War Relocation Authority (WRA) Citizen Isolation Centers

The War Relocation Authority (WRA), following the Manzanar riot of December 1942, set up an abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at Dalton Wells near Moab, Utah, to serve as an isolation center for “troublemakers.” Japanese Americans chosen for isolation depended solely upon the discretion and whim of each WRA concentration camp's director.

Moab

The Moab isolation center opened in January 11, 1943, when 16 men from Manzanar concentration camp arrived. The isolation center had no fence, and was divided into an administration area, support buildings, and barracks. Within a few months, the WRA sent others from Manzanar and other camps to the isolation center. A dozen or so came from concentration camps at Gila River, Arizona, others from Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas, and about 15, from Tule Lake, California. At its peak, the Moab facility held 49 men. Moab closed on April 27, 1943, when its Japanese Americans were taken by bus to Leupp, Arizona.

A Moab guard, called by the Japanese Americans “Seamy” because his first rule was “see me” before doing anything, was especially overbearing. He made rules such as no Japanese language permitted, English only, and no talking with others across barracks. Japanese Americans could only speak with those in their barracks. He then said that anyone violating his rules would be jailed for three months. That threat prompted 20 Japanese Americans to challenge the guard by daring him to put them all in jail. The guard hesitated, and later, he arbitrarily picked a handful of men to put in the Moab county jail.

Special punishment was meted out to the five or six held in Moab's Grand County jail, which included Harry Ueno, the central figure of the Manzanar uprising. The six were locked in a four-by-six-foot box with a two-by-two-foot hole for air on the back of a pickup truck for the 13-hour ride to Leupp that passed through Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The road was “pretty rough,” Ueno said, and it was “Hot! Humid! We really had a hard ride!” The truck made about ten stops before arriving at Leupp on April 28, 1943 (Embrey et al., 74).

Leupp

An abandoned American Indian boarding school on the Navajo Reservation supplied the facilities for the WRA isolation center at Leupp, Arizona. A fenced off

area in Leupp was devoted to the “incorrigibles” who were held in an isolated area of the camp. A few, including Harry Ueno, were placed in the Winslow town jail for three or four days. The days were hot but the nights were freezing, Ueno noted, and they had to ask for additional blankets. From the Winslow town jail, the men were removed to the jail in Leupp where at one time about 150 military police guarded 45 to 50 Japanese Americans whose numbers rose and fell. Unlike Moab, Leupp had a barbed-wire fence and four guard towers.

After hearings, Ueno and about five others were sent to Tule Lake concentration camp. Others returned to Manzanar, and FBI agents spirited a few away to other camps. Even Leupp's head of internal security wrote that the WRA's classification of the men as dangerous was certainly questionable. The Leupp camp was closed on December 2, 1943, and a train took the remaining 71 Japanese Americans to Tule Lake concentration camp.

Gary Y. Okihiro

Reference

Embrey, Sue Kunitomi, Arthur A. Hansen, Betty Kulberg Mitson (Eds.). Manzanar Martyr: An Interview with Harry Y. Ueno. Fullerton: Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton, 1986.