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Graduates of San Antonio's Peacock Military Academy cherish memories of a 'magical place'

Monkey Squad with 6 riders
Courtesy photo
Peacock Military Academy Alumni Association, Inc.
The Monkey Squad, featuring six riders and three horses

One hundred and twenty nine years ago, a school for boys opened up on San Antonio’s West Side. Throughout that time, it educated and housed 15,000 boys. The school closed 50 years ago, but the memories it provided to its alumni are still vivid. Dozens of graduates recently gathered in Boerne to share their experiences at the Peacock Military Academy.

“Wesley Peacock came to San Antonio as a very young man with an idea that he was going to start a school. And it was a very daring, courageous idea,” author and historian Marlene Richardson explained. “But look what he did. It lasted for 80 years.”

The Peacock started as a small, rustic community, where most students lived on campus, near what is now Woodlawn Lake.

“There were day students, but most of them were boarding students. And in the early days, they lived in tents. There were no dormitories,” she said.

Historian Bryden Moon said they started small but they didn’t stay that way.

An overview of the Peacock during its heyday
Courtesy photo
Peacock Military Academy Alumni Association, Inc.
An overview of the Peacock campus.

“They had basketball, they had baseball, they didn't have soccer but they had cross-country,” Moon said. “They had tennis teams. They had swimming teams. This was a pretty contemporary high school.”

The campus would eventually grow to include 14 structures.

But despite its size, at the time city dwellers saw the area around the school as a place to escape to for rest and relaxation. “It was remote," Moon explained, "and there were small numbers of houses out in the area. It was like a vacation area. So people had small homes or small cabins that they could come to and stay in at the lake.”

Teenage boys attending the military school received the expected discipline.

advertisement for the Peacock early in its life
Courtesy photo
Peacock Military Academy Alumni Association, Inc.
An early advertisement for the Peacock Military Academy.

“They were considered finishing schools for young boys in which we were taught manners, how to eat, how to treat young ladies and possibly become officers,” Arturo Wolf, a graduate, explained.

The Peacock had several large fields, which were often filled with marching students and students on horseback.

Moon said some students went beyond standard riding.

“One of the things that evolved was two very unique components that they showcased at the academy. One was called the Monkey Drill Team, and it was elite horsemen who would do tricks on horses,” he said.

Obstacle course and the Peacock Precision Drill Team going over it
Courtesy photo
Peacock Military Academy Alumni Association, Inc.
The Peacock Precision Drill Team navigates an obstacle course.

“These guys rode on one, two and three and four horses at one time. One guy on all those horses,” Richardson added. “And then they formed this pyramid and they would jump hurdles and do all sorts of tricks. And it was an official event as part of Fiesta every year.”

“They were called 'monkeys' because they did all these acrobatics on top of horses,” Wolf said. “A lot of people thought that they looked like that monkey in the rodeo that rode a little dog. For some reason, that [nickname] stuck.”

Moon said families from across San Antonio consistently came out to admire and cheer on the academy's drill and precision marching teams.

“You'd see these cars all lined up around a field. And the families have come out there on the weekends to watch them perform, shooting or ride or do precision drilling,” he added.

Roy Rogers with the members of the Monkey Squad
Courtesy photo
Peacock Military Academy Alumni Association, Inc.
Roy Rogers with the members of the Monkey Squad

The Peacock’s precision marching group and the monkey drill team were regular performers at the Fiesta parades and in Houston’s stock show.

“The monkey drill team was the elite drill team that came out of the cavalry, which became very famous nationally,” Wolf said. “The biggest fan of the monkey drill team was Roy Rogers. He expressed that one of the favorite parts of the rodeo was to watch the Peacock guys do all these things on horses.”

Richardson said another admirer of the academy teams eventually became president of the United States.

Dwight D. Eisenhower at lower left. He coached the Peacock Academy in 1915.
Courtesy photo
Peacock Military Academy Alumni Association, Inc.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (lower left), at the time a young Army officer, coached the Peacock Academy football team in 1915.

You're talking about [Army Second Lt. Dwight D.] Eisenhower when Eisenhower was [stationed] at Fort Sam Houston,” Richardson said. “And he and [his future wife] Mamie courted out there at the academy also.”

The young officer met Mamie Doud in 1915, the same year he coached the Peacock football team. They married in July 1916.

Wolf also pointed to a famous Hollywood connection to the academy.

“King Vidor, who was a famous movie director of Academy Award fame. The auditorium of Peacock is still there, and it's called the King Vidor Auditorium,” he explained.

These and other memories were shared at a recent gathering of alumni and historians in Boerne, northwest of San Antonio.

“What is happening today is a wonderful reunion of guys who went to school together,” Richardson said. “They have remained friends — many of them. And that school closed 50 years ago.”

Wolf said that while the Peacock has disappeared, as long as there remain men who went there as boys, so too will its memory.

“I just hope that we don't get forgotten. That it was a magical place that existed here in San Antonio years ago,” he said.

The Peacock Military Academy did not survive in the modern era. Richardson said that by the early 1970s, a school that prided itself on military precision found itself out of step with the times.

crowd at the Boerne Public Library, including several men who went there as boys
Jack Morgan
Historians and alumni shared memories at the Boerne Public Library.

“They were gradually losing enrollment. And, you know, the military was not very popular because of the Vietnam War. And I think that that had a big impact,” she said.  

Wolf graduated from the academy in 1973. That was the final class before the school closed. Alphabetically and literally, Wolf was the academy's last graduate. His experience at the school has stayed with him through the years.

“We're about 500 of us left. Pretty soon we're going to be gone,” he said. “But to keep the legacy of Peacock, we have created a scholarship fund. ... We've already given out six scholarships worth $10,000 each,” he said.

Their Peacock Military Academy Alumni Association scholarship program began in 2016. While the Peacock hasn’t survived, its legacy is still being felt.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii