Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
EARLY DAYS AT MANZANAR
COMMENCEMENT OF CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATIONS UNDER THE WARTIME CIVIL CONTROL
ADMINISTRATION, MARCH-MAY 1942 (contined)
ARRIVAL OF FIRST EVACUEES
Less than one week after construction began, the first Japanese
American evacuees arrived at Manzanar, which the military continued to
call the Owens Valley Reception Center, on March 21, 1942, as part of
the Western Defense Command's voluntary evacuation program. A WCCA press
release dated March 21, the aforementioned reports by Brown and Merritt
and by Silverman, and the Manzanar Free Press, the camp's
newspaper prepared and written by camp evacuees under the direction of
Robert Brown that began publication on April 11, 1942, provide
information on the early arrivals, all of whom were from Los Angeles.
While the descriptions of the early arrivals differ in some details, all
provide insight into a hectic and chaotic period during which large
numbers of evacuees were arriving at a partially-completed camp amid its
In their report, Brown and Merritt briefly described the first
arrivals at Manzanar by stating that on March 21 the "first 84
'volunteers' arrived by bus; the next day 6 more came by private car."
The following day, March 23, "710 arrived in a caravan of private cars
escorted by the Army." 
The WCCA, Manzanar Free Press, and Silverman each provide more
information on the first contingents of evacuees to arrive at Manzanar.
On March 21 the WCCA issued a press release that stated:
In striking contrast to the fleeing refugees in other lands, the
first exodus of Japanese and Japanese Americans from the Western parts
of the Pacific Coast states, starts in Los Angeles Monday morning, with
a voluntary movement., in ordered arrangement, with military forces as
escorts rather than guards.
Instead of pushcarts and wheelbarrows, or walking, the 1000 Japanese
affected will travel in their own automobiles, in busses, and by train
to the Manzanar Reception Center. . . .
The Los Angeles voluntary movement is the first mass departure from
Military Area No. 1 in accordance with the evacuation decrees of
Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt. . . . Other evacuations will be
continued, to fulfill the Army's mission of minimizing sabotage and
espionage in the critical areas of the Pacific Coast. . . .
Those leaving in their own car report at 6AM Monday at the South end
of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. They come prepared to start at 6:15, their
tanks filled with gasoline, their tires and a spare in good shape, and
prepared to buy their own gasoline enroute. Those going by busses report
at 7 AM at 222 South Hewitt Street, Los Angeles. The train contingent
will leave the old Santa Fe depot at 8 AM.
Each person will bring his or her bedding, except mattresses, tools
of his trade, cooking and eating utensils, clothing and personal
belongings, and a gallon of water. Those going by train can take what
they can carry with them. Those using their own cars can carry what they
can load into their machines. Each must care for his own belongings.
Under escort of troops, the caravans will travel in 10-car convoys.
Two persons to a coupe or roadster, three to a touring car, and four to
a truck are the passenger limitations.
Evacuees will have eaten breakfast when they appear for removal. They
will be furnished a cold lunch enroute and at the end of their
300 mile drive, or their train trip, a warm supper will await them, they
will be comfortably housed, awaiting their establishment of community
life and their later departure for permanent location under the War
Relocation Authority. 
In his report, Silverman observed that while construction was
beginning at Manzanar the "clamor for removal of the Japanese" on the
coast "was rising still higher and the authorities could not delay
evacuation" until construction "was complete." Thus, on March 21, "with
only two blocks of buildings under way, the first contingent of Japanese
the "headquarter staff" were brought from Los Angeles in
three busses and a streamlined truck." These evacuees, according to
Silverman, were "painters, and plumbers, doctors and nurses, cooks, and
bakers, and stenographers with the job of preparing for the arrival of
the first real group of evacuees two days later." These "first 86
arrived on a Saturday, but there was no week-end vacation for them."
They worked "cleaning up kitchens, preparing a temporary hospital,
organizing registration blanks, storing food, vaccines and blankets." On
Sunday "they learned additional hundreds of evacuees were coming from
Bainbridge Island, near Seattle."
Silverman went on to describe the arrival of evacuees at Manzanar
during its first hectic days of operation. On Monday, March 23, the
first big group of Japanese left Los Angeles for Manzanar, 800 men
who had volunteered to come early and pitch into the heavy work. One
section came by train a day-long trip that began at 8 o'clock in
the old Santa Fe station near little Tokyo and finished at dark in the
little Lone Pine Station 9 miles south of Manzanar.
The other section came by automobile a 240-car caravan that
started at 6 o'clock in the morning from the Pasadena Rose Bowl. There
was every contraption in that caravan from a Model T Ford to a 1942
Chrysler. The cars were adorned with bedding, clothes, suitcases,
ironing boards, washing machines, gardening implements, furniture,
dishes, and mechanics tools. By official orders, every car contained a
gallon jug of water and enough gasoline to run 300 miles. Some trucks
carried delicately packed boxes of flowers and tomato plants, all ready
Official orders likewise called for a limit of two passengers to a
coupe, three to a sedan, and four to a truck. Each car had to have all
four tires and a spare in good condition. The schedule allowed for a ten
minute stop every two hours, but the schedule-makers were not actually
so optimistic they added an ambulance and a complete wrecking car
to the caravan. Inserted into the line were a dozen jeeps, and before
the day was over, many of them had to be transformed into diminutive
The army convoy was a military escort, officers emphasized, and
definitely not an armed guard. They enforced driving precautions
rigorously particularly one which said no evacuee could get out
of his car on the left-hand side and the results were
satisfactory; the caravan arrived in excellent condition. It, too was a
slow all-day trip, with the speed cut down to accommodate the slowest
car, and the evacuees reached Manzanar just at dusk.
Waiting for them were hot dinners, beds and a welcome from the 86
For the next few days, the evacuees had not enough work, plenty of
discomforts, and a snarl of misunderstood organization plans to unravel.
The houses were almost finished, but the "almost" meant lack of windows,
and that meant dust in everything. The showers weren't ready.
Silverman reported that one week later, on Wednesday, April 1, the
Army "started the first load of the families to join the volunteer
workers already at Manzanar. He noted that
a special train was prepared to leave Los Angeles at 8 o'clock (it
left nearly an hour late), crowded with women and children and old
folks, carrying baggage cars loaded with trunks, suitcases and 1000
lunch boxes. Two physicians were on board to take care of any emergency,
but the only medical call came when one doctor cut himself trying to
open a box; his colleague gave prompt and effective treatment. . . .
With 1000 expected to come on that first train and another 1000
expected on the following day, camp officials found their estimates were
40 per cent off. Only about 400 arrived on the first day [April 1] and
878 on the second [April 2]. 
In a special edition printed on March 20, 1943, the Manzanar Free
Press commemorated the first anniversary of the camp's operation. An
article in the anniversary issue described the first hectic days at
The first merry outburst of incredulity flooded around them on that
cold afternoon of March 21 when 61 men and 20 women stood on the
threshold of their future abode. There was nothing on the vast flat land
before them except the groundwork of future homes that was having its
inception. Within the first range of rough lumber was the skeleton of
the simple, crude abodes which were soon to house 10,000 evacuees.
According to the newspaper, 35 of the first volunteers or pioneers
had the task "of preparing something palatable from the potatoes and
canned stew, hash, corned beef, etc., that were piled up heterogeneously
where the police station now stands." Perishable foodstuffs, such as
milk, were stored in two ice trucks at Lone Pine. Joseph R. Winchester,
chief steward at Manzanar, went to Lone Pine daily with several evacuees
to get food until the ice boxes were installed at the camp. Part of the
"fun" at that time, according to Winchester, was "carrying 400 loaves of
bread in his car for three days."
The newspaper article went on to describe the crude facilities
encountered by the first evacuees to enter Manzanar. It noted:
The sewer until then [ca. early April] had consisted of a ditch, two
feet wide and four feet deep extending from Block 1 to Block 6. An
amusing incident was told of three evacuees who had become drunk on the
way to Manzanar. They were walking around at dusk, having a happy time
sobering up when they lost one member. Almost in vain they searched for
him, when they espied him helplessly clutched by the ditch which had
drenched him badly by the time five men succeeded in pulling him
The latrine for both men and women was an ungainly, "portable"
outhouse, hooked up and dragged back and forth between the barracks.
When its use was no longer needed, it was dragged up beyond Block 6,
carrying a woman occupant who was trying vainly to get out!
Typical of the early evacuees were those who, having lost jobs or
seeking adventure in an unenviable situation, had been eager to see what
Manzanar was like. Eighteen-year-old Masiumi Kanamori . . . came with
two other school friends, secretly harboring the idea of earning a
little money, wanting to take in the new life from the start. . . . 
During April evacuees entered Manzanar in large numbers, swelling its
population as camp construction continued. On April 11, for instance,
the first issue of the Manzanar Free Press reported:
Pushing aside the sage brush and literally growing from the desert
sand, Manzanar has mushroomed into the bonanza town of '42, boasting
today a population of 3,302.
In 3 weeks this magic town has boomed ahead to become the largest
city in Owens Valley the largest California city east of the
From the time when 85 hardy pioneers, including 8 girls, came from
Los Angeles to stake out their new homes in skeleton buildings,
additions and improvements have been constantly speeded.
Today 575 buildings are occupied. . . .
Hot water is already running in some of the showers and laundries and
work is being pushed on the others. As additional blocks are completed,
more contingents are anticipated to swell Manzanar. 
Two weeks later, on April 25, the newspaper observed that "3000
newcomers in the next three days climaxes three weeks of wondering when
and from where the next contingents would arrive." These new evacuees,
who would come from the Los Angeles area (Santa Monica Bay area,
Sawtelle in West Los Angeles, and the Burbank and Glendale districts of
the San Fernando Valley), would
find a cozier and cheerier welcome for during the three weeks' lull,
carpenters and workmen were able to go ahead and complete steps and
windows, washing facilities that will help make their adjustment. 
In the same issue, the newspaper reported that Griffith and Company
would complete the camp in "a matter of days." With a construction crew
of 600 men at work ten hours a day, 600 buildings had been erected to
date. Proposed plans called for 770 buildings. J. Hopinstall, the
company's contract representative, reported that "buildings are put up
at the rate of two an hour and that 25,000 board feet of lumber are
being used every ten minutes." 
Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002