Hiroshi Shimizu

Finding the true location of the Tule Lake Stockade

Hiroshi holding photoThe Tule Lake Stockade was “an instrument of terror in camp. You could be arrested with no hearing and no charge, just picked up. You didn’t know who you could talk to safely, or what to say. If you were picked up, what you said was the reason. And whoever heard that might be the inu who informed on you. This created real paranoia in camp.”

That’s how Tule Lake Committee board president Hiroshi Shimizu described the infamous Stockade — a prison within a prison in operation from November 5, 1943 to August 22, 1944 — at a training session for pilgrimage docents this weekend in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

open field
Area 99, site of a second Stockade but NOT the original one in 1944.

For decades, it was believed the Stockade was located in Area 99, what’s now an open field between the restored concrete camp jail and the highway on the southwest corner of the site. Area 99 was the site of a second jail built in 1945, but not the notorious original Stockade hastily established by project director Raymond Best in the wake of the pivotal Tule Lake disturbance of November 4, 1943.map

Using newly discovered photographs from the era and a schematic map of the camp, Hiroshi discovered that the first Stockade was actually located on a military police site known as Area B, northwest of the camp hospital and some distance east of where it was thought to be.

Key landmarks Hiroshi used to make the identification include fences topped with Y-shaped braces holding six strands of barbed wire that were unique to the Stockade and which appear in photos alongside the hospital.

Graphic by Hiroshi Shimizu showing the “Y” shaped fence toppings with the numbers of four lower and squatter watchtowers that were known to mark the four corners of the original Stockade.

This siting lines up with contemporary accounts of its location, such as this one by WRA reports officer John Bigelow:report

Rosalie Hankey, one of the anthopologists with the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study, filed a report in which she repeats much of Bigelow’s narrative but with the added detail of how the Stockade was closed and moved “to the west of the administrative area,” meaning Area 99:text

To confirm his finding, Hiroshi led a group of us to the site northwest of the old hospital. Armed with a rangefinder, Hiroshi at fenceHiroshi measured distances recorded in the schematic map and concluded that the original Tule Lake Stockade was sited on land now occupied by the Newell Migrant Farm Workers family housing center, operated by Modoc County. He measured the Stockade as 93 yards long by 420 feet wide. The discovery will now become part of bus tours of Tule Lake, starting with the next pilgrimage being planned for 2024.

Why is the location important? As a practical matter, it mattered when we were writing and drawing the Stockade story into our graphic novel, We Hereby Refuse, and trying to accurately visualize its appearance and location inside the camp. Hiroshi Shimizu pointingMore importantly, being finally able to point to the actual site makes real the determination of the men held there for weeks or months on end, with no contact with their families, a determination that included two hunger strikes and a protest by their families for their release. As Hiroshi pointed out, the men held there, some for the full ten months of its wretched existence, endured treatment less humane than that afforded inmates doing hard time in a federal penitentiary.

And for Hiroshi, it’s also personal. His father was Iwao Shimizu, who was picked up on December 18, 1943, and met Tatsuo Inouye, author of the Tule Lake Stockade Diary. The two men took part in the first hunger strike in the Stockade on New Year’s Eve and were released on the same day in February 1944.

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