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Enduring Communities

Records at the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region Relating to the Japanese American Internment Experience

The wartime removal of 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans living along the West Coast of the United States to internment camps situated in remote areas in the country’s interior, formally initiated when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, was a sweeping act that continues to have ramifications for individuals, families, communities and the national conscience. The relocation process carried out by the federal government resulted in the creation of many “official records” which can now be found among the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The NARA, as the nation’s record-keeper, is responsible for preserving and making available for research those documents created by federal agencies, offices, committees and courts that have continuing historical value. Records pertaining to the wartime relocation of Japanese Americans can be found throughout the NARA facilities nationwide: in the Washington D.C. area, the regional archives system, in Presidential Libraries, and on National Archives microfilm publications. The largest collection of records in the NARA’s custody relating to Japanese American internment were created under Record Group 210, Records of the War Relocation Authority, held by the NARA facilities in Washington D.C. and College Park, Maryland.1

This paper will deal specifically with those records that can be examined at the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region, located in Denver, Colorado. The regional archives holds records that document the activities of federal agencies and courts in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Within these boundaries three relocation camps existed: Heart Mountain, in northwest Wyoming; Amache, at Granada, Colorado; and Topaz, in central Utah. Although records relating to all three of these camps can be found at the regional archives in Denver, due to space restrictions, this paper deals primarily with those records relating to the camp at Heart Mountain. However, parallel records for the Amache and Topaz camps are noted in context when applicable. All of the records described herein are available for public research and duplication without restriction.

Records at Denver relating to the saga at Heart Mountain, from the inception of the camp until after closure of the facility, were created by a variety of diverse federal agencies and can be found in several record groups among the NARA’s holdings. For example, the camp itself was constructed on land administered by the Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Shoshone Project which was designed to bring irrigation water to land located in the arid basin between the Absaroka and the Big Horn Mountains in northwest Wyoming. During the existence of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center many internees were employed in the construction of canals and other waterworks tied to the Shoshone Project. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was created in March of 1942 to formulate and execute a program for the establishment and maintenance of the relocation centers. The Heart Mountain camp was constructed during the summer of the same year, and from that time until it closed, the center was under the administration of the WRA.

After the establishment and occupation of the relocation centers, internal strife, resulting from internees being made eligible for the military draft, resulted in some federal criminal prosecutions as a result of non-compliance with the Selective Service Act. The resulting district and appeals court case files are among the records held by the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region and description of those records constitutes a major portion of this guide. Those court records are the most frequently requested documents held at Denver relating to the internment experience.

Finally, after the closure of the relocation centers in November of 1945, those sites underwent a transformation from wartime to peacetime use. Records relating to the dismantling of the camps, sale and removal of their buildings, and in the case of Heart Mountain, their subsequent occupation by homesteaders, can be found in records of the War Assets Administration, Federal Property Resources Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

RECORDS OF U. S. DISTRICT COURTS AND TENTH CIRCUIT
COURT OF APPEALS

The defendants assert that inasmuch as they are American citizens by birth that they have been discriminated against by various acts of the Government in classifying them in 4-C which includes enemy aliens, and removing them from their places of residence to Relocation Centers, their loyalty to the United States Government has thereby been questioned without reason and that they should not be reclassified for service in the war at least until such time as their status of citizenship has been clarified. 2

The most provocative records concerning Heart Mountain are 63 U. S. District Court criminal case files (#4928 and 4931-4992). The main case, U.S. vs. Fujii (#4928), contains documents that relate to the prosecution of Shigeru Fujii and others, all Heart Mountain internees, for non-compliance with the Selective Service Act. Fujii, along with his fellow defendants, had all originally registered at the beginning of the war with draft boards in their home districts on the West Coast and were classified “4-C” (a designation for enemy aliens), status that exempted them military service. During the course of their internment, Japanese Americans were re-designated “1-A” and told to report for pre-induction physical exams. Seeking to force a clarification of their citizenship status, each of them systematically refused to report for examination. The defendants were tried as a group in what became the largest mass trial in Wyoming’s history.

Each of the case files include indictments, mandates, warrants, orders, returns, verdicts, notices of appeal and correspondence between the court and the defendant’s original draft board. The case file for Shigeru Fujii also contains some transcripts of pleadings, a list of defendants, and various motions and stipulations relating to the defendants as a group. Also included are nearly one-half cubic foot of exhibit materials, which include items relating to the camp’s “Fair Play Committee,” copies of the Denver, Colorado version of Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese American newspaper containing articles related to the trial; correspondence and formal essays written by the defendants and sympathizers within Heart Mountain and at other relocation camps; and a copy of U.S. Senate committee hearings relating to the evacuation of “enemy aliens” from the West Coast military zones.

The Fujii file contains ample documentation that District Court Judge T. Blake Kennedy was not sympathetic to the defendant’s assertions that they should be exempt from the draft as a result of their detention at Heart Mountain. In one memorandum he writes:

It has been seen that the discrimination exercised by the Government on account of their Japanese ancestry was legitimate, justified and legal as being within the Power of Congress and the President in war emergency....The Courts have repeatedly asserted that the orders of the Boards of Selective Service have the substance of Congressional Acts and must be obeyed. It is evident that what they asserted in the matter of the clarification of their citizenship was in fact accomplished by the effect of the order which they disobeyed....When, therefore, they were placed in 1-A and ordered to report for pre-induction physical examination, their pure American citizenship was established beyond question. 3

The guilty verdicts handed down to the 63 defendants, as well as to order internees convicted of aiding the movement, resulted in two separate appeals to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, sitting at Denver, Colorado. The regional archives holds documents from appeals by the draft resisters in Court of Appeals case file #2973, Shigeru Fujii vs. The United States of America, filed October 25, 1944. The file primarily contains copies of the original district court documents – indictments and verdicts, Judge Kennedy’s memorandums, excerpts from testimony, and copies of correspondence between some of the defendants and their local draft boards. 4

More extensive documentation of the appeals arguments can be found in the Court of Appeals Transcripts of Records and Briefs, which consist of bound volumes arranged by the date of filing. These transcripts duplicate much of what is contained in the appeals case file, but also include briefs by the appellant and appellee, statements, arguments, citations from precedent cases, and conclusions. 5

In addition to Fujii and the other sixty-two draft resisters, prosecutions were pursued against eight other Heart Mountain internees for “Aiding or Abetting Persons to Evade Registration” by holding meetings and otherwise assisting the draft resisters. Court documents from this case can be found in U.S. District Court criminal case file #4930, U.S. vs. Kiyoshi Okamoto et., al. These men were also found guilty and like Fujii and the others appealed their sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Transcripts of those proceedings can be found in appeals case files #3076-3082. 6 Documents included in both the Court of Appeals and District Court files are similar to those found in the Fujii cases.

Similar draft resistance cases occurred at Amache and Topaz, although apparently not to the extent seen at Heart Mountain. The regional archives possess case files and some docket materials among its holdings for U.S. District Courts for Colorado and Utah, respectively. The case files usually contain less than a dozen pages each of routine court documents such as indictments, motions, and verdicts. 7 As of this writing exhibit materials for those cases have not been located.

RECORDS OF THE BUREAU OF RECLAMATION

The Heart Mountain camp was formally closed in November, 1945. Remaining at the site was a ghost town that had been home to nearly eleven thousand souls, the third largest community in Wyoming. Scores of barracks, administrative buildings, staff housing, a hospital, a power plant and many other structures were left behind. Administration of the site reverted from the WRA to the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and was opened for homesteading to returning veterans. Among the holdings of the regional archives are a series of photographs depicting the abandoned camp, removal of barracks and most other buildings, and clearing of the site. Also included are manly scenes of the process of awarding homestead tracts and of families taking up residence on their new lots. One of the images shows a William O. White and his wife struggling to remove sagebrush from their tract. According to the caption, White was a “Japanese prisoner of war for 41 months” (American held prisoner by the Japanese) and moved to Heart Mountain from his home in Chicago to take up farming one of the newly created homestead tracts. 8 The series include black and white prints, usually with accompanying negatives, and are found intermingled with photographs depicting work projects on the Shoshone Irrigation Project for the period 1945-50. Each item is captioned and dated. 9

A related item has been recently received by the regional archives from the Bureau of Reclamation—Great Plains region in Billings, Montana. It consists of audiotape recording of a live broadcast originating in Cody Wyoming in 1948. The broadcast was on the occasion of the awarding thirty-one homestead tracts on the Heart Mountain Division, drawn randomly from 490 applications of returning veterans. The tape also captures speeches given by dignitaries such as Wyoming Governor Lester Hunt and BOR Regional Administrator Kenneth Vernon prior to the drawing. 10

OTHER RECORDS

Another collection records documenting the closure of Heart Mountain, Topaz, and Amache appears in two related record groups—Record Group 270, Records of the War Assets Administration, and Record Group 291, Records of the Federal Property Resources Service. The records consist of real property case files which contain documents relating to the disposition of federal buildings and land, deemed surplus or excess, which had outlived their usefulness to the possessor agency. In the case of Heart Mountain (as well as Amache and Topaz), these case files contain primarily forms, property registers, land descriptions, property appraisals, final sales and disposition information, correspondence, and memorandums. The files for the Amache camp include maps and drawings of the camp layout and building dimensions. The case files are valuable for determining the final disposition of the many buildings that were removed from the camp sites, sometimes including itemized lists of structures that were transferred to other federal agencies, or sold to local agencies, organizations, or individuals. The files for the Topaz camp in the War Assets Administration records are especially thorough. Detailed finding aids to these records are available on request from the regional archives. 11

HOW TO CONTACT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES

The National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region is located in Building 48 of the Denver Federal Center, 6th Avenue and Kipling Streets, in Lakewood, Colorado. The research rooms are open from 7:30 a.m. through 3:45 p.m., Monday through Friday, except federal holidays. Written inquiries can be sent to P.O. Box 25307, Denver, CO 80225, or by e-mail to archives@denver.nara.gov. Telephone inquiries should be made to (303) 236-0817. Information about photocopy and reproduction fees is available upon request. Further information about the National Archives and Records Administration, including on-line access to selected records description and digitized documents, is available at www.nara.gov. 12

 

 

NOTES

1. National Archives and Records Administration, Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States (1995) Vol. 2, Section 210-2. Written inquiries regarding these records can be sent to Archives I Textual Reference Branch (NWDT1),
National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
Washington D.C. 20408. Information about non-textual records is available from the Archives II Textual Reference Branch (NWDT2), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, Maryland 20740-6001.

2. Judge’s Memorandum, June 26, 1944, Case File No. 4928, Criminal Case Files, 1890-1949, District of Wyoming (Cheyenne), Records of the District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21, National Archives and Records Administration, Rocky Mountain Region, Denver, Colorado (hereafter, records in the National Archives at Denver will be cited as RG_, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region).

3. Ibid.

4. Case File No. 2973, Transcripts of Records on Appeal, 1929-1954, Tenth Circuit (Denver, Colorado); Records of the U. S. Court of Appeal, RG 276, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region.

5. Case File No. 2973, Transcripts of Records and Briefs, Vol.3, November Term 1945,
Transcripts of Records on Appeal, Tenth Circuit (Denver, Colorado), Records of the U. S.
Courts of Appeal, RG 276, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region.

6. Case Files No. 3076 through 3082, Transcripts of Records and Briefs, Vol. 3, November Term 1945, Transcripts of Records on Appeal, Tenth Circuit.

7. Criminal Order Books, 1938-1948 and Criminal Case Files, 1931-1953, District of Utah, Records of the District Courts of the United States, RG 21, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region. Criminal Dockets, 1923-1969 and Criminal Case File, 1912-1960, District of Colorado, Records of the District Courts of the United States, RG 21,
NARA—Rocky Mountain Region.

8. “William O. White and His Wife Prepare to Burn Sage on Their Unit #186,” April 7, 1950, Photographs No. P26-600-5A, Photographs, Region 6, 1934-1954, Shoshone Project, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, RG 115, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region.

9. Photographs, Region 6, 1935-1954, Shoshone Project, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, RG 115, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region.

10. Audiotape, 1948, Bureau of Reclamation—Great Plains Region, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, RG 115, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region.

11. Real Property Case Files, Records of the War Assets Administration, RG 270, and Records of the Federal Property Resources Service, RG 291, NARA—Rocky Mountain Region.

12. The author would like to thank Eileen Bolger for her assistance and Eric Muller, University of Wyoming Law Library, for sharing his archival research on the draft resistance movement at Heart Mountain, Amache and Topaz.

 

* This essay was originally published in Remembering Heart Mountain: Essays on Japanese American Internment in Wyoming edited by Mike Mackey (Western History Publications, 1998) and posted with permission.

** Eric Bittner will be leading a workshop-tour of the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region in Denver, CO on July 3, 2008 as part of the Whose America? Who’s American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice Enduring Communities National Conference. The presentation is titled: "Research Opportunities in the National Archives Relating to the Japanese American Internment Experience." Enduring Communities is a project of the Japanese American National Museum.

© 1998 Eric Bittner

About this series

Enduring Communities: The Japanese American Experience in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah is an ambitious three-year project dedicated to re-examining an often-neglected chapter in U.S. history and connecting it with current issues of today. These articles stem from that project and detail the Japanese American experiences from different perspectives.