Alcatraz Occupation Flag Flies High at Auction Rosemary McKittrick brings history to life in her weekly art, antique and collectibles column. Visit LiveAuctionTalk.com and sign up for a free subscription.
News-Antique.com - Apr 17,2008 - Santa Fe, April 17, 2008--The occupation of Alcatraz on Nov. 9, 1969, was the biggest stand Native Americans had taken against Anglos since the Battle of Little Big Horn. They were trespassing on federal property and they didn’t care.
Elliott Leighton, the attorney for the American Indian Council opened his briefcase that Sunday afternoon and began reading. He explained how the Sioux were laying claims to surplus property under terms of the 1868 Black Hills Treaty.
In short, they were taking over the vacant prison.
Assistant warden, A.L. Aylworth looked around at the crowd of some 14 Indians, some in full headdresses of eagle feathers. Others were wrapped in shawls or blankets sheltering themselves from the ocean’s chill.
Aylworth scratched his head, seemed confused and said; “Well, I guess if you want it, you can have it.”
It was barely a year after the last federal prisoner was removed from the small, rocky island in San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz was about to host its new residents.
The Indians threatened no one. But there was an air of confidence about their stand that made it clear, they meant business.
The Native Americans willingly left the following day. But on Nov. 20, 92 Indians crossed the Bay, landed on the island, and held it for 19 more months.
Ironically, Native Americans were among the first federal prisoners brought to the dungeons on Fort Alcatraz during the Civil War. Their time on the island had come full circle in what would become the longest occupation of a federal facility by Native Americans to date.
Alcatraz had become a symbol of Native American resistance.
Sometime during the 19 months, a flag nicknamed “Old Glory’s Helper” flew from one of the island’s guard towers. No one knows for sure just how long the tepee-emblazoned banner was actually there. It sold at PBA Galleries on Jan. 24 for $69,000.
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