Heart Mountain Japanese-American WWII Internment Camp

The Heart Mountain Relocation Center or Heart Mountain Internment Camp (currently known as the Heart Mountain WWII Japanese American Confinement Site) was constructed in the summer of 1942 to confine Japanese Americans during World War II. Located between the towns of Powell and Cody in Wyoming, the first incarcerees arrived by train on August 12, 1942 from the West Coast of the United States. At its peak, the camp's population was more than 10,000. The population consisted of Japanese immigrants known as Issei; first generation born in the U.S. and known as Nisei; and second generation born in the U.S. known as Sansei. Their forced relocation by the government meant they had to give up property such as houses, businesses, cars, and bank accounts. They also moved away from their neighborhoods, friends, jobs, and schools.

The Heart Mountain Relocation Center had 467 buildings for offices, living quarters, shower/bath facilities, mess halls, and laundry. A 150-bed hospital provided health care, including surgeries. 

Bill Hosokawa was the first editor of the camp's newspaper, The Heart Mountain Sentinel, which can be read online in Wyoming Newspapers. The newspaper was distributed to 6,000 camp households every week and was mailed to subscribers outside of the Heart Mountain camp.

Many people passed time by working in the camp or on farms outside the camp, but there were other activities incarcerees could participate in. They were allowed to set up a governmental structure, although camp administrators had the final say on all decisions. Several denominational churches were made available for religious choice, and a library was established. Scouting was popular, as were sports and social clubs. Education was very important for all ages. The relocation camp was mostly self-sufficient, growing food and raising animals. They were very successful farmers, even growing crops that didn’t seem possible in Wyoming.

The last internees left on November 10, 1945, the same way they arrived—by train. No longer confined, each person was given a train ticket to any destination in the United States and a cash stipend of $25. Most had nothing to return to, and all detainees were forced to start over with their lives.

Black and white sketch of a Heart Mountain incarceree with her back to the wind by Estella Ishigo.

Sketch of Heart Mountain incarceree with her back to the wind by Estelle Ishigo. Image courtesy of the American Heritage Center, from their Estelle Ishigo Photographs digital collection.

 "Aura Newlin - Japanese Americans in Wyoming" on Wyoming Chronicle, courtesy of Wyoming PBS.

Mess hall line in summer, sketched by Estelle Ishigo, illustrates a woman in the foreground carrying a bucket, a small child riding a tricycle, and man sitting against a building, and a long line of indeterminable figures in the background leading to a building with smoke coming from the chimney.

Mess hall line in summer sketched by Estelle Ishigo.

Black and white photo of incarcerees (one man, two children prominently in the foreground) walking through the camp barracks with Heart Mountain in the background.

Walking through the barracks with Heart Mountain in the background.

Black and white sketch of the camp barracks and other buildings in winter

The camp in winter sketched by Estelle Ishigo.

Six children stand in a row for a color photograph

Children at the internment camp.

Two children stand in the middle of a road between barracks, Heart Mountain in the distance behind them, holding snowballs

Two children ready for a snowball fight.

A black and white photo of a funeral at Heart Mountain camp, a large group of people are dressed nicely and posed for the photo around a coffin and flowers in the middle of the group.

A funeral at the Heart Mountain camp—a reminder that not all were able to return home after the war.

Image Credits

All Estelle Ishigo drawings are from 1942-1945 at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, courtesy of the American Heritage Center. See more in the AHC's Estelle Ishigo digital collection. Photographs from the digital collections at the AHC. Newspaper images are from Wyoming Newspapers.

Copyright notice: Digitized collection materials are accessible for educational and personal research purposes.

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