Camp Amache – New National Park is part of Prowers County History

A mere 17 miles east of Lamar is a site that, were it not for the brown wooden sign reading “Amache Japanese-American Relocation Center”, could easily remain unnoticed to anyone passing by.  The sign, at the intersection of County Rd. 23.5 and Highway 50, points to one of our nation’s darkest pockets of history.  Growing up in Lamar, I can’t recall ever being taught in school about Camp Amache, which is basically in Lamar’s “back yard”, nor about Executive Order 9066 which, when signed by then-President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorized the forced removal of all persons deemed to be a threat to national security.  The bombing of Pearl Harbor caused a spike in anti-Japanese sentiment, particularly towards those living along the West coast of California, whom the government feared could pose a threat to the country.  These Japanese-Americans, the majority of which were U.S. citizens, were sent to “relocation centers”.  These centers have also been referred to as internment, incarceration, concentration, or detention camps, which are more appropriate names given the barbed-wire fences surrounding them and the armed guard towers which overlooked them.   Over 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated in 10 of these camps spread across the U.S.   In addition to Amache, there were camps in California (Tule Lake and Manzanar Camps), Utah (Topaz Camp), Wyoming (Heart Mountain Camp), Arizona (Gila River and Poston Camps), Idaho (Minidoka Camp), and Arkansas (Rowher and Jerome Camps).  Amache was the smallest of the ten.

Camp Amache was originally called the Granada Relocation Center but was renamed due to confusion with mail delivery to the nearby town of Granada.  It was named after Amache, the daughter of the Cheyenne chief Ochinee (also called Lone Bear or One-Eye), who went on to marry John Wesley Prowers, for whom our county is named.  Camp Amache was officially named a U.S. National Park on February 15, 2024, the 7th of these camps in the U.S. with this designation. This announcement came just before the National Day of Remembrance on February 19, which commemorates the date that these Japanese-Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and communities and were incarcerated simply because of their heritage.

Camp Amache opened on August 27, 1942 and closed on October 15, 1945, having housed 10,000 prisoners over those 3 years. Its peak population of 7,597 incarcerees in 1943 made it the 10th largest city in Colorado at the time.  Almost all of the people held at Amache were from California. It is unique in that it was the only WRA (War Relocation Authority) camp that was built on privately-owned land that had to be purchased.  Most of the land at Amache was purchased from the American Crystal Sugar Company and from a private landowner.  It covered 10,000 acres, of which 640 were used for housing, administrative and community buildings.  The camp had a police department, fire department, newspaper, hospital, schools, churches, and even a silkscreen shop, which printed training materials and over 250,000 color posters for the U.S. Navy.  Most of the work at Amache was agricultural production, where the camp produced not only enough food to be self-sufficient, but enough to send the surplus to the U.S. Army and other camps.  During World War II, Amache had the highest volunteerism of all camps; 10% of the population volunteered for military service.  31 soldiers from Amache lost their lives defending the same country that had incarcerated them.  The current-day site includes a monument to these men.

After Amache was closed, most of the buildings were sold by the War Assets Administration, but the foundations and the street grid remain today.  The Amache Preservation Society, established by John Hopper (a teacher and now Principal of Granada High School) and consisting of volunteer students, has maintained and improved the site, including renovating the cemetery and establishing the Amache Museum which is located at 205 E. Goff in Granada.  The group, along with other local organizations, has also restored a barracks, the water tower and a guard tower.  These students also travel throughout Colorado and Kansas speaking about the camp, helping to ensure that Amache’s story is not forgotten.  Students have also traveled to Japan, living with host families, sharing their presentation to high school students there.  Being brought under the wing of the National Parks Service will allow Amache to be protected and preserved further, with Federal funding and personnel available to help maintain the site.  During last week’s announcement Deb Haaland, Interior Secretary, said “As a nation, we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future,” and that the designation “will help preserve and honor this important and painful chapter in our nation’s story for future generations”.

There is a wealth of information available for anyone interested in Amache, as well as the other camps and the history surrounding them.  I would recommend visiting www.amache.org, which is the Amache Preservation Society’s site, as well as www.densho.org to learn more.

By Barbara Crimond

 

 

Filed Under: City of GranadaCity of HollyCity of LamarEducationFeaturedHistoryTourism

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