Heart Mountain Relocation Center

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Heart Mountain Relocation Center
Heart Mountain historical marker and mountain behind.
Location Park County, Wyoming, USA 44°40′18″N 108°56′47″W / 44.67167°N 108.94639°W / 44.67167; -108.94639Coordinates: 44°40′18″N 108°56′47″W / 44.67167°N 108.94639°W / 44.67167; -108.94639
Nearest city Ralston, Wyoming
Built 1942
Architect US Army Corps of Engineers; Hazra Engineering; Hamilton Br. Co.
Governing body United States Bureau of Reclamation
NRHP Reference # 85003167
Significant dates
Added to NRHP December 19, 1985[1]
Designated NHL September 20, 2006[2]

The Heart Mountain Relocation Center, named after nearby Heart Mountain, was one of ten Japanese American concentration camps used to incarcerate Japanese Americans excluded from the West Coast during World War II under the provisions of Executive Order 9066 signed by president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was located in Park County between the towns of Cody and Powell in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, 60 miles (96.6 km) east of Yellowstone National Park and 45 miles (72.4 km) south of the Montana state line.

The location for the center was selected because it was remote and yet convenient. The land was managed by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which before the war had initiated a major irrigation project in the area and had already constructed canals, buildings, and some infrastructure. The site was adjacent to a railroad spur and depot where internees could be off-loaded and processed.

More than two thousand laborers, employed by the Harza Engineering Company of Chicago and the Hamilton Bridge Company of Kansas City, began work on the center in June 1942. The workers enclosed 740 acres (299.5 ha) of arid buffalo grass and sagebrush with a high barbed wire fence and nine guard towers. Within this perimeter, 650 military-style buildings were constructed under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These buildings, laid out in a street grid, included administrative, hospital, and support facilities and 468 residential dormitories to house the internees. All of the buildings were electrified, which at the time was a rarity in Wyoming. Thousands of acres of surrounding land were designated for agricultural purposes, as the center was expected for the most part to be self-sufficient. Internees also worked on irrigation projects. The center opened on August 11, 1942 when internees began arriving by train from the Pomona, California, Santa Anita, California, and Portland, Oregon assembly centers. By January 1, 1943, the camp reached its maximum population of 10,767 internees. This made the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, at the time, the third largest community in Wyoming. The center closed on November 10, 1945, when the last of the internees were allowed to return to their West Coast homes. After World War II, much of the land was tilled for irrigation agriculture. Most of the center's buildings were sold off to local residents or allowed to decay.

Nevertheless, the site of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center is thought to retain the highest integrity from among the ten internment centers constructed during World War II. The street grid and numerous foundations are visible. Four of the original buildings survive in place, although a number of others that were sold and moved after the war have been identified in surrounding counties and might one day be returned to their original locations. In early 2007, 124 acres (50.2 ha) of the center were listed as a National Historic Landmark. The federal Bureau of Reclamation owns 74 acres (29.9 ha) within the landmark boundary and currently administers the site. The remaining 50 acres (20.2 ha) have been purchased by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1996 to memorialize the center's internees and to interpret the site's historical significance.

Internees in relocation centers were subject to the draft, this generated a backlash in the form of a resistance movement. The Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee was particularly active in this resistance, encouraging internees and other young Japanese American men to avoid military induction. Seven members of the committee were convicted for conspiracy against the Selective Service Act, and 85 internees were imprisoned for draft law violations.

Despite the opposition, 799 young Japanese American men, volunteers and draftees, from the center served in the American military. In late 1944, Heart Mountain internees erected an Honor Roll near the main gate that listed the names of all of its soldiers, eleven of whom were killed and 52 wounded in battle. This wooden tribute stood for five decades until the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation removed the deteriorating display for preservation. An accurate reproduction now stands where the original tribute was placed. The original Honor Roll is being conserved and restored.

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center[edit]

"Tubbie" Kunimatsu and Laverne Kurahara demonstrate some intricate jitterbug steps, during a school dance held in the high school gymnasium, November 1943.

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation opened the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center on August 20, 2011.[3][4][5] Through photographs, artifacts, and oral histories, the interactive exhibit provides an overview of the history of the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, including the background of anti-Asian prejudice in America and the factors leading to their incarceration. Special emphasis is given to the experience of incarceration, the diverse personal responses of Japanese Americans to their imprisonment, constitutional issues, violations of civil liberties and civil rights, and the broader issues of race and social justice in America. Both former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta and retired U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson, who met as Boy Scouts from opposite sides of the barbed wire fence surrounding the Heart Mountain compound, act as Honorary Advisors to the Foundation. Their friendship has spanned more than six decades.[6]

Heart Mountain internees[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ "Heart Mountain Relocation Center". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  3. ^ Asakawa, Gil (August 18, 2011). "Heart Mountain internment Camp's New Interpretive Learning Center Opens This Weekend". Nikkei View: The Asian American Blog. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ Olson, Ilene (August 23, 2011). "Heart Mountain Lesson: Never Again". Powell Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  5. ^ Schweigert, Tessa (August 18, 2011). "Returning To Heart Mountain". Powell Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Success in Sight: A world class learning center emerges". Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  7. ^ Broom, Jack (November 14, 2007). "Newsman Bill Hosokawa defeated bias, his own anger". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  8. ^ Matthews, Chris (2002). "A Pair of Boy Scouts". Scouting Magazine. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 2006-12-16. 

External links[edit]

The National Park Service study on the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II, "Confinement and Ethnicity," is out-of-print but can be consulted here for information on Heart Mountain and all ten relocation centers: