On occasion, we invite knowledgeable writers to contribute to our website. Today, we have Mike Anderson, a borderlands historian and researcher, former Arizona history teacher, author of “Warren Ballpark” and articles published in the Journal of Arizona History and the Cochise County Historical Journal. In this article, he writes about one Takeo Shimakura, a Japanese immigrant who worked at the Bisbee Copper Queen Mining Company during the Bisbee Deportation and afterward. This is a rare look at a world few of us know about.
One of the eyewitnesses to the rounding up and deportation of 1,186 striking miners and their supporters in Bisbee on July 12, 1917 would find himself – and his family – in a very similar situation a quarter-century later. Like most of the Bisbee deportees in the Bisbee Deportation of 1917, he would not let the experience of sudden upheaval and exile in 1942 ruin his life.
Takeo Shimakura, a highly-regarded mining engineer employed by the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, must have kept his thoughts to himself on the day of the Bisbee Deportation. As a resident alien and the only Asian living in the Warren Mining District, he was in a delicate situation. One word from Walter Douglas, who had approved his hiring eight years before, would have sent him packing and back to Japan.
The Deportation left a strong impression in the young man’s mind. A century later, his step-granddaughter Nanny Almquist discovered one of the photos taken by a commercial photographer on the day of the Bisbee Deportation and sold as souvenirs, in one of his numerous photo albums. The irony of the event wouldn’t become evident until a quarter of a century passed.
(Left) Takeo Shikamura in Bisbee at Castle Rock, 1909. “Takeo had his photo taken in front of Castle Rock, a well-known Bisbee landmark, shortly after his arrival in 1909. A copy of this photo was probably sent to family in Japan.”
The son of a samurai-turned school administrator and financier, Takeo was born February 2, 1884, in the city of Uwajima, on Shikoku, one of the five principal islands making up the empire of Japan. He grew up in a rapidly-changing country, which had transformed itself from a feudalistic agrarian society into a modernized, industrial state within a few decades after opening its doors to foreigners in the 1850s.
(Left) Takeo’s family. “A photo of the Shikamura family wearing a mixture of western and traditional Japanese attire, taken shortly before Takeo (top left) left Japan for Bisbee in 1909. His father, Seizaburo (top row, center), was a former samurai who became a banker and school administrator during the modernization of Japan that followed the Meiji restoration. Other members of his family included his mother So-da (bottom left), brother Ken (top right) and sister Ko (bottom right). Takeo never saw his parents or siblings after leaving Japan for Bisbee.”
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mining and metallurgy from the Imperial University in Tokyo in 1908, Takeo had been offered jobs in the copper mining industry in Japan. But Japan was mineral-poor, which made copper mining a poor prospect in his native country.
Takeo was focused on bigger and better things. He applied for employment with the Phelps Dodge Company, one of the largest copper producers in the United States. His application was accepted and he arrived in Bisbee on May 9, 1909.
Bisbee had long been known of as a “white man’s camp,” with Chinese being prohibited from residing in, or even staying in town overnight. The same restrictions evidently didn’t apply to Japanese, who were considered in the U. S. during the early years of the 20th century to be “whiter” than Chinese and more like Americans. Takeo boarded with a family on Quality Hill, where Bisbee’s professional and business community resided. To improve his ability to speak English, he employed a retired Bisbee school teacher as a tutor.
(Left) Takeo as a university student “Takeo Skhikamura (bottom right), posing with friends while attending Tokyo Imperial University, probably taken in 1908.”
Although he started out as a surveyor’s helper, Takeo proved his value to the engineering department of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company. In 1912, he was able to successfully measure a large subsurface ore body located near Don Luis, a community a few miles west of Bisbee – something that no one else in the department had been able to do. Five years later, he was assigned to plan the development of the large low-grade copper ore body that had been located around and under Sacramento Hill. The new open-pit operation was named the Sacramento Pit and was the first project of its type in Bisbee.
(Left) Takeo as surveyor “Takeo started as a surveyor’s helper for Phelps Dodge in Bisbee but was promoted to chief surveyor in 1912.”
Although he was well-liked and participated in social activities, Takeo was barred by state law and social convention from having any form of personal relationship with non-Asian women. In 1918, he traveled to California to court and marry Hatsu (Helen) Yamamoto, a recent graduate of San Jose High School. Helen, who had come to America with her parents as a small child, spoke fluent, idiomatic American English and Japanese.
(Left) Takeo and friends in Bisbee “Articulate, polite and very much the gentleman, Takeo (top row, left) was well-regarded and completely accepted in the upper circles of the mining camp of Bisbee, He was, nevertheless, barred by state law and social convention from any personal relationship with non-Asian women in Arizona.”
The couple returned to Bisbee where they rented a home in Warren. Once again, they were considered to be “white” and allowed to live in what was then an upscale, racially and ethnically-restricted neighborhood. Helen was warmly accepted into “polite” society, attending teas, bridge parties, luncheons and actively participated in the local chapter of the American Red Cross. On July 4, 1918, Helen, dressed in her Red Cross uniform, delivered a speech about the Japanese Red Cross to a large crowd assembled at Vista Park in Warren.
(Left) Hatsu in red cross uniform, Bisbee “On July 4, 1918, Hatsu posed in her Red Cross uniform while having her photo taken in the front yard of the Shikamura’s rental home in Warren. A short time later she gave a speech about the Japanese Red Cross to a large crowd assembled at the Vista park in Warren.”
When the copper mining industry took a sharp downturn after the end of World War I, Takeo, along with many others in the Copper Queen engineering department, was laid off. He dealt with the setback by making the best of the situation, enrolling in Stanford University’s new graduate program for mining engineers, graduating with a master’s degree in 1919. After a period of self-employment as a mining engineer operating out of El Paso, TX, he resumed work with Phelps Dodge in 1925, this time in Morenci. His reputation for quality work in Bisbee and his solid work ethic resulted in his assignment as the engineer in charge of developing the first open-pit mining operation in Morenci.
Takeo remained with Phelps Dodge in Morenci from 1925 until the height of the Great Depression in 1932, when much of Morenci’s mining workforce was laid off. All told, he worked faithfully and well for Phelps Dodge for 17 years, and was laid off with great reluctance. He moved his family, by then consisting of Helen and daughters Alice and Marion, to California, where he found work as a mining engineer.
Opportunities for work as a mining engineer were limited during the Depression years so Takeo decided to change professions. In 1936, he successfully passed the requirements to become a licensed surveyor. He was the first Asian to obtain that status in California.
Although Takeo and his wife wanted to become American citizens and would have applied for citizenship immediately if, given the opportunity, restrictive U.S. immigration laws kept Asians from becoming naturalized citizens. Their two daughters – Alice, born in El Paso, TX in 1925 and Marion, born in San Jose, CA in 1929 – were natural-born U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
Takeo and his family lived a comfortable and happy life in California. He became an expert in contour surveying, a technique which allowed commercial farmers to maximize the use of water for irrigating their fields. He purchased a house in Sunnyvale, California, putting it in his daughter Helen’s name. Despite the lingering effects of the Depression, the Shikamuras lived a comfortable, contented life until December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.