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."
by Mark Louis
from San Antonio Uncovered. Republic of Texas Press, 2000
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.
venison that the Apaches missed
TE photo, 6-01
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.
c. 1920 showing water tower, banana trees and deer.
TE Postcard Archives
water towers and the clock tower.
Photo courtesy texasoldphotos.com
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
top of the tower showing empty space for a clockface. Square below
is the unreadable inscription mentioned above.
TE photo, 6-01
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
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.
campanile from a distance
TE photo, 6-01
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.