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History Study Reference Information

Erwin N. Thompson


Reader Note (from AlcatrazHistory.com): This version of Erwin Thompson’s “The Rock” is presented in an abridged and condensed format, and does not contain all of the original images, maps, charts, illustrations, reference, and source notes included in the original print version. If you would like to download a non-abridged, fully sourced version containing all of the original charts and references scanned from the print based version, please click the link provided to download this publication in a PDF format which was scanned and created by the National Park Service.

The photographs and associated captions are not those included in the original print version. Please download the PDF version to view the native format and imagery.

Additionally, if you’d like to download a digital / ebook version of the Alcatraz Rules and Regulations, along with other materials which includes maps, a fully searchable Alcatraz inmate roster and photos, please click on the banner below, or please visit the Rules and Regulations page located within the main directory for more information.


Erwin Thompson conducting research on Alcatraz in 1971


This historic resource study of Alcatraz Island does not have an approved task directive. However, it has been prepared in accordance with the standards and regulations concerning historic preservation. The objective has been to complete a document that will prove useful to planning, management, preservation, and interpretation. Direct quotations herein have on rare occasion been carefully modified by minor punctuation .changes. Care has been taken not to change the original meaning. The actual rank of army officers is used throughout the report, their brevet grades being ignored. Also, in describing the post-Civil War years, officers are referred to by their regular army grades, not by their wartime positions.


The great bulk of the research on Alcatraz Island was done in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and in the Federal Archives and Records Center in San Bruno, California. At San Bruno my thanks go to Jo Ann Williamson, Robyn Gottfried, Daniel Nealand, and Mary Kiely, all of whom cheerfully put up with my demands. When my research notes were stolen and I had to return to San Bruno to repeat the research, these people still welcomed me. My sincere appreciation goes to the entire staff in Old Military Records, Army and Navy Branch, National Archives. There are too many to name and I am bound to forget someone, but I am in the debt of that whole grand group of people who kept the records coming month after month. A special thanks goes to Dr. Elaine C. Everley, who graciously replied to my letters of inquiry on a number of esoteric subjects. In the Audiovisual Archives Division, both Judy Pratt, Motion Picture Branch, and Douglas Thurman, Still Picture Branch, assisted me greatly in locating film pertaining to all phases of Alcatraz's history. My thanks go, too, to Graeme McCluggage, Cartographic Archives Division, who helped me examine maps of the San Francisco Bay Area for a solid week. This was one of the most exhausting weeks in my entire research career, but it was also one of the most rewarding. Thomas Lipscomb at Suitland, Maryland, was most understanding when I was called away at a moment's notice and when, a few weeks later, I returned to ask for the same records. My thanks also to Donald Mosholder, who introduced me to the records of the Bureau of Prisons.

Other people in the Washington, D. C., area who graciously helped me over the months include Dr. E. RaYmond Lewis, librarian for the House of Representatives and an authority on seacoast defense; Col. Herbert Hart, U.S.M.C., whose earlier work on Alcatraz oriented my path; and Col. William F. Strobridge, Center of Military History, Department of the Army, who identified material most useful in this study. Dr. John A. Hussey of Piedmont, California, historian of all things Californian, gave generously of his knowledge and time on a number of occasions over the months. The city archivist Gladys Hansen, San Francisco Public Library, helped me sift through the treasures of the San Francisco Room. John Langellier and Eric Saul, Presidio Museum, the Presidio of San Francisco, shared the important historic resources that this museum possesses. Joyce Berry, reference librarian for the California Historical Society, kindly made available for study a large number of documents pertaining to Alcatraz. The entire staff at the California State Library at Sacramento deserves praise for its unstinting aid. Worthy of special mention is the incredible index to California newspapers, which saved me countless hours. Dr. Robert Becker, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, and his staff, made available a large number of important papers concerning San Francisco Harbor, including the Muybridge photographs of Alcatraz's 15-inch Rodmans. My thanks go to all these people and institutions. Three National Park Service historians require special mention: Edwin C. Bearss, Anna Coxe Toogood, and F. Ross Holland, Jr. Mr. Bears, whose knowledge of both coastal defenses and the contents of the National Archives is legendary, guided me through the maze of the Corps of Engineers' records and willingly to assist me whenever I came to a stumbling block. Ms. Toogood, my collaborator in the historical study of Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), shared with me not only the agonies and triumphs of the research but also much-needed mutual uplifting of morale when thieves made off with our research notes and when we ran out of time. F. Ross Holland, Jr., an authority on American lighthouses, made available not only his knowledge but an important manuscript study on West Coast lights, which was most useful in this work.

One group of people who contributed an immeasurable amount of help to this undertaking through knowledge, friendliness, hospitality, and understanding was the entire staff at GGNRA, including Linda Bogardus, Andy Gifford, Charles Hawkins, Steve Heath, Jim Lester, John Martini, Doug Nadeau, Jerry Schober, Lee Shenk, Mike Stricklin, Bill Whalen, Jack Wheat, and many, many others. John Martini has earned my special gratitude for time after time donating his days off to guide me around the historic resources. Likewise, my thanks go to the entire Historic Preservation unit at the Western Regional Office, especially to Gordon Chappell, whose interest in the project is very much appreciated. My appreciation goes, too, to the historic architect Harold A. LaFleur, Denver Service Center, who almost daily gave me sound advise on architectural and preservation matters . John Jenkins, also of the Denver Service Center, deserves a great deal of credit for spending a vast amount of time in front of a microfiche reader extracting from the Daily Alta California all articles pertaining to today's GGNRA. He also skillfully organized the large collection of historic maps and building plans for the area. Thanks also go to Greg Moore and Rolf Diamont, park planners, Denver Service Center, who were always willing and ready to assist in this project. And these pages would not be available were it not for the editorial wisdom of Linda Wedel Greene and the typing perfection of Lael Cleys on the original manuscript, Denver Service Center. My gratitude goes to both of them. Finally, I warmly thank the project manager, Ron Treabess, Denver Service Center. Ron in his role as a coordinator, advisor, supporter, and friend throughout the long, and sometimes weary, months has made this project a joy for me.

List of Abbreviations

AAG: Assistant Adjutant General
AG: Adjutant General
AGO: Adjutant General's Office
CCF: Consolidated Correspondence Files (Quartermaster)
CH: Chief
CO: Commanding General
IG: Inspector General
JAG: Judge Advocate General
NA: National Archives
NPS: National Park Service
OCE: Office of the Chief of Engineers (also Office of the Chief Engineer)
OQMG: Office of the Quartermaster General
PB, USDB: Pacific Branch, United States Disciplinary Barracks
PB, USMP: Pacific Branch, United States Military Prison
QM: Quartermaster
RG: Record Group
USA: United States Army