Introduction to Heart Mountain Relocation Center

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The Heart Mountain Relocation Center, named after nearby Heart Mountain Butte, was one of ten internment 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 is located in Park County between the towns of Cody and Powell, Wyoming. The land was managed by the U.S. 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 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.

Internees in relocation centers were still subject to the draft, and 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.