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"Angel Island: 'Guardian of the Western Gate'"--By Valerie Natale

Angel Island, with an area of 640 acres, is the largest island in the San Francisco Bay. It is a hilly and tree-covered place that has been used by Bay Area residents for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The earliest known visitors to Angel Island were Miwok Indians, who traveled there in reed boats in search of plants and animals. The island first entered recorded history in 1769, when it was sighted by members of a Spanish exploring expedition. It received its name in 1775 from Don Juan Manuel Ayala, who explored and mapped the bay and the area around it. Until 1839 the island was used for many purposes, most notoriously as a meeting place for smugglers and pirates and as a dueling range. That year, in an attempt to banish the pirates and duelists, the Spanish governor of California granted Antonio Maria Osio a title to establish a cattle farm on the island. The plan worked, and Angel Island once again became a respectable place.(1)

The island officially became a part of the United States in 1848, following the war between Mexico and the United States. Osio fought to retain his title to the island, but after a protracted legal battle, the Supreme Court declared it invalid. In 1850 President Millard Fillmore declared Angel Island to be a United States military reserve.(2) This declaration marked the beginning of the island's association with the federal government and ended its other uses.

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A late nineteenth-century view of the Angel Island army post.

Military and Quarantine Station

Although military engineers recommended that batteries be built on Angel Island as part of the fortification of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the batteries were not built until the Civil War. Gen. George Wright, the commander of the Department of the Pacific, obtained $100,000 from the War Department for the purpose of defending San Francisco against possible attack by the Confederacy.(3) Camp Reynolds, named in honor of Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, who had been killed in action in the Battle of Gettysburg, was established on Angel Island. Three artillery batteries were quickly built, but they were never required to defend the bay from the Confederates. Camp Reynolds, however, soon assumed an important role for the army. In 1866 it was designated the army's general depot for receiving and distributing new recruits bound for duty in the West.(4)

The outbreak of the Spanish-American War led to the establishment of Angel Island's first use as a detention camp. Captured soldiers from this war were held on the island, as were American Indians taken prisoner during campaigns fought in Arizona.(5) Years later, during both world wars, Angel Island would again house prisoners of war. Furthermore, for a period preceding the completion of Alcatraz prison, a number of federal prisoners were also housed on the island.

Camp Reynolds and the prisoner-of-war camp were the only federal installations on Angel Island until the early 1890s, when the government built a quarantine station there. Yellow fever, cholera, and plague were rampant throughout the world. Increased shipping traffic across the Pacific--and the construction of ever-faster ships to make the crossings--threatened to spread these diseases, and American public health officials resolved to stop them at the border. The quarantine station's mission was to keep infectious diseases out of the United States by inspecting and, if necessary, disinfecting ships arriving from contaminated foreign ports.

Construction of the quarantine station began in 1890, and it was officially opened in 1892. The staff included a surgeon, who was in charge of the establishment, a group of medical officers and inspectors, fumigators, and various support personnel. The station fulfilled its mission in three general ways: the inspection of the ships' passengers and crews; the fumigation of ships arriving from ports where epidemics persisted; and the quarantine or deportation of individuals afflicted with diseases designated by federal officials as "loathsome or dangerously contagious." "Loathsome diseases" included venereal diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, certain parasitic diseases, and trachoma.(6) Trachoma is a highly infectious eye condition caused by Chlamydia bacteria and spread by dirty water and eye-seeking flies. Its telltale sign is the presence of numerous hard pustules under their eyelids. When left untreated--and no treatment was available at the turn of the century--opacity of the cornea and blindness result.(7)

Diseases such as plague, smallpox, and diphtheria were considered to be less threatening than the abovementioned conditions and therefore not "loathsome." Potential immigrants into the United States who were afflicted with these diseases were placed in the hospital at the quarantine station and released after the illnesses had run their courses. Interestingly, Beriberi was believed to be a contagious disease at the time. This condition actually results from a simple vitamin deficiency and is easily treated with supplements of vitamin B6. The records of the quarantine station for 1903 show that one death from Beriberi occurred at the quarantine station.(8)

The number of ships passing through the quarantine station varied over time and with the state of world peace. Prior to the first world war, up to forty ships a week passed through the station, though not all were fumigated. During the war, the number of fumigated ships dropped and then increased greatly after the war to up to twenty a week. The sizes of the ships ranged from one hundred to over six thousand tons, and fumigation of the larger ships required two or more days. The quarantine station did a remarkable job in keeping infectious diseases from reaching epidemic proportions in the United States.

In April 1900, at the behest of the War Department, the military installation on Angel Island was officially renamed Fort McDowell in honor of Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell, and its various installations were given new names. Thus Camp Reynolds, on the western shore of the island, became "West Garrison." Fort McDowell, on the eastern shore, became "East Garrison." These new military terms did not take hold of the popular imagination, however, and the various installations on Angel Island continued to be known by their old names. Thousands of recruits passed through the island each year. A typical recruit's stay lasted only a few days, during which he was given medical and dental examinations, clothing, and some equipment. The post grew into the country's largest overseas discharge and replacement depot: at peak recruitment times, four thousand recruits could occupy the island at a time, and by 1939 there were nearly three hundred permanent staff members on the island. Angel Island had a grade school for children of the permanent staff, a library, and a bowling alley. There was also a cinema that showed films every night as well as a Catholic church.(9)

The Angel Island Immigration Station

Angel Island is probably best known as the home of the Angel Island Immigration Station. The station, which operated from 1910 to 1940, was the main entry point into the United States for people arriving from the Pacific routes. More than one million people were processed at the station; most were allowed to enter the United States immediately and did not spend much, if any, time on the island. Rather, they were allowed to enter San Francisco soon after their ships docked, and their paperwork was forwarded to the immigration station for processing and storage.

Because so many people were processed there, Angel Island is often called America's "Ellis Island of the West." This name is not accurate, however, due to an important difference in the missions of the two immigration stations. On Ellis Island, immigrants were welcomed to the United States, and the vast majority were processed and landed immediately. On Angel Island, however, many immigrants--most of whom were Chinese--were not welcomed at all and were allowed into this country only grudgingly. The Chinese exclusion laws, first passed in 1882 and updated periodically until 1943, were enacted to keep Chinese immigrants out of the United States. During the twentieth century, several other Asian ethnic groups were added as well to the "excluded" list.

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, large numbers of Chinese people were coming to the United States, drawn initially by the gold rush to San Francisco and Gam Saan (the Gold Mountain) then to work as inexpensive laborers on the transcontinental railroad and in mines in the western part of the country.(10) Many American-born workers perceived these laborers as having taken jobs away from them, and when an economic depression hit the United States in the 1870s, the anti-Chinese sentiment increased enormously. In response to public opinion, Congress passed the exclusion laws.

In enforcing these laws, immigration officials detained newly arrived Chinese people while they determined their eligibility to enter the United States. According to some estimates, 75 to 80 percent of the arrivals were admitted to the United States after some form of detention. Most detention periods ranged from few days or a couple of weeks to six months; a few lasted as long as nearly two years. Regardless of the length of time, detainees had little, if any, contact with friends or relatives on the mainland. For this reason, the immigration station on Angel Island was known among Immigration Service officials as the "Guardian of the Western Gate."(11)

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A vessel carrying Chinese immigrants is met by the Health
Service boat from Angel Island.

The first laws barred the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years: "Whereas in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof . . . the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States . . . is hereby suspended, and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come . . . [to] the United States."(12) The law was also explicit regarding matters of citizenship for Chinese people: "hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship."(13)

The exclusion laws granted exemptions to certain groups of Chinese people. Teachers, consular officials, tourists, merchants, and the wives and children of exempt individuals were allowed to enter the United States. This last group of exempt people were generally the relatives of American-born Chinese or of those Chinese people who had been naturalized prior to the passage of the law and who had left families behind in China when they immigrated to the United States. Sometimes, however, Chinese men returned to China, married, and brought their wives to the United States.

In 1888 Congress passed another law, restricting a Chinese person's right to travel: "No Chinese laborer in the United States shall be permitted, after having left, to return thereto."(14) Again, as with the original exclusion laws, there were exceptions to this law. Individuals whose wives or children resided in the United States and those whose assets in this country were greater than one thousand dollars were allowed to leave and return.

The exclusion laws were renewed in 1892, with additional provisions. The most restrictive one required all Chinese laborers legally residing in the United States to obtain certificates of residence that offered proof of their legal status. Any Chinese laborer without such a certificate would be subject to arrest and deportation. Laws similar to these were also adopted around the turn of century in the Hawaiian territories.(15)

Paper Sons and Coaching Letters

The next major event affecting Chinese immigration was the fire that struck San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. The fire destroyed most birth and citizenship records kept by the city. This state of disarray in officialdom led many Chinese people to claim that they had been born in the United States, that their birth records had been destroyed, and that they were citizens. American citizenship would allow them to travel freely and to bring their families to the United States from China. These events, in turn, gave birth to the "paper son" and "paper daughter" industry. Paper sons and daughters were individuals who attempted to immigrate to the United States by claiming to be the children of American citizens or exempt residents when in fact their papers were false. The papers were supplied by groups or individuals who, for a fee, provided paper children and their paper parents with information and letters that offered evidence of a valid familial relationship. Such documents included false testimonies on the individual's behalf as well as identification papers with his photograph affixed in place of the original photograph.

The groups that acted as intermediaries in the paper son industry ran thriving businesses. Many of them established fictitious firms that purported to be retail shops but existed solely for immigration purposes. A partnership book dated 1914 for a fictitious firm in San Francisco illustrates this point: "The purpose of this firm is to bring profit to ourselves with the benefit to others. It benefits others because it provides headquarters for our relatives."(16) Furthermore: "Any person who should use the firm's name to enable boys to come to the United States as his sons must pay the firm Fifty Dollars ($50) for each boy."(17) And finally: "Should anyone outside of the present partnership desire to use the name of our firm for making a merchant paper he must pay the sum of Fifty Dollars and then he will be rated as a partner."(18)

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Immigration officials question a
new Chinese arrival at Angel
Island to determine his
eligibility to enter the United

Likewise, paper sons--or those who desired to bring them to the United States--were expected to pay large sums to the brokers who arranged for their immigration. The following statement was received by an Immigration Service inspector from Mr. Lee Tin Yat: "I have found a Chinese vegetable vendor at Oregon Street of this city [who] told me that Quan promised to [land] his nephew as a son of a native for the sum $1400 . . . in U.S. Gold."(19) In response to this new strategy to "pull the teeth" of the exclusion laws, Immigration Service officials arranged to detain Chinese immigrants in order to question them, their alleged parents, witnesses, and other parties who, in the service's judgment, might provide relevant evidence. During this time of detention, newly arrived Chinese people and their sponsors in the United States were interrogated at great length by Immigration Service officials, who asked them to describe their parents, grandparents, and siblings. They were also questioned with a meticulous--if not fanatic--eye to detail about their houses in China, their villages, and any other details that appeared to be pertinent. The Immigration Service reasoned that true relatives would give similar sets of answers to their questions; prospective immigrants whose answers did not match those of their alleged fathers were branded as paper sons and deported. Prospective immigrants were therefore often asked to describe the minutiae of their lives and surroundings in China. Everything from the names of siblings and the schools they attended to arrangement of houses in neighborhoods was fair game for inspectors attempting to distinguish paper sons, daughters, and wives from the real thing.

Q. You stated that your wife's [wedding] veil was striped goods--red and yellow. Is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Were there any other ornaments of any kind on that veil?
A. No.
Q. Were the stripes quite broad or otherwise?
A. Not too wide.(20)

Once inspectors were satisfied that they had obtained a critical mass of detail, they summoned the prospective immigrant's father or husband for interrogation. They asked the same questions of him and of any other witnesses who were able to attest to the relationship. Next they compared transcripts; if the answers given by all parties shared a sufficient amount of detail, the new arrival was certified as being the son/daughter/wife of the individual in question and allowed to land in the United States. If, however, there were too many discrepancies between the various testimonies, the new arrival would receive deportation orders. If he chose to appeal the decision, more interrogations would follow, and his case file would work its way up through the chain of command until he was either admitted or definitively ordered deported.

The Chinese community developed its own response to the interrogation process in the form of "coaching papers" or "coaching letters." Coaching papers were small pieces of paper--a few to several inches long--that contained information about the hopeful immigrant's "family" in China. Coaching papers were usually given to prospective immigrants before they departed for the United States. Not surprisingly, considering the nature of the interrogations, even true relatives of exempt Chinese used coaching papers. The immigrants would memorize the information on the papers during the sea voyage from China and sometimes destroy them by throwing them overboard as they neared their destinations. Coaching letters would get quite specific: "If the inspector asks you how far your village is from the Bamboo and tree, you answer 'I have no bamboo trees in my village, there [are] only bamboo and trees behind the hill of Jeung Bin village.' "(21) The end of this letter offers the following advice: "Be sure to study and memorize the above questions and answers right away. After you get through with them, don't forget to destroy this letter. I herewith enclose . . . a photo of [your paper father]. Study his features and do not fail to recognize him."

Supplemental coaching information was also exchanged between detainees and their contacts on the mainland, often with the collusion of both the Chinese American kitchen staff at the immigration station and with other individuals employed by the Immigration Service. While the kitchen staff tended to ferry additional coaching papers to the detainees, other people, including night watchmen and gardeners, were involved in the trafficking of files and information from Angel Island to groups on the mainland. These individuals were suspected of removing documents from the file storage rooms after work hours. They then gave the files to groups in San Francisco and were reimbursed for their work. By 1916 the level of corruption on Angel Island had reached such proportions that a large-scale investigation led by Mr. John Densmore was undertaken. One station employee described one use for these files: "Before the scheme of substituting photographs used to be in practice, in order that a Chinese could leave this country as a Native, the landing papers of a Native were taken from the files at Angel Island, and the applicant would depend solely on the notes taken by the stenographer at the time of arrival for the approval of the case."(22) The following statement from the investigation concerns allegations against a night watchman named Akers, who was suspected of trafficking information: "Well, while Kaphan and I were engaged in this business, he said he had put the proposition of taking these records from the Island up to Akers, and that Akers had agreed to take them over for $4 apiece."(23)

The potential financial gain from involvement in the paper son industry was substantial; in fact, the Densmore case files indicate that some people may have made as much as $100,000 a year from the business.(24) Not surprisingly, those who had the most to gain were willing to pay large bribes in exchange for the silence or cooperation of officials investigating abuses. Mr. Robert Fergusson, an investigator involved in the Densmore investigation, was offered such a bribe. He made the following statement about being approached by a man who told him about another investigator, a Mr. Hilkemeyer: "Among other things he said that Hilkemeyer . . . was willing to change his testimony regarding some of the defendants if he were paid some $10,000. McClymont wanted to know if I could get enough out of the ten thousand to influence me to change my testimony."(25)

The Densmore investigation uncovered widespread abuse of the Chinese exclusion laws and the exemptions to them and showed that the system was rife with paper sons, coaching papers, corrupt officials, and fraudulent business partnerships. As a result of the investigation, a number of people were prosecuted or sacked, and security measures on the island were changed.(26) Although this investigation alleviated a substantial amount of the problem, it was unable to end it altogether. As long as the Chinese exclusion laws remained in force, there were always people who wanted to beat them. In a description of the immigration station written in the 1930s, the writer describes methods of communication between detainees and people in San Francisco despite strenuous official attempts to quash it: "Coaching letters are sometimes hidden in wearing apparel, and even in foodstuffs brought to the Island; on once [sic] occasion a closely written paper having been placed in a peanut shell in order to pass the vigilant eyes of the immigration officers."(27)

Life at the Immigration Station

While they were being detained at the station, prospective immigrants were housed in barracks. Living conditions in the barracks were harsh and demoralizing for Chinese immigrants, especially in light of the long periods of detention suffered by some of the inmates. Conditions were perceived as "crowded and unsanitary, resembling a slum."(28) Regarding the confines of the barracks, one immigration official remarked that "if a private individual had such an establishment, he would be arrested by local health authorities."(29)

In the women's barracks, detainees slept in bunk beds stacked three high and two across. This arrangement allowed seventy to one hundred women to sleep and live in a single room. Arrangements in the barracks for the men were similar, although there were more beds there. Privacy was minimal, due not only to the sleeping arrangements but also to the absence of doors on bathroom and shower stalls.(30) Furthermore, the unfortunate detainees spent a significant amount of time locked inside the barracks because of Immigration Service fears that they would escape from the island if given too much freedom. Consequently, the detainees were allowed outside the barracks only for meals, interrogations, and supervised recreation in the exercise yard. The women and children were also allowed on supervised walks around the station grounds. Thus passed the life of a detainee on Angel Island.

In response to the conditions of their detentions, and to the uncertainty of their futures, many of the detainees wrote poetry that spoke of their despair. The poems were written on the walls of the detention barracks, and many of them survive to this day. Chinese immigrants, like their European counterparts, came to the United States in search of new lives, prosperity, and Gam Saan, or the Gold Mountain. Instead, they were greeted with a detention center, interrogations, and uncertainty. Their poems speak of their frustration with their conditions:

Detained in this wooden house for
   several tens of days
   because of the exclusion laws.
It's a pity heroes have no place
   to exercise their prowess.

Waiting for news of my release,
   I am ready to snap my whip and gallop.
All my kinsmen and housemates
   will be happy for me.

But don't deny this Western grandeur,
   this imposing facade
For behind the jade carvings,
   there lies a cage.(31)

The male detainees formed a society of self-government called the Liberation Society, or izhihui. The society was formed to bring some social structure to the detention barracks, and its officers were elected from individuals who had been detained the longest. The society brought some form of self-determination to the detainees and thus alleviated some of the strain associated with long periods of confinement.

The lives of all of the detainees on the island were also improved somewhat by the presence of Deaconess Katherine Maurer. Deaconess Maurer, who was known as the "Angel of Angel Island," was appointed in 1912 by the Women's Home Missionary Society to do welfare work on behalf of the detainees. She performed this work on a full-time basis until the station closed in 1940. In addition to giving English lessons, she introduced people to American culture and provided them with small items that eased their conditions of detention. Among other things, she provided detainees with towels, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, stationery, and sewing supplies. She also brought toys, games, crayons, storybooks, and dolls for the children.(32) The district director of the Immigration Service admired Deaconess Maurer's work greatly, an opinion he made clear in a report to the immigration commissioner in 1935: "Much credit is due to the fine welfare work carried on by Miss Maurer at this immigration station."(33)

Enemy Aliens

Although Chinese people constituted a large number of the total detainees on Angel Island, they were not the only groups held there. Other Asians, South and Central Americans, Europeans, and Australians were all processed through the station, although the majority of them never spent a night there. Japanese picture brides also constituted a sizable group of Pacific arrivals. Following photograph-based engagements, these women had been married by proxy to Japanese men already residing in the United States. Following their wedding ceremonies, they crossed the Pacific to join their new husbands, at which time the marriages were recertified according to U.S. law. Apart from those brides whose paperwork was of questionable authenticity or whose new mates failed to respond to the Immigration Service, most brides were never detained on the island. In fact, most non-Chinese were allowed to land immediately, and only their paperwork spent time on Angel Island. However, some groups were detained, notably the "enemy aliens" detained during the two world wars.

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In this group of newly arrived immigrants to Angel Island,
Japanese women precede Chinese men down the pier.

In his declarations of war against the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires in 1917, President Wilson declared that "no alien enemy shall land in or enter the United States, except under such restrictions and at such places as the President may prescribe."(34) The declarations also stated that individuals who were not deemed to be threats to the United States--such as women and children--would be allowed to enter and reside in this country. However, Wilson also stated that all male citizens of belligerent countries who were over the age of fourteen--especially those who had been associated with the military--would "be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured, and removed, as alien enemies."(35) This declaration resulted in the detention of a number of alien enemies--the great majority of whom were current or former members of the German or Austro-Hungarian military--for the duration of the war. Some of these individuals were housed on Angel Island. In May of 1917, they numbered approximately 150 people.

Enemy aliens were housed in the same barracks as the Chinese and other immigration detainees, although all of the various groups were separated by ethnic origin. Like the Asian detainees, the prisoners of war were evidently not very happy with their conditions of detention. In a May 1917 letter of complaint to the district director of immigration for the San Francisco area, they expressed their discontent with the sanitary conditions at the station. Specifically, they complained of inadequate toilet and bathing facilities and of uncleanliness in the kitchen and dining areas. Furthermore, they complained that fifty men were housed in a single room, ventilation in the rooms was poor, and no drinking water was available in them. Finally, as were the Chinese men, they were allowed to exercise only two to three hours a day. The Germans requested some alleviation of their conditions.(36) The outcome of the complaint is unknown, but the prisoners did spend the remainder of the war on Angel Island.

Fire Safety at the Immigration Station

Although Deaconess Maurer and the Chinese self-governing society provided a great deal of relief to the detainees on Angel Island, they were not able to overcome certain shortcomings at the station, the most serious of which was the condition of the buildings. Debates over sanitary and fire safety conditions at the Immigration Station began shortly after it opened in 1910 and continued until a fire destroyed it in 1940.

A complaint about fire safety at the station lodged with the secretary of labor in 1915 criticized the station as being insufficiently fireproof. The writer suggested that the station be closed and its officials and occupants be removed "to fireproof, sanitary buildings situated on the mainland."(37) Furthermore, overcrowding and a lack of isolation facilities in the hospital exacerbated the spread of disease, and complaints about epidemics were made to the commissioner of immigration in Washington as early as 1915.(38) In 1920 an epidemic of meningitis broke out at the station; its cause was attributed to the unsanitary conditions still prevailing there.

In 1923 another report was made to the immigration commissioner. This report criticized fire safety standards as being quite inadequate and stated that the administration building was "without proper fire protection." The detention building was without "any fire protection at all," and as for the hospital building, "in the case of fire, there would be a serious loss of life."(39) Similar criticisms were made of almost every building at the station, even of the fire hoses and the water supply for them. Indeed, several small fires did break out over the years. While no deaths or significant loss of property resulted from these fires, the warnings they made went unheeded, and significant improvements were not made to the station.

On the evening of August 12, 1940, a fire broke out in the administration building. Soldiers from Fort McDowell rushed to the scene, where they assisted the detainees in dousing the blaze. No one was injured, but the building was completely destroyed. A board of inquiry, after interviewing everyone who may have had information about the fire, determined that it had not been set deliberately. However, deliberate or not, the fire finally demonstrated that the immigration station was dangerously unsafe and that it was no longer able to fulfill the purpose for which it had been constructed. The detainees and officials of the station were moved to San Francisco, and arrangements were made for the U.S. Army to take over its grounds. A skeleton crew remained at the station until early 1941, when the army officially assumed control. After making some improvements to the structures there, the station was again used, during World War II, to house enemy aliens.

World War II

Enemy aliens were defined as citizens of Germany and other Axis countries. Current and former members of the military were especially considered to be alien enemies, and many were arrested and detained. During this war, however, Angel Island was merely a temporary holding camp for prisoners, who were sent to permanent quarters in various places around the West. Many of them stayed on the island only for a few weeks. One group of Germans, for example, was the crew of the SS Columbus, a German merchant marine ship scuttled off the U.S. coast in 1940. Faced with choosing between fleeing to the British ship that sunk them and an American ship nearby, the crew of the Columbus chose the Americans. In so doing, they became the guests of the U.S. government rather than the prisoners of the British government. They retained this status until December 1941, when war between the United States and Germany was officially declared. The crew of the Columbus was moved to New Mexico, where they sat out the war in a special facility near Roswell.(40)

The arrival of World War II also brought an end to the Chinese exclusion laws. The United States, as an ally of China against Japan, no longer desired to exclude its allies, and the laws were repealed in 1943.

Angel Island was a busy place throughout the course of World War II. Tens of thousands of recruits passed through Fort McDowell on the way to duty overseas. In fact, the Overseas Discharge and Replacement Depot at Fort McDowell was the largest such establishment in the United States. When the war was over, thousands of soldiers again passed through Fort McDowell as they returned from duty in the Pacific region. In 1945 a sixty-foot sign directed at returning soldiers was erected: "Welcome Home, Well Done." The soldiers continued to return until 1946, when their numbers were reduced to nearly zero. At this time, the army closed Fort McDowell and withdrew from the island, declaring it to be surplus territory.

The area that had been the quarantine station was turned over to the state of California for use as a parkland in 1954. The next year, however, the military returned to Angel Island, in order to fight the cold war. A missile site was completed in 1955, and Nike missiles were installed on the western shore of the island. In 1958 more of Angel Island was given to California for use as a state park. The missiles remained there until 1962, when they had become obsolete. At this time, the rest of the island was given to the state of California.

Today the California Department of Parks and Recreation maintains Angel Island State Park. The island, which has been designated a National Historical Landmark, is a popular destination for tourists and residents alike, who travel by ferry or private boat to dock at the former quarantine station. In a tour around the island, visitors can share a historical journey from the nineteenth centry to the present. Tours of Angel Island are led by docents trained by the Angel Island Association (AIA), an organization that works to commemorate the island's heritage. During the tour, visitors see Civil War-era buildings at Camp Reynolds and the former Nike missile sites of the 1950s. The men's detention quarters at the immigration station are open to the public; some of the poetry written by detainees seventy-five years ago is still visible on the walls of this building. Finally, a small museum at the former quarantine station tells Angel Island's story in pictures, artifacts, and words. The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (ISF) also works to preserve the island's history, focusing on Asian immigration. Both the ISF and the AIA played a significant role in getting the island named a National Historical Landmark.

Today Angel Island is no longer the "Guardian of the Western Gate." Instead, as a state park and National Historical Landmark, it has a new mission to welcome all visitors and tell the stories of its former visitors and the place they hold in American history.


This article has been written as part of a project sponsored by Congressman Tom Lantos to commemorate the history of Angel Island. Many thanks are due to Mrs. Annette Lantos, Iswari España, and to Congressman Lantos's staff. Thanks are also due to Waverly Lowell, Neil Thomsen, Dan Nealand, and the rest of the staff of the National Archives-Pacific Region, without whose assistance this essay would not have been written. The Angel Island Association may be reached at 415-435-3522. The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation may be reached at 29237, San Francisco, CA 94129-0237.

1. Maj. Oscar W. Koch, U.S. Cavalry, "Fort McDowell--Grand Hotel, U.S.A.," Nov. 19, 1939, file no. 12030/1-1, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85, National Archives and Records Administration-Pacific Region (San Francisco) (hereinafter, records in NARA-Pacific Region (SF) will be cited as RG ___, NAPS); fact sheet, Sept. 1, 1972, Ephemera Box 66, Headquarters of the Sixth United States Army, Office of the Chief, Public Affairs, Presidio of San Francisco, California, Archives of the Presidio of San Francisco.

2. Koch, "Fort McDowell," Nov. 19, 1939, file no. 12030/1-1, RG 85, NAPS.

3. Fact sheet, Sept. 1, 1972, Ephemera Box 66, Archives of the Presidio of San Francisco.

4. Fact sheet, Sept. 1, 1972, Ephemera Box 66, Archives of the Presidio of San Francisco; Koch,"Fort McDowell," Nov. 19, 1939, file no. 12030/1-1, RG 85, NAPS.

5. Fact sheet, Sept. 1, 1972, Ephemera Box 66, Archives of the Presidio of San Francisco; Koch,"Fort McDowell," Nov. 19, 1939, file no. 12030/1-1, RG 85, NAPS.

6. Annual Report of the Commissioner General of Immigration, 1928 (hereinafter cited as 1928 Annual Report).

7. Ibid.

8. Wayne Biddle, A Field Guide to Germs (1995), p. 35.

9. Hugh S. Cumming, Passed Assistant Surgeon in command of the quarantine station, to U.S. Surgeon General, July 1, 1903, Bound books, book 1 "Letters to the Surgeon from the medical officer in charge, July 1, 1903-March 1, 1926," Records of the Public Health Service, 1912-1968, RG 90, NAPS.

10. Sucheng Chan, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (1991), p. 28.

11. Edward L. Haff, District Director for San Francisco District INS, to Ted Reindollar, May 14, 1936, file 12030/1, RG 85, NAPS.

12. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Immigration, Treaty, Laws, and Rules Governing the Admission of Chinese, Rules of May 1, 1917 (3d ed., October 1920), p. 6.

13. Ibid., p. 9.

14. Ibid., p. 10.

15. Ibid., pp. 15, 17.

16. "Partnership book in Chinese,captured by customs inspectors on the premises of the fictitious firm operating under the name of Quong Fat Cheung, at No. 30 Waverly Place, San Francisco, Cal." RG 85, NAPS.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Lee Yat, witness, to Clarkson Dye, investigator, statement made during Densmore investigation, May 11, 1917, folder no. 12016/1076-3, RG 85, NAPS.

20. Lee Youk, merchant and husband of Chin Shee, during interrogation, folder no. 15502/5-6, RG 85, NAPS.

21. Translation of Chinese letter intended for Tom Quon Sook and Tom Quon Poy, May 15, 1917, file no. 54184/138// 10126/1076, RG 85, NAPS.

22. Coaching letter for Tom Quon Sook, ibid.

23. W. J. Armstrong, employee at immigration station, statement to investigators during Densmore investigation, Feb. 13, 1917, folder 12016/1076-1, RG 85, NAPS.

24. "Fugitive caught," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 17, 1917, folder no. 12016/1076, RG 85, NAPS.

25. Robert T. Fergusson, employee at immigration station, statement to investigators during Densmore investigation, Feb. 13, 1917, RG 85, NAPS.

26. Densmore investigation, file nos. 12016/1076-7 and 12016/1076-9, RG 85, NAPS.

27. Informational description of the Angel Island Immigration Station, ca. 1930s, folder no. 12030/1-1, RG 85, NAPS.

28. Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (1989), p. 237.

29. Luther C. Steward, Acting Commissioner, Immigration Service San Francisco, to Commissioner General, Immigration Service Washington, D.C., Dec 19, 1910, RG 85, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC; quoted in Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America (1986), p. 100.

30. Angel Island, published by "Immigrants All . . . Americans All" and The Portfolio Project, Inc. (1989).

31. Ibid. A collection of poetry written on the walls of the detention barracks on Angel Island has been compiled in the book Island: Poetry and History of Immigrants Detained on Angel Island, 1910-1940, ed. Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung (1986).

32. Edward Haff to the Commissioner of the INS, Jan. 21, 1935, folder 12030/24, RG 85, NAPS.

33. Ibid.

34. Woodrow Wilson, Declaration of War between the United States and the German Empire, Apr. 6, 1917; Declaration of War between the United States and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Dec. 7, 1917, copy in folder no. 12016/1106, RG 85, NAPS.

35. Ibid.

36. Capt. E. Deimat, ex. SS Holsatia, et al., to Mr. White, District Commissioner for the INS, May 15, 1917, folder "Alien enemies: Sample no. 56," RG 85, NAPS.

37. Commissioner General of Immigration to the Secretary of the Department of Labor, July 15, 1915, folder no. 12030/22, RG 85, NAPS.

38. W. C. Billings, Surgeon, USPHS, to the Commissioner of Immigration, July 20, 1915, folder no. 12030/23, RG 85, NAPS.

39. Capt. C. J. Cullen to John Nagle, Immigration Commissioner, Mar. 28, 1923, folder no. 12030/24, RG 85, NAPS.

40. John Joel Culley, "A Troublesome Presence: World War II Internment of German Sailors in New Mexico," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 28 (Winter 1996): 279-295.

from Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. Summer 1998, vol. 30, no. 2. © 1998 by Valerie Natale. Online Source

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