Minidoka


US Gov Name Minidoka Relocation Center
Facility Type Concentration Camp
Administrative Agency War Relocation Authority
Location Hunt, Idaho (42.6667 lat, -114.2333 lng)
Date Opened August 10, 1942
Date Closed October 28, 1945
Population Description Held people from Washington, Oregon, and Alaska; in 1943 many of the incarcerees from Bainbridge Island, Washington, were transferred at their own request to Minidoka from Manzanar.
General Description Located at 4,000 feet of elevation on uneven terrain in southern Idaho, Minidoka is in the Snake River Plain of Jerome County, 15 miles east of Jerome and 15 miles north of Twin Falls. The 33,000 acres of arid desert was dominated by sagebrush; the southern boundary of the camp was formed by the man-made North Side canal.
Peak Population 9,397 (1943-03-01)
National Park Service Info

The United States government incarcerated over 13,000 people of Japanese ancestry at the Minidoka War Relocation Center. Construction began on the site on June 5, 1942, by the Idaho-based Morrison-Knudsen Company. On August 10, 1942, incarcerees arrived at the site. The number of incarcerees reached 7,318 at its maximum population. On October 28, 1945, Minidoka ceased operation.[1]

Contents

Geography and Prewar History

The Minidoka Relocation Center[2] stood immediately north of the North Side Canal and sixteen miles east of Jerome, Idaho, in Jerome County. Located on the Snake River Plain of South Central Idaho, Minidoka is located roughly twenty miles northeast of Twin Falls, Idaho. [3]

The landscape of the area surrounding Minidoka is a mixture of ash soil, basaltic rock, and silt. These geologic features are evidence of the turbulent times of the prehistoric past when over ten million years ago, the Snake River Plain-Yellowstone hot spot now visible at Yellowstone National Park was once below the surface of the Snake River Plain.[4] Since the Bonneville Flood around 14,500 years ago, the Snake River Plain slowly transformed into the high desert sage land it is today.[5] Although the region is arid, the Milner-Gooding Canal provided irrigation water to the area for farming. This allowed the area to flourish agriculturally in the early 20th century. Many farmers came to the area after the passage of the Carey Act of 1894 and the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902.[6]

Due to the reclamation project in the area, the infamous dust storms at Minidoka occurred when the wind blew across the reclaimed sage-covered desert, since the sage was no longer present to hold down the fine volcanic ash-like dust.[7] The first issue of the Minidoka Irrigator, the incarceree-run newspaper, helped people learn about their new living conditions, reporting a low of 21 degrees below zero and high of 104 degrees in 1942.[8]

WRA Camp

Although there was a small Japanese American population in Idaho before the war, Idaho governor Chase Clark took on a strongly anti-Japanese stance after the attack on Pearl Harbor, opposing "voluntary resettlement" of Japanese Americans from the West Coast to Idaho (even to serve as much needed farm laborers) and even the construction of what would become the Minidoka camp in Idaho. Despite the governor's feelings the camp was established. The population of Minidoka came from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.[9] Minidoka included 36 residential blocks and over 600 buildings. Though the actual numbered blocks went up to 44, some numbers, such as Block 9 and 11, were not used. The curvature of the North Side canal allowed for a more unique curved layout unlike the blockish layout of the other camps.[10]

Minidoka was one of three War Relocation Centers that were built on public lands owned by the Bureau of Reclamation.[11] The Bureau of Reclamation assumed that the Nikkei population would provide cheap labor for irrigation projects. Incarcerees did help with the construction of irrigation canals and laterals, but a majority of their work went toward the fields due to labor shortages in the area.[12] When farmers' crops were about to be lost due to not having enough people to help with harvesting, many repressed their prejudices and allowed Nikkei to help, allowing the community to resign their misconceptions.[13]

From April 22, 1942, to September 26, 1945, Harry L. Stafford served as project director of the Minidoka Relocation Center. In his report to the War Relocation Authority, Stafford voiced his concerns about how hastily the camp had been constructed. He also mentioned that the incomplete facilities "forced prolonged use of outdoor latrines (foul affairs)." With that he wrote that the "occupancy period is the most regrettable part of the Minidoka history."[14]

The relationship between incarcerees and the Minidoka War Relocation Center's administration began relatively well, but over the course of its operation the relationship strained.[15] Stafford claimed that the "open public service attitude of the camp administration" contributed to the Minidoka project enjoying satisfactory public relations at the site. However, Stafford's statement only refers to public relations with the outside community, not within the Nikkei community.[16] The turbulent relationship between the Nikkei and the administration began with the barbed wire fence. When the first incarcerees arrived, the barbed wire fence was incomplete. Nikkei were allowed to tread into the nearby sagebrush to find fuel to burn. Once the fence was constructed, many felt it intolerable and some felt humiliated. Some rebelled and tried to dismantle the fence, but the contractor electrified the fence without the knowledge of the administration, causing further tension.[17]

More strain followed when the authorities allowed Nisei to construct their own community government. The concept was "American citizenship for American leadership." Stafford wrote that it was a good idea, but it failed because of "extreme youth in the citizen ranks" and the "traditional dominance of the elders." This community government ran by the second generation pitted the Issei and the Nisei against each other and caused a rift in the community. Stafford also noted that about 10% of the problems were from policy making and the administration enforcing the policies. He then wrote that "[m]ost flare-ups were usually traceable to administrative awkwardness in one phase or another" and that "the administration of the Minidoka Camp could have been vested in the Japanese people almost 100 percent."[18]

In 1943, the loyalty questionnaire issued by federal officials pushed already strained relationships to the brink.[19] 1,900 Nikkei from Tule Lake who were deemed loyal were sent to Minidoka.[20] (See Segregation.) A disproportionately high percentage of men at Minidoka volunteered for the segregated Nisei unit in the army. While Minidoka only had seven percent of eligible Nisei for the draft, twenty-five percent of those Nisei who volunteered came from Minidoka.[21] Others resisted the military draft making a statement by defying it. In 1944, thirty-eight men were apprehended for draft evasion. In eleven days, thirty-three were tried before Honorable Judge Chase Clark, former governor of Idaho. Unwavering from previous anti-Japanese sentiment, he did not recuse himself for being biased. One man was acquitted, while those who plead guilty were sentenced to eighteen months in prison, and those convicted were sentenced to three years and three months and a $200 fine.[22]

In December 1944, the War Relocation Authority announced the closures of all camps. At that time, seventy-three percent of those removed from the West Coast were still at the ten WRA centers across the United States.[23] By September 1, 1945, W.E. Rawlings became the project director, and he stated in his Project Director's Narrative that there were still 3,000 Nikkei at Minidoka. Rawlings said those who were left were old, sick, or incompetent. Many were given a three-day notice to vacate the premises, so the site could be closed on time. Only one person was evicted due to refusing to move. Rawlings mentioned that it only took one eviction to cut this behavior.[24]

After the War

On October 28, 1945, Minidoka officially closed. Dismantling took place immediately. A little over three months after Minidoka's closure, the War Relocation Authority returned the land back to the Bureau of Reclamation. Then in 1947, Congress passed the Interior Department Appropriation Act allowing for the transfer of former War Relocation Center acreage to returning war veterans on a lottery based system, allowing settlement on reclamation project land.[25] By March 15, 1947, the federal government promoted forty-three Idaho farm units ready for veterans.[26] In September 1947, the government reported another forty-six units, approximately 3,618 acres, would be given away.[27]

On August 18, 1979, the Minidoka War Relocation Authority Center was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The historic site originally consisted of 6.06 acres of the entrance area. Buildings included were the military police building, visitor reception building, garden, and the visitor parking lot. On October 13, 1979, a dedication ceremony was held at the site with the Pocatello-Blackfoot JACL unveiling the National Registry of Historic Places plaque and an interpretive panel.[28]

On January 17, 2001, the Minidoka National Historic Site was designated as the 385th unit of the National Park System by President Bill Clinton[29] as the Minidoka National Historic Monument, including 73 acres along the North Side Canal. In 2008, the site was designated as a National Historic Site by President Bush.

The site is currently 407.5 acres of the original 33,000 acres. On May 8, 2008, the Nidoto Nai Yoni (Let it not happen again) Memorial was designated as a unit of the Minidoka National Historic Site. [30] Original structures still standing include the fire station, warehouse, root cellar, military police building, and the visitor reception center. There is a 1.6 mile trail with wayside exhibits to explain the historic significance of the site and a portion of the barbed wire fence was reestablished along the North Side Canal. A visitor's center and the recreation of Block 22 are on the horizon.[31]

On July 3, 2011, the Friends of Minidoka and the National Park Service unveiled a replica of the historic Honor Roll. It stands once again at the entrance of the Minidoka to honor those who served in the military from Minidoka. The reconstruction of the guard tower at the entrance of the park is scheduled to be completed by 2014.[32]

Pilgrimage and Civil Liberties Symposium

The first pilgrimage, held in 2003, had approximately 120 participants.[33] 2012 celebrates the 10th anniversary of the pilgrimage. Over the years, the program has evolved to make it more educational, more inspirational, and more enlightening so pilgrims would want to return. The pilgrimage consists of a visit to the historical site, a legacy session, small group sharing, social time, and the closing ceremony. The pilgrimage was a three-day activity but was recently expanded to four days, allowing a one-day overlap with the Civil Liberties Symposium.[34]

Since 2006, the Friends of Minidoka, the College of Southern Idaho, and the National Park Service have been organizing the annual Civil Liberties Symposium. The Symposium is scheduled for two days prior to the pilgrimage, allowing the students and teachers who attend the opportunity to also attend the pilgrimage, while giving the pilgrims the opportunity to participate. Each year the Symposium tackles a different theme. Themes have included: media, arts, military/dissenters, and education. This two-day symposium focuses on civil liberties, constitutional rights, racism and discrimination in the U.S., fragility of democracy in the times of crisis, and the Japanese American experience and its relevance to current events. The two days are filled with lectures, panels, and performances.

Authored by Hanako Wakatsuki

For More Information

Burton, Jeffrey F., and Mary M. Farrell. This is Minidoka: An Archeological Survey of Minidoka Internment National Monument, Idaho. Tucson: Western Archeological and Conservation Center, 2001.

Burton, Jeffrey F., Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. Seattle: National Park Service, 1999. Accessed December 25, 2011. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/anthropology74/index.htm

Fiset, Louis. Imprisoned Apart: The World War II Correspondence of an Issei Couple. Foreword by Roger Daniels. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. [Letters between Iwao Matsushita at Fort Missoula, Montana, and Hanaye Matsushita at Minidoka.]

Haglund, Frances E. "Behind Barbed Wire." Integrated Education. 16.2 (Mar.-Apr. 1978): 3-8. [Reminiscences of a Minidoka science teacher.]

Maeda, Laura. "Life at Minidoka: A Personal History of the Japanese-American Relocation." Pacific Historian 20.4 (1976): 379-87.

Merger, Amy Lowe. Minidoka Internment National Monument: Historic Resource Study. Seattle: National Park Service, 2005.

Muller, Eric. Free to Die For Their Country. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Muller, Eric. "The Minidoka Draft Resisters in a Federal Kangaroo Court." In Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest, ed. Louis Fiset and Gail Nomura, 171-189. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005.

National Park Service. "Minidoka National Historic Site: Idaho." http://www.nps.gov/miin/index.htm.

Omori, Chizu. "The Loyalty Questionnaire." In Guilt by Association: Essays on Japanese American Settlement, Internment and Relocation in the Rocky Mountain West, ed. Mike Mackey, 285. Powell: Western History Publications, 2001.

"Presidential Documents: Proclamation 7395 of January 17, 2001, Establishment of the Minidoka Internment National Monument," Federal Register Vol. 66, No. 14. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2001.

Rawlings, W.E. "Project Director's Narrative: Relocation." http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft7870073x;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e133&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=calisphere&query=Project%20director%20narrative.

Sakoda, James M. "Minidoka: An Analysis of Changing Patterns of Social Interaction." Diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1949.

__________. "Reminiscences of a Participant Observer." In Views from Within: The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study. Ed. Yuji Ichioka. Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, 1989. 219-45.

__________. "The 'Residue': The Unresettled Minidokans, 1943-1945." In Views from Within: The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study. Ed. Yuji Ichioka. Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, 1989. 247-84.

Sims, Robert C. "The Japanese American Experience in Idaho." Idaho Yesterdays (Spring 1978):2-10.

Sone, Monica. Nisei Daughter. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953. S. Frank Miyamoto, introd. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979. [Memoir of a Seattle area Nisei that includes her time at Minidoka.]

Stafford, Harry. "Project Director's Narrative: H.L. Stafford Report." http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft9p300845;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e76&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e76&brand=calisphere&query=Project%20director%20narrative.

State of Idaho. "Jerome County." Accessed February 1, 2012. http://www.idaho.gov/aboutidaho/county/jerome.html.

U.S. Department of Interior. Minidoka Internment National Monument: General Management Plan. Seattle: National Park Service, 2005.

Footnotes

  1. Jeffrey F. Burton et al., Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, (Seattle: National Park Service, 1999), accessed December 25, 2011. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/anthropology74/ce9.htm.
  2. Also referred to by its postal designation as Hunt Camp, or just Hunt, by former incarcerees.
  3. Jerome County is surrounded by Lincoln County to the north, Gooding County to the west, Twin Falls and Cassia Counties to the south, and Minidoka County to the east. The North Side Canal formed the southern border of the Minidoka Relocation Center. Minidoka is not to be confused with Minidoka County or Minidoka City (approximately 50 miles east of the camp). The Minidoka Relocation Center got its name from the Minidoka Reclamation Project that the original land was a part of.
  4. Charles A. Wood and Juergen Kienle, Volcanoes of North America: United States and Canada (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 149-150.
  5. Amy Lowe Merger, Minidoka Internment National Monument: Historic Resource Study (Seattle: National Park Service, 2005), 7.
  6. Merger, 23-35.
  7. Merger, 97.
  8. "Our 'Home' For The Duration," Minidoka Irrigator, September 10, 1942, 8.
  9. Ibid., March 23, 1942, 1. The first group to be "evacuated" from the West Coast was the Bainbridge Island residents from Washington who eventually relocated to Minidoka. Instead of being sent to Minidoka like most residents from the Seattle area, they were originally sent to the Manzanar Relocation Center in California. However, the Bainbridge Islanders decided that the Californians at Manzanar, especially the Terminal Island residents were too rough for them, and sought to join their fellow Washingtonians at Minidoka.
  10. Ibid., http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/anthropology74/ce9a.htm.
  11. The other two were Tule Lake and Heart Mountain.
  12. Merger, 93-97.
  13. "Project Director's Narrative: Relocation W.E. Rawlings," University of California, accessed February 29, 1946, http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft7870073x;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e133&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=calisphere&query=Project%20director%20narrative.
  14. "Project Director's Narrative: H.L. Stafford Report," University of California, accessed February 28, 2012,http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft9p300845;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e76&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e76&brand=calisphere&query=Project%20director%20narrative.
  15. Merger, 130.
  16. "Project Director's Narrative: H.L. Stafford Report."
  17. Merger, 141.
  18. "Project Director's Narrative: H.L. Stafford Report."
  19. This is when Tule Lake began to evolve into a segregation center.
  20. Chizu Omori, "The Loyalty Questionnaire," in Guilt by Association: Essays on Japanese American Settlement, Internment and Relocation in the Rocky Mountain West, ed. Mike Mackey (Powell, Wyoming: Western History Publications, 2001), 285.
  21. Eric Muller, Free to Die For Their Country (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 54.
  22. Eric Muller, "The Minidoka Draft Resisters in a Federal Kangaroo Court," in Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest, ed. Louis Fiset and Gail Nomura (Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2005), 176-183.
  23. Merger, 145.
  24. "Project Director's Narrative: Project Director W.E. Rawlings," University of California, accessed February 29, 1946, http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft7870073x;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e77&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=calisphere&query=Project%20director%20narrative.
  25. Merger, 155.
  26. Idaho Daily Statesman, March 15, 1947, 6.
  27. Merger, 155.
  28. Hiro Shiozaki, phone interview, December 2011.
  29. "Presidential Documents: Proclamation 7395 of January 17, 2001, Establishment of the Minidoka Internment National Monument," Federal Register Vol. 66, No. 14 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2001).
  30. "Minidoka National Historic Site: Idaho," National Park Service, accessed February 2, 2012, http://www.nps.gov/miin/index.htm. Located on Bainbridge Island, WA, this 8 acre site pays tribute to the first group to be removed from the West Coast and their journey to Minidoka.
  31. Carol Ash, e-mail message to author, February 15, 2012.
  32. Both projects were funded by Japanese American Confinement Sites grants, a program of the National Park Service.
  33. Today, Minidoka continues to hold an amalgamation of memories and strong emotions—feelings of denial, distrust, shame and joy. Former internees, their families, and friends have all made the pilgrimage from Seattle, Portland, and across the nation to the former Minidoka Relocation Center. They revisit the place and the memories amidst family, friends, and allies to honor the Issei who suffered most, to deliver the message of "Never Again," and to preserve the legacy of those interned. The pilgrimage is a sanctuary for stories to be shared, former incarcerees heal and provides an opportunity families to learn about themselves. This also gives those who do not have a connection with the Japanese American incarceration experience a chance to learn about this part of American history first hand through the activities during the pilgrimage and the opportunity to meet and hear stories from former incarcerees. The Pilgrimage Committee has noticed that the interest has no racial boundaries. They see teachers and students who are not of Japanese descent attending as well. Through this mixing of cultures, the demographics of those who attend are now getting broader.
  34. Gloria Shigeno, e-mail message to author, November 7, 2010.