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American Latino Heritage
U.S. Immigration Station, Angel Island
San Francisco Bay, California
Located near Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island is the largest island in San Francisco Bay. The 740-acre island, which offers expansive views of the San Francisco skyline, the Marin County Headlands, and Mount Tamalpais, is alive with history. American Indians, Spanish explorers, Russian sea otter hunters, British sailors, a Mexican rancher, and United States military and customs officials have all made use of the island. Today, visitors to Angel Island State Park can explore the diverse human history of this island, while enjoying its natural resources.
Beginning nearly 3,000 years ago, the Coastal Miwok Indians used the island for fishing and hunting. The Miwoks reached the island using boats made from tule reeds. Once on the island, the Miwoks established temporary camps at places now known as Ayala Cove, Camp Reynolds, Fort McDowell, and the Immigration Station. They hunted deer, seals, sea lions, and ducks and fished for salmon. They also collected shellfish, acorns, buckeyes, root vegetables, and other plants. The tribe used the plants for medicinal and other purposes such as toothpaste and substances similar to chewing tobacco. By the early 1800s, the Miwok Indians likely no longer utilized the island because the Spanish drew them to Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores in San Francisco), or they were driven from the region.
The island came under Spanish rule in 1775 when Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish naval officer, sailed the San Carlos into the San Francisco Bay and dropped his anchor in what is now Ayala Cove. One of the first Spanish expeditions to sail directly into the San Francisco Bay, this expedition was to develop an accurate chart and description of the area that future Spanish sailors could rely upon. Ayala’s pilot, Don Jose de Canizares, and his crew explored the area for 40 days and produced the first maps made of the San Francisco Bay. They named the island Isla de Los Angeles, which followed the common practice among Catholic explorers of naming a site based on the religious feast days nearest the time of discovery.
By 1837, during Mexico’s rule of California (1821-1848), a Californio man (California-born Mexican), Antonio Maria Osio, asked the governor of California to grant him Angel Island to use as a ranch. Osio had previously worked in Los Angeles as a town councilman, in San Francisco as a customs official, and in Monterey as a collector of customs and a judge in the Tribunal Superior Court. Governor Alvarado approved Osio’s grant in 1839, with the provision set forth by General Vallejo, the military commander of the frontier north of San Francisco, that part of the island be set aside for use as a fort. Upon receiving the grant, Osio quickly established his ranch.
Osio raised cattle on Angel Island and sold beef in San Francisco. He stocked the island with 54 horned cattle in 1839, and by 1846, he had up to 500 heads. Although Osio himself never lived on Angel Island, he built four houses there for his herders and other attendants to use. He also constructed a dam and a reservoir to provide water for the cattle. Throughout other parts of the island, Osio cultivated corns, beans, potatoes, pumpkins, and other vegetables. The success of his first ranch and the generous land grant policy of Governor Alvarado and his successor Manuel Micheltorena permitted Osio to expand his landholdings from the original land grant of 740 acres for Angel Island to over 50,000 acres in land grants throughout the San Francisco/Monterey area. In five short years, Osio had become one of the largest landholders in Alta California.
When ownership of Angel Island shifted to the United States government, it became the home to several Federal facilities. In 1850, President Fillmore declared Angel Island a military reserve. During the Civil War, Camp Reynolds, later called West Garrison, on Angel Island was fortified with cannons to defend San Francisco Bay from potential attacks by Confederate ships. After the Civil War, Camp Reynolds became an infantry camp, serving as a training base for U.S. soldiers serving in campaigns against the Apache, Sioux, Modoc, and other American Indian tribes. Also on the island is Fort McDowell, later called East Garrison. Constructed beginning in 1899, Fort McDowell served as a very important military base and point of embarkation – handling the transfer, induction, detainment, and discharge of thousands of men during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
In 1905, the War Department transferred 20 acres of land on the island to the Department of Commerce and Labor for the establishment of an immigration station at China Cove, also called Winslow Cove and the North Garrison. As the major west coast immigration center between 1910 and 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station processed a majority of the Asian immigrants seeking new lives in the United States. The Angel Island Immigration Station detained an estimated 175,000 Chinese and 60,000 Japanese immigrants under adverse and oppressive conditions while they awaited permission to enter the United States and to begin their new lives.