Cave Creek, Arizona (detention facility)

The Cave Creek Assembly Center, located in the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix, was to have been the second assembly center in Arizona that would have held half of the estimated five hundred Japanese Americans living in the restricted areas of the state. Completed and ready to receive inmates by early May 1942, the lower number of inmates than expected led to the camp never actually being used. All of the forcibly removed Japanese Americans from Arizona ended up going to the Mayer Assembly Center , then on to the Poston , Arizona War Relocation Authority-administered concentration camp.

As with the Mayer Assembly Center, Cave Creek was built on the site of an old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. The Ashdale CCC Camp, F–34–A, was located in a mountain canyon around fifty-five miles north of Phoenix and twenty-two miles north of the town of Cave Creek. Also, as with Mayer, the Cave Creek camp was designed to hold around 250 inmates. Most of the inmates were to be housed in two sets of "U"-shaped barracks, the first with sides measuring 175' x 20' and divided into twenty-one units, the second with sides 140' x 20' and divided into sixteen units. The bottom of the "U" for each was a 40' x 20' bathhouse containing twelve shower heads, divided into men's and women's sections. These two large units had a capacity of 225. The remaining population was to have been housed in a 105' x 20' "school building." There were also recreation and administration buildings that also measured 105' x 20', a single 126' x 20' mess hall with a capacity to seat the entire inmate population, a 40' x 20' infirmary building, and various garage, shop, and storage buildings. Bathroom facilities consisted of four outdoor latrines each for men and women, all of which housed pit toilets. The infirmary and administration building had flush toilets. A U.S. Public Health Report notes that the infirmary was an existing CCC building. None of the other contemporaneous reports indicate whether the other buildings were as well, though the minimal construction cost for the site and the irregular sizes of the buildings seem to indicate that they were. [1]

By mid-April, the main administrative staff for the Cave Creek camp had been hired by the WCCA . Camp Manager Albert F. Slater was appointed on April 16 at an annual salary of $3,600 and Finance Officer Noble J. Mason on April 13 at $2,800; both men came from the ranks of the WPA. Ottis Branch, the chief steward, was hired from private employment. [2]

Work on the camp continued through April, and Slater indicated that the camp would be ready to receive inmates by May 5. Garrison rations for 250 were in the warehouses, and arrangements made so that fresh foods could be delivered within two days. The mess hall was equipped with dishes and utensils, "apartments" equipped with coal stoves, and the warehouse stocked with 250 cotton mattresses and 510 blankets. The WCCA's head of the reception and induction division, R. L. Nicholson, told Slater in an April 29 letter to be ready to accept 200 inmates who would be departing on May 8. Slater confirmed that he would be ready to accept an advance group on the 7th and the bulk of the group on the 8th. A medical crew including Tom Watanabe, a physician from Boyle Heights (a neighborhood in East Los Angeles); Matilda S. Honda, a nurse from Brawley, and Mitsuo Miura, a dentist from Pismo Beach, had been assigned to Cave Creek. In the meantime, 225 inmates had been inducted at Mayer by May 8, with the remainder of its population arriving by May 25. As late as May 18, Slater was writing to Nicholson requesting that inmates with particular skills—cooks, laborers, medical staff, etc.—be included among those sent to Cave Creek. By the time of his May 29 report to the WCCA office, it was clear that Cave Creek would not be used. With significant numbers of Japanese Americans in Arizona having opted to "voluntarily" move north out of the restricted area, there was room for all of those remaining to be incarcerated at the Mayer site. [3]

By the June, efforts turned to the redirecting of supplies and equipment from Cave Creek, with most of it sent to the army quartermaster and the medical supplies and equipment to Manzanar . By June 15, Slater was able to report that "All property and supplies of whatsoever kind has been removed from Cave Creek." The site was later used as a recreation facility for an army infantry regiment. [4]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. All documents cited in this article come from the Cave Creek Assembly Center records on Reel 20, San Bruno branch of the National Archives. Nearly all—all of the ones starting with a "1"—come from the General File. Documents from the General File will be listed below by their folder number; documents not from the General File will be listed by their file name and folder number. Letter, W. J. Jamieson to R. L. Nicholson, Apr. 29, 1942, 1.08 Works & Maintenance; Albert F. Slater, Cave Creek Assembly Center Report, May 29, 1942, pp. 1–2, 10–11, 1.06 Finance & Records – Lester S. Diehl; Fred T. Foard, Surgeon to Dr. W. H. Harrison, U.S. Public Health Service, May 5, 1942, 1.08 Works & Maintenance; John L. Dewitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army, Western Defense Command), 349.
  2. Telegram, W. J. Jamieson to R. L. Nicholson, Apr. 13, 1942 1.124 Personnel, Appointive, Mayer Assembly Center, Center Manager's File, Reel 35, NARA San Bruno; various letters of appointment, 2.01 Letters of Appointment, Correspondence, etc., Cave Creek Assembly Center, Personal Records, Caucasian, Reel 20, NARA San Bruno.
  3. Slater, Cave Creek Assembly Center Report, May 29, 1942, 3–5; Albert F. Slater, Bi-Weekly Report, May 18, 1942, 1.07 Nicholson – Correspondence & Telegrams; Letter, R. L. Nicholson to Albert F. Slater, Apr. 29, 1942, 1.05 Evacuees and Camp Operation; Letter, Albert F. Slater to R. L. Nicholson, May 5, 1942, 1.07 Nicholson – Correspondence & Telegrams; "Japanese Physicians and Nurses Assigned to Cave Creek," no date, 1.05 Evacuees and Camp Operation; Letter, Albert F. Slater to R. L. Nicholson, May 18, 1942, 1.05 Evacuees and Camp Operation.
  4. Memo, June 21, 1942, 1.03 Correspondence – Miscellaneous; Letter, Albert F. Slater to H. A. R. Carlton, Director, Housing and Feeding, WCCA, June 15, 1942, 1.06 Finance & Records – Lester S. Diehl; Dewitt, Final Report , 152.

Last updated June 4, 2021, 1:21 a.m..