Camp Amache the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail

Amache is located on Highway 385 near Granada Colorado between Lamar and Holly. It is now a National Historic Site. The United States government exiled thousands of Japanese American citizens to internment camps during World War II. One of these camps was, Camp Amache which was also known as the Granada Relocation Center. Camp Granada was known as "The Gateway to Colorado" during the 1800s. It was a stopover along the Santa Fe Trail and was officially founded in 1873 and named in honor of a former Spanish kingdom by unknown persons. After losing a bid to become the county seat to Lamar, in the late 1800s, Granada became a ghost town. With the building of Camp Amache in 1942, Granada became a boom town once again.

 

 

 

War Prompts Japanese American's Encampment

 

The year 1942 witnessed an unprecedented event in the long epic of America. Directly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war, operations started a chain of events which finally culminated in the complete removal of all Japanese, both citizens and aliens alike from the west coast. On February 19, by Executive order, the president authorized the military commander to prescribe certain areas from which any or all persons of Japanese ancestry may be excluded. On March 2, Lieutenant General J. L. DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command, issued a proclamation designating military areas in the states of Oregon, Arizona, California and Washington from which the Japanese, both aliens and citizens were to be evacuated. On March 14, the Wartime Civil Control Administration was established to supervise the vast evacuation program. Through this office the Japanese disposed of their properties, received their instructions and were ushered into the various assembly centers prior to their exodus further inland.

 

Self Sustaining Amache

On June 29, 1942, construction work on Amache began. Progress on the new camp was slow. Labor strikes by a number of independent companies contracted to build the camp only created further delays. The army officials and members of the WRA did not always work well together. The internment camp was only half complete when the first evacuees began arriving from the assembly centers. On August 27, 1942, the first railroad train carrying 212 evacuees from the Merced Assembly Center arrived at Camp Amache. They mainly came from the farming regions in the Central Valley of California. With only a portion of the camp actually finished these evacuees were chosen due to their diverse skills, the idea being that they would make Amache a self sustaining-facility. These first men and women were artisans, stenographers, clerks, cooks, and other specialists who could aid the WRA officials in preparing the center for settlement. When the evacuees arrived, only two blocks of barracks, one mess hall, and one lavatory had been completed.

James Lindley, the project director, described the problems the evacuees faced at first:
"The contractors failed to have the buildings ready by the scheduled date but the West Coast Defense Command refused to change the schedule for departure of the evacuees. As a result the evacuees arrived before adequate facilities were prepared. Trains arrived, usually at night; lighting facilities were extremely sketchy, and families stumbled around in the dark, individuals often falling into excavations when being led to their quarters. Candles, with their ever present fire hazard in this city of cardboard homes, were their only light. Hot and cold water was provided in only a few blocks; mess hall installations lagged. The evacuees had to walk several blocks to find a bath house with water provided. One mess hall served as many as four blocks, 1000 to 1200 people, serving in three or four shifts. Water for drinking and washing dishes had to be hauled in truck tanks from Granada as the center water was impure and inadequate. The toilets in the wash rooms were used before the water connections were made and a clean up hose squad was necessary to clean up the attendant litter. Wooden privies were finally provided, neither sightly or sanitary . . . but out of chaos came order. "

The Misery Of Amache

By the end of October Amache had reached its peak population of 7,567 evacuees and two-thirds of the evacuees were American citizens. Amache was ranked as the tenth largest city in the state of Colorado. When completed the camp area was one square mile and consisted of twenty-nine "blocks" of barracks, administration buildings, and storage areas. Each block consisted of twelve 120' x 20' tar paper-roofed Army style barracks. The barracks were made of bone insulation board walls, exposed roof rafters, and brick floors set in dirt. The families decorated their apartments by using their own skills and resources. The furniture was homemade from scrap lumber which was found around the camp perimeters. The barracks were divided into six apartments varying in size from 16' x 20' to 24' x 20'. Each individual apartment was equipped with a coal-burning stove, one light bulb in the center of each room, Army cots, and a pad or blanket. Families of seven people or less were only given one room and families of more than seven were given two rooms. The evacuees were forced to eat and bathe together.

The greatest evacuee complaint concerned the community mess halls. The control of their families had its foundation in the family meal. The mess hall took away that authority that the parents had over their children. The evacuees raised many bitter objections to the WRA officials at the camp during the years of their confinement, but to no avail. Rationing of food came into effect on February 1943 even though the camp farm produced a surplus of food every season. The food served was standard army food with the exception of white rice which was served with every meal. The average cost to feed each evacuee at Amache came to about forty cents per day. One evacuee stated "Actually the food is none too good . . . There are two meatless days and on "meat days" one often has to carry out a thorough investigation to find the meat. Spoons, knives, and napkins are luxuries not often seen . . . menus at the camp must be changed and rechanged by the cooks on the basis of what they actually have. As a result of these hit and miss tactics, unbalanced - and sometimes unpalatable - menus are served."

Good Farmers Brought Bad Blood

Once the government had decided to establish an internment camp in Colorado many people were against the arrival of the Japanese. Not long after the establishment of the camp, public opinion turned against the WRA and Amache itself. Some newspapers were against the interment camp and some were favorable. Despite the newspaper's support, public opinion was turned against the evacuees at Amache. Animosity stemmed from the enormous waste of money to build the camp, farmers' complaints that the Japanese now had the best farmland in the state, but the majority of the hostility was based on hatred for Japan.

The groups who most consistently supported the Japanese were the church groups. The Colorado Council of Church Women of the Rocky Mountain Region and the Denver Council of Churches, publicly and privately supported the evacuees. The Colorado Council of Churches published "The Japanese in Our Midst," which went through several transformations. The booklet was published in order to help dispel the propaganda which was circulating about the evacuees.

The most notable supporter of the evacuees was the governor of Colorado Ralph L. Carr. After the evacuation of the ethnic Japanese from the west coast, Carr welcomed all evacuees to resettle in Colorado. He stated: "This is a difficult time for all Japanese-speaking people. We must work together for the preservation of our American system and the continuation of our theory of universal brotherhood . . . If we do not extend humanity's kindness and understanding to [the Japanese-Americans], if we deny them the protection of the Bill of Rights, if we say that they must be denied the privilege of living in any of the 48 states without hearing or charge of misconduct, then we are tearing down the whole American system."

 

The majority of Western public leaders were anti-Japanese until well after the end of the war, and governor Carr's support for the Japanese was extremely controversial. Carr was overwhelmingly defeated in the U.S. Senate and retired from public life after only serving one term as governor. His support of the Japanese has not been forgotten. Just outside of the Colorado governor's office is a plaque dedicated to him which reads:
"Ralph L. Carr 1887 - 1950, Governor of the State of Colorado 1939 - 1943
Dedicated to Governor Ralph L. Carr: a wise, humane man, not influenced by the hysteria and bigotry directed against the Japanese-Americans during World War II. By his humanitarian efforts no Colorado resident of Japanese ancestry was deprived of his basic freedoms, and when no others would accept the evacuated West Coast Japanese, except for confinement in internment camps, Governor Carr opened the doors and welcomed them to Colorado. The spirit of his deeds will live in the hearts of all true Americans. Presented: October 1974 by the Japanese Community and the Oriental Culture Society of Colorado."
In addition to the plaque in August 1976 a bust of Carr was erected in Denver's Sakura Square. At the dedication of the bust one speaker described the governor as one who "rolled up his sleeves on the side of the angels and helped the Japanese-Americans regain respectability." Another person described the governor as "one voice, a small voice but a strong voice."

 

Freedom!

The evacuees had little freedom of movement outside of Amache. Evacuees were allowed to go outside of camp to shop at Lamar or elsewhere if they could find their own transportation. These short-term leave clearances were only granted once a month to each person. Evacuees were also permitted to take seasonal leave which allowed people to take a temporary employment in industry and agriculture. As the Japanese were driven from our waters, WRA officials began relocating the evacuees as quickly as possible. By May 1943, 1,380 evacuees had left Amache to obtain outside employment. In April 1943 the Presidential announcement of the Japanese execution of captured American flyers brought a temporary halt to evacuation. The relocation process began once again by the first of June and evacuees were allowed to move as freely as they had before the incident. Amache received the arrival of 539 evacuees from the internment camp in Jerome, AR. The government intended to close this camp as quickly as possible and sent the evacuees to Amache. Even with the increase of population, by March 24, 1944 two-thousand people had relocated from Amache. The United States government acquired all of the shipping expenses of all personal property of the evacuees and this prompted an increase in evacuation. After August 1944 the final phase of the relocation process began.

Indefinite leave was issued and allowed evacuees to leave the camp to pursue higher education, employment, or to resettle elsewhere in the U.S. WRA offices were established in Chicago, Denver, Cleveland, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Little Rock and New York City to aid in the reintegration of camp residents back into society. Many Japanese wished to leave the camps, but refused to do so until they could return to California. On September 9, 1944, Dillion Meyer director of the WRA announced that the camps would not close until the ban which excluded the Japanese from the West Coast was lifted. The ban was revoked on December 17, 1944.

Not one evacuee left Amache the first day after the exclusion order had been lifted. On January 7, 1945, there were still 6,179 evacuees at Amache. On March 7, 1945, the WRA announced that it was no longer necessary to have prior relocation plans approved in an attempt to speed up the evacuation process. Many evacuees were frightened to leave Amache. The camp had become their home and they were afraid of what awaited them outside of the camp. On July 18, 1945, Director Lindley tried to relieve these fears by stating the following: "Make no mistake. The thousands who have relocated are happy; they wonder why they put up with a subnormal existence in a relocation center as long as they did. I have received hundreds of personal letters from people who have successfully relocated. You can do the same . . . Don't put off going until October, go now; not next month; not next week; not tomorrow; today! You will benefit by every day you save, and a day out of the center is a day saved." The announcement on August 15, 1945 of the surrender of the Japanese forces in the Pacific helped to encourage the relocation of the evacuees. Many had refused to leave, citing that the government closing before the end of the war was breaking its promise to keep the centers in operation for the duration of the war. On October 15, 1945, the last evacuees left Amache on a train for Sacramento. Camp Amache was officially closed as scheduled.

 

Ghost Town Remains as a Reminder

All that is left of this once tenth largest city in Colorado, Camp Amache, is a memorial, the camp cemetery, and the haunting foundations overgrown with prairie grass. The internment camps are a black spot on America's soul. It is Colorado's only monumental reminder of the role it played in the nation's tragic internment history. Amache as it appears today is pictured at right

 

National Historic Site Improvements for Visitors Underway

The Amache Preservation Society will lead the way for partnerships to reconstruct several of the buildings, a kiosk, walking trail and interpretive signs at Amache National Historic Site. Be sure to visit the upcomming improvements to the site.

 

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