By CORY SHIOZAKI
Skeletal remains were recently discovered by Tyler Hofer from Escondido, who was hiking in an area in the Williamson Bowl, where there are seven lakes nestled behind Mt. Williamson near the Manzanar concentration camp site.
During the course of their imprisonment at Manzanar, approximately 300 incarcerees would leave camp to go trout fishing. In the first year of Manzanar’s existence, only a few were bold enough to sneak out to pursue their passion of fishing at the risk of being detected by armed sentries in the guard towers that surrounded the camp. About a year and a few months later, security became more relaxed and incarcerees were able to go outside the fence with fewer restrictions.
In 2004, an iconic photograph taken by Toyo Miyatake of Heihachi Ishikawa holding a stringer of golden trout sparked my interest for me to investigate further the rather unfamiliar tale of men and women leaving Manzanar to go fishing.
As early as March of 1942, guys like Ken Miyamoto, Block 29-4-3, and Frank Kageyama, Block 29-7-2, were sneaking out at night under the barbed wire to go fishing. Archie Miyatake and his cousin Mike Nishida were also among those that took the same risks to escape their confinement.
Trout fishing continued to be a form of relief from the pressures of camp life and there were some that took on the greater challenge of fishing above and beyond just the local creeks and streams — to actually pursue the elusive California golden trout that Ishikawa had caught, which existed only in high mountain lakes above 8,000 feet.
In my research I was able to interview Danny Hashimoto, whose father Amos from Terminal Island was among the few that went out to fish and climb over 12,000-foot Shepherd Pass in search of the golden trout, only to discover and catch an even rarer trout that looks similar but is a different species called the Colorado River cutthroat trout.
These trout were not native to California but purposely planted there by the California Department of Fish and Game as part of an exchange program with the Colorado Game and Fish Commission. A shipment of 25,000 golden trout eggs was sent to the Colorado Fish Commission, and in return California received 30,000 black spot eggs — native trout of Colorado. The eggs were received at Mt. Whitney Hatchery on July 10, 1931.
After the eggs were hatched, 30,000 of these Colorado River cutthroat trout were planted in three of the seven lakes in the Williamson Bowl location where Amos Hashimoto and friends caught these trout.
On Aug. 2, 1945, Amos Hashimoto coordinated what would be one of the last fishing trips to the other side of Mt. Williamson. Giichi Matsumura, Block 18-3-2, wanted to join this group of fishermen, but according to Danny Hashimoto, Amos felt that Giichi was not in good enough physical shape to make the ascent over the 12,000-foot Shepherd Pass.
Giichi was relentless in his desire to join the fishermen and finally Amos relented and allowed Giichi to accompany the group.
After the fishing party arrived at the area to fish, Giichi announced that he would remain alone at the spot along the trail and paint or do some sketching. He requested that the fishing party come back after they were done and pick him up.
A freak snowstorm of blizzard proportions erupted and the fishermen took refuge in a nearby cave that was used frequently by other fishing expeditions. After the snowstorm subsided, Giichi was nowhere in sight, so they scoured the immediate area where he was last seen but to no avail.
Since Giichi did not come back to meet the other fishermen at the cave, they presumed that he must have gone back to camp by himself.
When the fishermen arrived back at camp, Giichi had not returned. Several search parties were organized by Frank Hosokawa, Block 28-10-4, who has been on several of these fishing trips. Guys like Heihachi Ishikawa, Block 20-14-4, James Numa, Block 34-7-3, K. Sugimoto, Block 33-12-5, Ryoichi Moriyama, Block 18-2-2, and Kaneto Takahashi, Block 18-14-1, who knew the rugged terrain above the camp, were members of the search parties.
They did manage to find Giichi’s sweater at one of the lakes in the Williamson Bowl area near Lake #3 on Aug. 16, 1945. This third search party returned on the evening of Aug. 19, 1945 and Giichi’s wife Ito identified the sweater as his.
Exactly a month after that fateful fishing trip, a local couple from the area, Mary and Paul DeDecker, were hiking on Sept. 2, 1945 and noticed a willow fishing pole sticking out from some rocks. They went to examine the spot and discovered the decaying remains of Matsumura.
Later a grave and memorial were created by a burial party from the camp. Since the remains were in such a state of decay, a lock of hair and nail clippings were brought back to the camp to Giichi’s wife. His remains were covered with rocks and a cairn was erected with a prayer written in Japanese.
Until DNA test results are completed from this recent discovery of skeletal remains, it is only a presumption that this is the final resting place of Giichi Matsumura.
Cory Shiozaki is the producer and director of “The Manzanar Fishing Club,” a docent with the Manzanar National Historic Site, and a licensed and bonded trout fishing guide for the Eastern Sierra.