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NEWS | May 10, 2018

Historic tours: Army history in San Antonio transcends Alamo

By Staff Sgt. Tomora Nance U.S. Army North Public Affairs

Present-day San Antonio, also known as “Military City USA,” traces its history back 300 years with the founding of Presido de San Antonio May 5, 1718.

Approximately two miles from the Alamo, the city of San Antonio donated about 92 acres of land to the Army by 1875, creating what is today Fort Sam Houston.

To commemorate the bond between city and the military, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston hosted Military Appreciation Weekend May 5-6 as part of the city’s tricentennial celebration. The installation opened to the public for a variety of events and activities, including hourly historic tours of the installation.

Visitors lined the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum, which began the route. Volunteer tour guide Melissa Trevino, a product management director with United States Automobile Association, greeted the guests as they went to their first stop – the U.S. Army North Quadrangle

Trevino, who was one of several volunteer tour guides, gave a 15-minute guided tour about the history of the Quadrangle.

After the Civil War in 1876, construction began on the Quadrangle, as well as the water and watch tower. The U.S. Army started its move from the Alamo in 1877 and established the Quartermaster Depot, with the Headquarters element soon to follow. The water and watch tower was later converted to the clock tower in 1882. Both the Quadrangle and the clock tower are the oldest buildings on JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

In 1886, the U.S. Army held Apache leader Geronimo and 32 other Apache men, women and children prisoner inside the Quadrangle for approximately six weeks.

Michael Henderson, a resident of San Antonio, was one of the visitors during the historic tours. This was Henderson’s first time on the installation, although he has lived in San Antonio for more than 11 years.

“I was surprised to see the animals inside the quadrangle, especially the peacocks,” Henderson said.

Jacqueline Davis, the Fort Sam Houston Museum director, said in a JBSA Legacy articleearlier this year, “The first mention I have of the peacocks is from a newspaper article dated 1898. In the article, a Soldier is making little wooden boxes to place the peachicks in, so that the deer also living in the Quadrangle won’t eat them.”

Visitors commonly ask Davis why peacocks are living in the Quadrangle.


“There is no good reason other than having peacocks was a popular thing to do in the 1800s,” Davis said. “Peacocks are native to Asia and were more than likely brought to Texas from India.”

The grounds of the Quadrangle is currently home to various animals to include: deer, peacocks, ducks, geese and other various birds whom fly in occasionally.  

While the visitors were still at the Quadrangle, another tour guide debunked two myths about Geronimo’s stay: he wasn’t housed at, nor did he jump from, the clock tower. 

Henderson said he now understands the origins of the saying “Geronimo” before jumping into a pool or body of water, and how that became a popular saying, especially amongst children, even if it isn’t a factual statement.

“The Quadrangle is now home to the U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) where Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan commands as the senior mission commander for both JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and JBSA-Camp Bullis,” said Trevino.

The post remained “relatively” small until some more additions with the Infantry Post in 1890, and another expansion in 1905 with the Cavalry and Light Artillery Post. These three areas comprised the largest collection of historic buildings in the Department of Defense to form the Fort Sam Houston National Historic Landmark, Trevino said. 

On the old Infantry Post side, the tour passed by both the Stilwell House and the location where the 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, met Marie “Mamie” Doud, the woman who would become his wife.

“In 1915 while living in the bachelor officer quarters, Lt. Eisenhower was captivated by Mamie Doud as she had ‘caught his eye’ and were later married. And, as the story goes, the rest was history,” Trevino said. 

The tour bus then drove around the semi-circular driveway in front of the Gift Chapel. Architect Leo Dielmann, a San Antonio native, designed the chapel, and President William Taft dedicated the chapel in October 1909. Approximately $47,000 was donated toward the construction of the chapel by San Antonians.

“The chapel received its name ‘Gift Chapel’ because funds were donated by the city of San Antonio and several community and military leaders, which displays the long partnership between San Antonio and the military,” Trevino said.  

As the group made its way from Infantry Post to Cavalry and Light Artillery Post, they passed the Foulois House.

JBSA-Fort Sam Houston is also the birth place of military aviation, where Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois assembled and flew a Wright Brothers plane that was sent to him in a box. He took his first fight at Fort Sam Houston March 2, 1910.

“Lt. Benjamin Foulois established a lot of military aviation firsts – first to assemble a plane, first to fly a plane and first to crash a plane all in the same day,” Trevino said.  

Nearing the end of the historic tour and making a full circle to the starting point, the passengers were directed to look to their left as they passed the old Brooke Army Medical Center built in 1937 where portions of the movie “Soldiers in White” were filmed in 1942. This building is currently home to U.S. Army South.

“After World War II, Fort Sam Houston became ‘Home of Army Medicine,’” Trevino said.  

“I am just in awe and just really appreciative that the military opened up the base for civilians to see because I haven’t had the opportunity to go on the installation,” Henderson said. “I truly appreciate the service of the U.S. military, both men and women. I now have a better understanding about the history of Fort Sam Houston and look forward to doing this again in the near future.”

As Trevino prepared for her next tour, she said, “It’s pretty exciting to learn the history of Fort Sam Houston, because I had no clue of the intricate details that made the installation what it is today. During the tour, I had one lady point out her former house, which I think is so cool. The lady came up to me once she departed the bus for the final time and mentioned how she lived at Fort Sam Houston for more than two years, never knowing the history of the installation. I feel honored to be here and help people learn interesting facts about the base.”