Gila River War Relocation Center

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Gila River Relocation Center
School children participating in the Harvest Festival Parade
School children participating in the Harvest Festival Parade
Location in Pinal County and the state of Arizona
Location in Pinal County and the state of Arizona
Gila River Relocation Center is located in the United States
Gila River Relocation Center
Gila River Relocation Center
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 33°03′54.3″N 111°49′49.9″W / 33.065083°N 111.830528°W / 33.065083; -111.830528Coordinates: 33°03′54.3″N 111°49′49.9″W / 33.065083°N 111.830528°W / 33.065083; -111.830528
CountryUnited States
 • Total2.4 sq mi (6.1 km2)
 • Land2.4 sq mi (6.2 km2)
Time zoneUTC-7 (MST (no DST))

The Gila River War Relocation Center was an American concentration camp in Arizona, one of several built by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) during the Second World War for the incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast and Hawai'i. It was located within the Gila River Indian Reservation (over their objections) about 30 miles (48.3 km) southeast of Phoenix. With a peak population of 13,348, it became the fourth-largest city in the state, operating from May 1942 to late September 1945.


The camp was located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, near an irrigated agricultural center. It comprised two separate camps, named 'Canal' and 'Butte'. Construction began on May 1, 1942, over the strong objections of the reservation's American Indian government. The official opening took place less than two months later, on July 20. Canal Camp closed on September 28, 1945. Butte Camp was shut down on November 10, 1945; and the Gila River Relocation Center was officially closed on November 16, 1945.

Gila River received incarcerees from California (Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles). In addition, it took in 2,000 people from the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas when that facility closed in 1944. It became Arizona's fourth-largest city, with a peak population of 13,348.

Some of the incarcerees died en route to Gila River or shortly after arrival in the harsh desert environment. One of these was the mother of Iva Toguri. Toguri was an American woman of Japanese descent who broadcast for the Japanese and was later condemned as "Tokyo Rose"; she was convicted of treason, based on perjured testimony.

Canal Camp Monument

Gila River was considered one of the least oppressive camps of its kind. It had only a single watchtower, and its fences were among the few that lacked barbed wire. The administrators of the camps seemed to care for the incarcerees, and allowed them access to the amenities of Phoenix. They also encouraged recreational activities such as sports and arts. Butte camp contained a 6,000-seat baseball field, designed by Kenichi Zenimura, a professional baseball player, and considered to be the best in the WRA system. Incarcerees also built a theater for plays and films, and playgrounds, and planted trees to relieve the desolation of the arid site. Gila River had a communal medical facility at Butte Hospital. Canal Camp had 404 buildings with 232 barracks and 24 separate schoolhouses. Butte Camp contained 821 buildings with 627 residential barracks. These barracks were made of wood and fireproof shingles that were of limited effectiveness in blocking out the desert heat. Each barrack was made to house four single families in separate apartments. But, the camp exceeded its capacity: it was designed for 10,000 residents, and held more than 13,000. Because of this, some families were housed in the mess hall or recreation buildings, where they had to use hanging blankets as makeshift walls for visual privacy. Water shortages also plagued the camp. Inmates' encounters with poisonous rattlesnakes and scorpions resulted in bites that kept Butte Hospital extremely busy.

The land for the camp sites is owned by the Gila River Indian Tribe and is considered sacred by them. They have restricted public access to the historic sites. All the main structures are long gone. Remaining are such elements as the road grid, concrete slab foundations, manholes, cisterns, several rock alignments, and dozens of small ponds.

During the Ronald Reagan Administration, the federal government acknowledged that it had committed an injustice against Japanese Americans with this program. Congress passed a resolution of official apology and authorization to provide compensation to survivors and descendants of inmates. On December 21, 2006, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 1492 into law guaranteeing $38,000,000 in federal money to restore the Gila River relocation center, along with nine other former American concentration camps used to house Japanese Americans. "H.R. 1492".

Notable internees[edit]

Ruins of the buildings in the Gila River War Relocation Center of Camp Butte


See also[edit]

External links[edit]