Long before it became the home of the famous maximum-security prison, Alcatraz was a desert island. The native Americans of the region avoided the island as they thought it housed evil spirits. The tribe known as the Ohlone, used the island as a place of punishment where they sent those who violated the rules of the tribe. The first Europeans to visit the island were the Spaniards. In 1775, the explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first to cross the Gulf of San Francisco and named one of the three islands “Isla de los Alcatraces” or “Pelican Island.”
Later, the name was shortened to what we know today as Alcatraz. When the Spaniards began their expeditions to Southern California, many members of the Ohlone tribe used the island as a hideout to avoid European-imposed Christianization.