bay.

1927 - Boaters find two Alcatraz inmates floating on a log and return them to the island.

1929 - A discarded ladder provides two prisoners with an unsteady getaway vehicle. They are returned to the island.

1930 - Three prisoners give up on an escape attempt when the water proves too cold, even on their make-shift raft. They are found crying for help between the Rock and Berkeley.

1930 - Jack Allen greases his body well and jumps into San Francisco Bay. He is never heard from again.

1933 - Secretary of War George Dern transfers control of Alcatraz to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. All except 27 hard core army prisoners are transferred to Fort Jay, New Jersey, or Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

1934 - The first civilian convicts arrive on the island.

Return to Doc on the Rock
Return to Alcatraz: The Warden Johnston Years
Read a Memo Regarding Army Prisoners

A picture of Alcatraz as it looked when it was a military fort and detention barracks.
Courtesy Golden Gate National Recreation Area,
Alcatraz Island