The federal government built the Granada War Relocation Center, also known as Camp Amache, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to imprison Japanese Americans during World War II. Fearing that Japanese Americans might sympathize with Japan and work against the United States during the war, the federal government removed them from the West Coast and incarcerated them in ten concentration camps. Camp Amache was built in the southeast corner of Colorado, a half mile west of Granada in Prowers County. The site encompassed 10,500 acres and had a peak population of 7,567. Amache, the smallest of the concentration camps, was at its peak the tenth-largest city in Colorado. The camp officially closed on January 27, 1946, after the last residents relocated.
War Relocation Authority
The Japanese community in the United States, particularly those living on the West Coast, historically faced prejudice and restrictions. The Alien Land Law (1913) prohibited Japanese from buying land, and the Oriental Exclusion Act (1924) stopped Japanese immigration to the United States. After the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese community faced anger and resentment. Immediately following the bombing, the FBI detained those they defined as “dangerous” enemy aliens, including Japanese immigrants and community leaders. The FBI also raided homes and businesses owned by Japanese Americans and seized their property.
American leaders began discussing the relocation of the West Coast Japanese population in December 1941. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the army to designate military exclusion zones—most of which were on the West Coast—and creating the War Relocation Authority (WRA). The order required the relocation of both Issei, first-generation Japanese immigrants who held the status of “resident aliens,” and Nisei, second-generation American citizens.
The WRA created and operated ten concentration camps throughout the American west and Arkansas. Relocation of the West Coast Japanese community began in the spring of 1942. Altogether, these facilities held 110,000 relocated Japanese and Japanese Americans during the war.
The WRA purchased private land in southeast Colorado to create the Granada Relocation Center. Construction began on June 12, 1942. The camp initially shared a name with the nearby town of Granada, but the local post office could not handle the amount of mail being sent to the camp, so the facility needed a post office with a name of its own. The camp’s name was changed to Amache, after the daughter of the Cheyenne Chief Ochi-nee and wife of nineteenth-century rancher John Prowers.
The northern part of Amache contained rows of warehouses, personnel living quarters, administration buildings, and the military police compound. A modern hospital sat in the northeastern corner. The remainder of the land contained twenty-nine blocks. Each block had twelve barracks, a recreation hall, a community mess hall, a laundry, a toilet, and a shower room.
The first evacuees arrived before the camp had been completed, and they helped build some of the structures. The first group contained 212 evacuees; the total quickly rose to 4,492 in two weeks. By October 1942, the population peaked at 7,567 people. They arrived by train, usually at night; poor lighting resulted in families stumbling in the dark to gather their possessions. Many living quarters remained incomplete when they arrived.
James G. Lindley was the director of Amache. He often spoke out in favor of prisoners. One hundred seven military police worked at the camp, headed by commanding officer Johnson. The soldiers monitored the traffic in and out of the camp in addition to checking for contraband such as guns, liquor, or cameras. The Amache police had jurisdiction over the inside of the camp and was headed by a WRA official; a prisoner served as chief of police.
Amache residents preferred to handle internal issues among themselves, and Lindley permitted this. The camp government contained twenty-nine elected block representatives, one from each block. The block representatives chose five of their members to sit on an executive council with three WRA camp administrators, and this council formed the principal governing body for the camp. Council members passed ordinances to supplement WRA regulations and appointed a judicial commission to hear cases on violations of ordinances or to settle civil disputes. In both structure and operation, the camp’s government resembled many small American cities. Amache became known for being the most peaceful of the relocation centers.
Life in Amache
Living quarters at Amache consisted of rectangular army-style barracks divided into six living compartments. The sizes of living quarters varied from sixteen-by-twenty feet to twenty-by-twenty-four feet. Each living quarter contained a semicompleted closet, a coal stove, folding cots, mattresses, and two quilts. Flooring consisted of loose bricks over dirt, while the walls and ceilings were insulated. Many prisoners used scrap lumber they found in the camp to make additional furnishings. Only a few of the housing blocks provided hot and cold water.
The government supplied prisoners with food and clothing allowances, and monthly wages for workers. Meals were served in a cafeteria. The food did not fit traditional Japanese cuisine. The cafeteria also removed an important part of the family structure; prisoners ate with their peers instead of family, eroding family cohesion.
Amache’s school accommodated elementary, junior high, and high school students. The curriculum included industrial arts, science, mathematics, English, history, and physical education. Japanese students held class offices and participated in sports. The school also offered adult classes in typing, shorthand, English, dressmaking, drafting, handicrafts, and fine arts. The school provided opportunities to students that were not available to many in their West Coast schools.
Social life in the camp involved movies, concerts, talent shows, a community library and theater, as well as organizations such as the YMCA, YWCA, an American Legion Post, a Women’s Federation, a Blue Star Mother’s Club, the Boy Scouts, and the Girl Scouts. Other activities included bridge, literature, and musical groups. The sports program offered tennis, volleyball, sumo, table tennis, and judo, and the board games go and shogi. The camp also offered religious services for many faiths, including Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, and Buddhist.
Many of those interned took up traditional Japanese art forms, including wood carving, bon-kei (Japanese tray landscaping), calligraphy, miniature landscape-making, and ikebana, or flower arrangement. Many prisoners saved discarded paper and tools to create their art. Amache also housed a silk-screen shop that created thousands of posters for the American military and became the largest program of its kind in the country.
To supply the Amache community’s various needs, prisoners formed a consumer’s cooperative, which included a clothing store, a variety store, shoe store, shoe repair shop, dry cleaner’s, barber shop, beauty parlor, canteen, watch repair shop, and optometry supply store. The cooperative served people both inside and outside the camp, becoming one of the most popular shopping areas in southern Colorado. Nonresidents from the surrounding community could shop or trade at the co-op on weekends. Amache also produced its own newspaper, the Granada Pioneer, which ran until the camp closed.
The main industry at Amache was agriculture. The camp tried to become self-sustaining through this program. Camp farmers succeeded in growing crops that usually failed to grow in the area, particularly potatoes. One harvest produced so many potatoes that it supplied all ten relocation camps. Other items in the center’s farm included vegetables, feed crops, hogs, beef, poultry, and dairy cattle.
Although these activities and community development suggest that life at Amache approached normal, it cannot be forgotten that those who lived in the created city had been forcibly relocated from their established homes to an internment camp run by the US military. Their daily lives remained controlled by the government and those in the military who ran and guarded the camp.
The government encouraged prisoners to resettle after the first year in camp. Before resettlement, they had to prove their loyalty and stability. If they passed an FBI investigation, the government permitted them to move to eastern or Midwestern states. Throughout the war, Japanese were prohibited from moving back to the West Coast. Many young Japanese relocated to inland colleges and universities.
When the war in the pacific began, the military discharged all Japanese American soldiers or transferred them to noncombat work. In early 1943 the military reopened its ranks to Japanese combat recruits. For many Japanese Americans, joining the military became a way to prove their loyalty. At the end of the war, Amache’s Military Honor Roll contained 953 names. Thirty-two prisoners from Amache became language instructors at military intelligence schools.
The exclusion order on the West Coast expired on January 2, 1945, allowing Japanese to return to their homes. Many Japanese remained in Amache until the government forced them to leave on October 15 of that year. The camp officially closed on January 27, 1946, after the buildings had been auctioned. Many prisoners remained in Colorado after the camp closed.
Following the camps’ closure, Japanese American citizens’ groups began to pressure the United States government to apologize and make amends for the forced relocation of American citizens who were Japanese Americans. It was not until 1980 that President Jimmy Carter appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which concluded that the incarceration had been illegal and the product of racism. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which contained an apology from the government and authorized a $20,000 reparation payment to each person who had been incarcerated. In all, the US government paid more than $1.6 billion to 82,219 individuals and families who had been imprisoned in American concentration camps.
Adapted from Melyn Johnson, “At Home in Amache: A Japanese-American Relocation Camp in Colorado,” Colorado Heritage (1988).