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The Internment Camp at Heart Mountain, 1942-1945

The Internment Camp at Heart Mountain, 1942-1945

Area 9:  The U.S. during the Second World War (1940s)
Question:  How did the Second World War produce changes in the U.S. home front?

The internment of Japanese Americans at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, uniquely impacted Wyoming’s home front during World II.  The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was one of ten such internment camps constructed in response to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.  Relocation centers were located in seven states in the West and Midwest. Their primary purpose was to house Japanese-Americans from Oregon, Washington, California, and Arizona. Wyomingites, like other Americans, were fearful of their peace and security at home. Despite their support of Roosevelt’s order, Wyomingites saw the construction of this camp in the northwestern part of the state between Cody and Powell as an unwanted intrusion upon their liberties and day-to-day lives.  The War Relocation Administration  (WRA) implemented the executive order as required but gave little regard for how it impacted the lives of the 10,000 Japanese Americans who were held at Heart Mountain, under guard and behind barbed wire, from 1942 to 1945—or to the local population in Cody and Powell.

This Area of Inquiry is intended to have students explore the impact that the relocation of Japanese Americans to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in northwestern Wyoming had on both the inhabitants of the camp and on Wyomingites who lived in the nearby towns of Powell and Cody.  Steven Bingo’s WyoHistory.org article, “A Brief History of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center,” provides background about the events leading up to the importation of Japanese Americans to Heart Mountain, its impact on their lives and the reactions of people living in the surrounding communities to the peopling of what would become the third largest city in Wyoming.  After reading this article, students are encouraged to explore the experiences of individuals both in the relocation camp and local areas using the resources listed below or in their own research to consider the ways in which this event impacted and changed people’s lives in the camp and on the home front in Wyoming.

Exercises

Below are five sketches and five photographs of life at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center from 1942 to 1945. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge each image. 

  • For each image, fill out the photo analysis worksheet. Download the Worksheet
  • Then write a brief essay describing life at Heart Mountain.

Resources—For further reading and research

Primary sources

  • Executive Order 9066, February 19, 1942; General Records of the Unites States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives, accessed Oct. 17, 2016 at https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=74. Site includes PDF of first page of original document of President Franklin Roosevelt’s order that Japanese-Americans should be interned, transcript of the entire document, background information on the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans and a link to a photo of Japanese-Americans readying to board a train.
  • Map locating the 10 Japanese-American Internment Camps, 1942-1946. University of Denver Museum of Anthropology Behind Barbed Wire website, accessed October 17, 2016 at https://www.du.edu/behindbarbedwire/map_of_the_internmen-43CBE.html. Also offers links to population information on the ten camps.

Secondary sources

  • Bingo, Steven. “A Brief History of Heart Mountain Relocation Center,” WyoHistory.org, accessed Oct. 17, 2016 at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/brief-history-heart-mountain-relocation-center. From 1942 through most of 1945, about 10,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast of United States lived behind barbed wire in tarpaper barracks at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center between Cody and Powell, Wyo. in Park County—one of ten such camps around the nation during World War II. The center was briefly Wyoming’s third-largest town. When hundreds of young men in the camp were drafted into the U.S. military, 63 resisted, feeling they had been denied their constitutional rights. They and seven more leaders of the group were sentenced to federal prison. In the 1980s, Congress passed a law granting an apology and $20,000 to every survivor of the camps.
  • Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. Center website accessed Oct. 17, 2017 http://www.heartmountain.org/. For information on field trips and on grade-specific Heart Mountain curricula available to school districts for a nominal fee see http://www.heartmountain.org/education.html.
  •  “Biography.” The Estelle Ishigo Papers, UCLA, accessed Oct. 26, 2016 at http://hamachi.library.ucla.edu/ishigo/4.html.

Illustrations

  • The five sketches of life at Heart Mountain are from the collection of Estelle Ishigo drawings and photographs at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. Estelle Ishigo, a Euro-American, was married to a Japanese-American from California; both were interned at the camp. Used with permission and thanks.
  • The photos of the children in traditional clothing, the workers in the beet field and the crowd on the train platform are from the George and Frank C. Hirahara Photograph Collection, 1943-1945, Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, Wash. Used with permission and thanks.
  • The photos of the ice skaters and the girl with the guard tower in the background are from the Okumoto Collection at the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, and may be seen along with many more at the Densho Digital Repository.