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Sylvester (Owen M.) Tule Lake Photograph Collection

Identifier: SPC-2016-012

Scope and Contents

The Owen M. Sylvester Tule Lake Photograph Collection (1942-1943) contains 32 black-and-white photographs taken by Sylvester at Tule Lake. The majority of the photographs were taken inside the Tule Lake Segregation Center in Newell, California in November 1943 and feature scenes containing housing quarters, the stockade area, the interior of army vehicles, imprisoned Japanese-Americans, members of the 772nd Military Police Battalion, and soldiers with guns. Also included are photographs depicting scenery from directly outside of the camp, Sylvester’s battalion, soldiers in route to Tule Lake, and soldier stations in the hills adjacent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center. A few photographs were taken in 1942 mostly in Oregon and document the Battalion before they traveled to Tule Lake, and also include some of the names of the members of the Battalion. Photographs contain captions possibly written by Sylvester.


  • 1942-1943



There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director of Archives and Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical materials and not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.


Captain Owen M. Sylvester (1895-unknown) began his military career as a private in Company A, 161st Infantry Regiment of the Washington National Guard, serving in the Mexican Border War from 1915-1917. In 1918, Sylvester transferred to the 2nd Infantry Division and served in the Army of Occupation in France until 1919. Following World War I, Sylvester was promoted to the rank of Captain and commanded the 2nd Battalion, 148th Field Artillery in the Washington National Guard from 1941-1942. Following his training at the Los Angeles Police Academy in 1942, Sylvester was appointed to the 772nd Military Police Battalion as Commander of Company C, where his battalion was assigned to the Boeing bomber plant in Renton Washington from 1942-1943, Tule Lake Segregation Center in 1943, and Fort Washington in 1944. At the end of World War II, Sylvester became a company commander and Provost Marshal at the Naval Air Station in Pasco, Washington. After the War, Sylvester went to Greece as part of the European Recovery Program (ERP) to assist in the rehabilitation of western and southern European economies.

Tule Lake History

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which gave the military the authority to exclude any citizen who posed a threat to national security. As a result, approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were removed and incarcerated in concentration camps. The Tule Lake Incarceration Center was the largest of the ten concentration camps with approximately 18,000 prisoners, and was located close to the California-Oregon border near the town of Newell, California and 10 miles south of the town of Tulelake. On February 8, 1943, the War Department and War Relocation Authority (WRA) distributed a questionnaire in order to assess the loyalty of those housed in concentration camps. The questionnaire was difficult and complex, which led to uncertainty and confusion. Failure to complete the questionnaire, as well as questions answered in an unsatisfactory manner caused a great number of incarcerees to be deemed “disloyal” and sent to Tule Lake Segregation Center- the designated location “disloyal” incarcerees.

In October 1943, following an agricultural truck accident that resulted in one incarceree death and also left five injured, incarcerees- upset by the events that had transpired, demanded improvement of safety and better compensation for work-related injuries. This ultimately resulted in a workers strike, and a negotiating committee- Daihyo Sha Kai was formed so that they could meet with the center’s Director, Raymond Best to outline their grievances and attempt to resolve issues. The response from administration was to fire workers and bring in strikebreakers- “loyal” inmates who were willing to work. Due to growing tension within the camp, Best and WRA National Director Dillion Myer met with the Daihyo Sha Kai on November 1, 1943, but there was no resolution. On November 4th, after noticing large crowds of incarcerees gathering around administrative buildings, Best responded by calling in the Army. When incarcerees attempted to go to work the following day, they were met with vehicles armed with machine guns and tear gas was dispersed. On November 14th 1943, Best declared martial law and Tule Lake became an armed camp with a curfew for incarcerees and barrack-to-barrack searches. Over 200 incarcerees including members of the Daihyo Sha Kai were apprehended and detained in a makeshift stockade. The stockade was isolated from the rest of the center and was surrounded by fences and four guard towers within a 250 by 350 foot area. The arrests continued until over 350 incarcerees were imprisoned in the stockade. In early January 1944, Tule Lake incarcerees voted to end the protest and on January 15, 1944 Best lifted martial law, ending military control of Tule Lake.


1 box

.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



This collection contains one box of photographic images taken by Captain Owen M. Sylvester while at Tule Lake Segregation Center during a military occupation as a member of the 772 Military Police Battalion in 1943. This collection is digitized and available online.


Arranged in 1 box.

Acquisition Information

Library acquisition.

Related Materials

This collection is part of the California State University Japanese American Digitization Project. For related materials please consult: CSU Japanese American Digitization Project.

Inventory of the Owen M. Sylvester Tule Lake Photograph Collection
Finding aid prepared by Karen Clemons
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the California State University Dominguez Hills, Gerth Archives and Special Collections Repository

University Library South -5039 (Fifth Floor)
1000 E. Victoria St.
Carson CA 90747