Freedom or Death? T he entire civilized existence of Alcatraz Island has been devoted to that question. Roughly a mile and a half away by ferry, the city of San Francisco sits, founded on June 29, 1776. Initially a small town, its residents had no need for the islands in the bay to the north—Alcatraz, Angel, and Treasure Islands. But in 1848, prospectors discovered the first gold in California, and the small town of San Francisco became instantly important as a port. The port needed protection, and for that, the city looked to its west and the rocky island of Alcatraz. Constructing a garrison, the city felt safer until the country erupted into civil war. In 1861, the garrison received fortifications, becoming a military stronghold on the west coast of the U.S. While war raged elsewhere in the divided U.S., the little fort on Alcatraz Island never fired an offensive shot. With the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865, the military looked for a new use for the island, which it transformed into a military prison. A new building was constructed, completed in 1915, but historians failed to document the changes. Although photos do exist Located in San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) offshore from San Francisco, California, the small island was developed as a military fortification, a military prison, and Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.
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