Cow Creek (detention facility)

US Gov Name Cow Creek Camp
Facility Type Additional Facility
Administrative Agency War Relocation Authority
Location Cow Creek, California (36.5000 lat, -117.0000 lng)
Date Opened December 10, 1942
Date Closed February 15, 1943
Population Description Held forty men and their families from the Manzanar concentration camp.
General Description Located in the desert of California near the Death Valley National Monument, one of the hottest places on Earth. Summer temperatures stay well over 100 degrees. Death Valley encompasses the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level and is the driest place in North America with an average rainfall of only 1.96 inches a year.
Peak Population 150
Exit Destination Resettled outside camps
National Park Service Info

A former CCC camp in Death Valley National Monument that was used to segregate sixty-six Manzanar inmates removed for their own protection from that camp after the riot/uprising of December 6, 1942. The camp remained open a little more than two months, with the inmates released to points east once they had secured jobs and housing.

In the aftermath of the disturbance, dozens of inmates—including Fred Tayama , whose beating precipitated it—sought shelter from the camp administration, fearful that they would be targeted for physical attacks by dissidents. The group stayed in MP barracks or an infirmary by day and slept in administration buildings under armed guard while the authorities debated what to do with them. At a meeting convened by Manzanar Director Ralph Merritt on December 9 attended by WRA Regional Director E. R. Fryer and WRA Assistant Solicitor Lewis Sigler in addition to key Manzanar staffers, the group decided to send them to an abandoned CCC camp called Cow Creek, located in Death Valley National Monument about a hundred miles away. The following morning, Fryer told WRA Director Dillon Myer and shadow Western Defense Command head Karl Bendetsen of the plan and both disapproved, citing concerns that such a move was tantamount to declaring the dissidents victorious. Nonetheless, neither blocked the move, and Manzanar Assistant Director Ned Campbell told the assembled "refugees" about the plan after breakfast. After getting approval to use the camp, Campbell led a caravan of cars carrying the sixty-six inmates—thirty-four of whom had themselves been targeted and thirty-two who were relatives—along with ten WRA staffers and twelve guards that left for Cow Creek at about 1:20 pm. [1]

The Cow Creek camp operated as a CCC camp from 1933 to 1938 and included thirty-five buildings, of which ten were used by the WRA. "It was even more primitive than when we went to Manzanar," recalled journalist Togo Tanaka , and the inmates set to work renovating the camp, organizing groups to do carpentry work, fix utilities, and take care of day-to-day tasks such as cooking. Inmates enjoyed the relatively lax security at the site and shared showers, latrines, and mess with the WRA staff and guards."We led a life of Riley at Death Valley.... we were really pampered if any group of evacuees could claim that distinction," recalled George Kurata. Despite the primitive conditions, Tanaka described a sense of relief at getting out of Manzanar and described the time at Cow Creek as "be the last step before something good was to happen, just to get out." Kurata noted that their "ideal life" didn't last long as quarrels broke out between the two main factions of the inmate group, those associated with the Japanese American Citizens League and an anti-JACL leftist group, many of whom had been associated with the Manzanar Free Press . Tanaka wrote of the two groups that "there seems to exist mutual distrust and suspicion—and dislike personally." During the days, some of the inmates volunteered to do both manual labor and office work for the park service and also enjoyed swimming in the camp pool. Campbell left after two weeks and Albert Chamberlain served as the camp director subsequently. [2]

Almost as soon as they arrived, inmates at Cow Creek began to leave for jobs in other parts of the country, often with the help of the American Friends Service Committee . Several ended up going to Chicago , and half a dozen became Japanese language instructors at the Navy Language School in Boulder Colorado. The last inmates left Cow Creek by February 15, 1943, and the camp was returned to the park service by the end of the month. [3]

Cow Creek remains a part of what is now Death Valley National Park. Two buildings believed to have been used by the WRA still stand. [4]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Kashima, Tetsuden. Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.


  1. Tetsuden Kashima, Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 143; E. R. Fryer, [Notes on Manzanar incident], pp. 1–6, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records (JAERR), Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O7.00, ; Lucy Adams, Notes on Manzanar Disturbances, 1942, pp. 12–13, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O10.00, ; Memo, Karl Bendetsen to Acting Regional Director, WRA, Dec. 10, 1942, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O1.27,
  2. Barbara Wyatt, ed., Japanese Americans in World War II: National Historic Landmarks Theme Study (Washington, D.C.: National Historic Landmarks Program, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2012), 182; "An Oral History with Togo Tanaka," interviewed by Betty Mitson and David Hacker, May 19, 1973, p. 33, California State University, Fullerton. Center for Oral and Public History, California State University Japanese American Digitization Project, ; Kashima, Judgment Without Trial , 144; Tadao George (Cracker) Kurata, interview by Charles Kikuchi, July 17, 1944, pp. 105–06, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder T1.973, ; Togo Tanaka, "A Report on the Manzanar Riot of Sunday December 6 1942," p. 94, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O10.12 (2/2), ; Letters, Togo Tanaka to Morton Grodzins, Jan. 7, 11, 12, 16, and 31, 1943, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.38:1, ; Ned Campbell interview by Arthur A. Hansen, Aug. 15, 1974, Carmel, California, p. 166, in Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project, Part II: Administrators , edited by Arthur A. Hansen, .
  3. Kashima, Judgment Without Trial , 144; Togo Tanaka, "A Report on the Manzanar Riot of Sunday December 6 1942," pp. 14, 74–75, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O10.12 (2/2), .
  4. Wyatt, ed., Japanese Americans in World War II , 158–59.

Last updated Dec. 18, 2023, 7:17 p.m..