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THE QUADRANGLE

Fort Sam Houston
San Antonio, Texas

1876
Architect Unknown

National Register of Historic Places

"As you step inside the stone walls, you immediately discover the perfect place for families to gather. Inside the fortress deer, ducks, rabbits, and other small animals run free, as do the thousands of children who visit there every year."

The Quadrangle and Geronimo

by Mark Louis Rybczyk
Excepted from San Antonio Uncovered. Republic of Texas Press, 2000
One of the most unusual places in San Antonio is the Quadrangle. The oldest building at Fort Sam Houston, it is now the headquarters for the Fifth U.S. Army. While many military installations discourage visitors with barbed wire and guards, the Quadrangle is just the opposite. Visitors are not only allowed, they are encouraged. As you step inside the stone walls, you immediately discover the perfect place for families to gather. Inside the fortress deer, ducks, rabbits, and other small animals run free, as do the thousands of children who visit there every year. How did the headquarters for one of the world's most powerful armies become a petting zoo? Nobody seems to know.
Quadrangle, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas
Some venison that the Apaches missed
TE photo, 6-01
The Quadrangle was built between 1876 and 1879. Before that, the Fifth Army used a variety of buildings in downtown San Antonio to house its officers, troops and supplies. An arsenal (now the H-E-B headquarters) was one of the few structures the army owned. The used the Alamo for a quartermaster depot and housed officers in the old Vance House (now the site of the Gunter Hotel). The army was looking for a permanent site to call its own, and the city offered land at the head of Leon Springs. The army rejected this because it was low-lying and susceptible to Indian raids. Most of the good land was in the hands of private citizens. When the headquarters for the local troops was relocated to Austin, city fathers recognized a need to offer a package of decent land or risk losing the military.
Quadrangle, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas
Postcard c. 1920 showing water tower, banana trees and deer.
TE Postcard Archives
Quadrangle tower and water towers
2 water towers and the clock tower.
Photo courtesy texasoldphotos.com
The land on the eastern part of the city became known as Government Hill. The quadrangle was built without any outside windows or doors (except for the main gate) to provide for protection in case of attack. Two water towers were placed in the compound, as was a clock tower. The bell inside the clock tower was taken from a gunboat that had grounded in Galveston Bay. It later hung in the Alamo when the Fifth Army used it as a depot. The clock was installed in 1882 by Bell and Brothers. The clock tower is unusual because a plaque commemorating the building of the Quadrangle is placed at the top where nobody can read it. It states:
San Antonio Quartermaster Depot
Erected by an Act of Congress - 1877
In Peace Prepare for War
Quadrangle clock tower, Fort Sam Houston
The top of the tower showing empty space for a clockface. Square below is the unreadable inscription mentioned above.
TE photo, 6-01
On September 10, 1886, the Quadrangle had perhaps it's most famous visitor, Apache Indian Chief Geronimo. Geronimo had been leading the Indians in Arizona and New Mexico in skirmishes against the U.S. Army. The battles were quite brutal and many died on both sides. According to post records, a Lieutenant Gatewood convinced Geronimo to surrender. The chief and thirty other Apaches were escorted by Captain H. M. Lawton on a special train from Bowie, Arizona to San Antonio.

While inside the walls, Geronimo was promised the protection of the U.S. Army. Tents were set up to serve as shelters during their internment. The braves remained in San Antonio until October 22, when they were taken to Fort Pickens, Florida. There are many stories connected with the chief's stay. One is that the deer in the Quadrangle were brought in for food for the thirty-one Indians. Another is that the Apaches were taken to the Lone Star Brewery and given a tour where they sampled the beer.
Quadrangle tower, San Antonio
The campanile from a distance
TE photo, 6-01

The Quadrangle has changed substantially since then. Windows were added to the outside, the water towers were removed and the purpose of the structure was changed. On July 30, 1974, the complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places. As for the animals, no one is quite sure why they were added. Legend has it that Geronimo refused to eat army food, and the wild animals were added for his benefit. One thing is known - the deer and the other animals have been there for over a hundred years.

© Mark Louis Rybczyk

Our thanks to author Mark Rybczyk for permission to reprint from his excellent San Antonio Uncovered.

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