Japanese Camp

San Bernardino County, CA

 
 

When I moved to the high desert 30 years ago, I was told about a place called the Japanese Camp. It was hidden in the hills of the San Bernardino Mountains between Victorville and the Town of Yucca Valley.


It is a camp far up in the hills that was used during World War ll as a hideaway for a Japanese family. They were living in the remote camp to avoid being placed in the Japanese American internment camps that were in use during World War ll. There was a local person who would travel into town and bring them back the food and supplies they needed to live.


The old timer who told me about the camp was Bill Pullen, who appeared at first to be a pretty rough looking character. He turned out to be one of my very best friends. He was a very knowledgeable and intelligent source for all of my travels in this high desert area. Bill had lived in the high desert since 1964 and was a retired Technical Sergeant from both the Army and Air Force. I have never had any reason to doubt the story he told me about the Japanese Americans using the camp as a refuge from internment.


I am hoping to someday know who lived here. It must have been a hardship. I am sharing these pictures and continuing the research in the hope that they will share their story with all of us. It is from their unique perspective that we will have the opportunity to learn about the reality of decisions made by a nation while engaged in a world wide war.

 

The Old Timer’s Story

Nestled in the eastern foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains just north of Yucca Valley there is a small group of old stone and wooden structures. The people who inhabited them still remains a mystery. Does anybody know?

Discovery

The camp location is very remote and would appear to be the perfect place to live fairly unnoticed. However, in the 1940s there were prospectors and desert explorers roaming all around these mountains and out into the desert valley’s below, it would not have been a complete secret that the camp existed. It was a time when Japanese Americans were being told to leave the “forbidden zone” of the California, Oregon and Washington coastlines. Many thousands of Japanese fled from these coastal states during a voluntary evacuation period but it seems there were a few who only went as far as the eastern side of these San Bernardino Mountains.


Traveling to the camp in the 1940s would have required a long journey over rough and unpredictable dirt roads. The original Old Woman Springs Road, shown in the photo to the left, from Yucca Valley was not paved until the 1960’s and the road into the canyon is still to this day a rugged dirt road. It would have only been the heartiest of souls that ventured out into these parts of the desert from Victorville or Yucca Valley. From either town it would have been a 50 mile round trip over remote and rugged territory. In 1942 traveling the high desert route from Whitewater to Victorville you would not have found a single paved road, electrical service or telephone anywhere along the entire route.


The map to the left was printed by the Automobile Club of Southern California in 1941. It is showing the general area and will provide a good idea of what the roads were like during the war. Visit Making the Journey for a larger view of the map and a narrative description as it was in 1941.

HIdden Under the Trees

It does appear the camp is hidden. All of the mining cabins that I have found near this part of the desert are located very close or right at the mine location. The closest mining prospect to this camp is a good 1/4 mile walk. The camp is in a very secluded valley without roads for access other than by foot or horseback.


All of the camp structures are built under the canopy of trees. By building under the trees it keeps the camp less visible from the ridgelines above and possible detection from aircraft. It does get rather warm here in the summertime so the shade from the trees would also be welcome.  


All of the roofing paper that was used is green in color. There were certainly other colors available at the time but they chose to use green. A great way to blend into the green coverage of the trees. They also used a lot of green paint. A color that is effective for blending into the shaded environment.


This has always been an interesting assortment of buildings and structures. Such a simple and yet complimentary group of buildings and supporting structures are rarely seen in this area of the mountains. All of the structures indicate family living such as the chicken coup, clothes line poles, two seater outhouse with a child’s seat and the private setting of the bath house always indicating the possibility ladies were present.


Some people may see this camp as a hideout, some as a refuge. The remote location and the extensive layout of the site will give most everyone a sense of wonder. I think those who have visited the camp will agree there is a feeling of peace, an essence of refuge from the rest of the world.

Daily Life

As I walk through this camp I cannot help but get the feeling there was at least one or two entire families living here. There is a small chicken pen they could have used for a supply of fresh eggs. Hunting in the area would have given them plenty of rabbit, quail and deer. The rather large storehouse above the main cabin would provide plenty of room for food storage of canned and dry goods. There also appears to have been a full indoor and outdoor kitchen.


There is a complete enclosed living room at one end of the largest building. This room is the oldest part of the structure. It has an arched roof and deep red linoleum floor over a concrete base. The steps leading into the living room were made of cement embedded with various color stones in a decorative manner with two large stones on each side that appear to be from an arrastre.


The bath house was a wooden structure located about 1/8 of a mile away on the edge of a wash. Just below the bath house was a small cement dam built into the wash, certainly there was water there at the time.


The outhouse was a two seater with one small seat. This seems to indicate the possibility there were children living at the camp.

Landers, CA

Old Woman Springs Road north of Pipes wash

©Automobile Club of Southern California, 1941

On the following pages you can further explore some of the research about the location and layout of the camp and learn about the exciting discoveries that are continuing to unfold with the effort to reveal the complete story of the Japanese Camp.

Stone Cabin under the pine tree, 1982

Bath House, 1982

Original Cabin, 1982