About the Project
On February 19, 1942, over 120,000 individuals of Japanese heritage were forced to leave the comfort and solace of their homes and communities and relocate to internment camps spread throughout some of the harshest and destitute locales in the Western United States (Helphand 2006:156). Seen as enemies of the state during World War II, Japanese Americans were given an ultimatum: abandon their homes within six to twenty-one days or be imprisoned. The state of Idaho played a crucial role in Japanese internment as it was home to two sites of confinement: Kooskia (Wegars 2001) and Minidoka (Burton et al. 2003).
Two hundred and fifty-six male Japanese internees occupied Kooskia Internment Camp between May 1943 and 1945, while Minidoka Relocation Center housed over 7000 individuals of Japanese heritage from August 1942 to 1945. Minidoka has been the subject of substantial historical and archaeological research, while Kooskia remains a neglected historic site, perhaps partially due to its remote location. As well-known Japanese and Chinese historian and archaeological scholar Priscilla Wegars poignantly describes, "except for a concrete slab where the water tower once stood, and level areas that held the former buildings, almost nothing remains to remind us of the Kooskia Internment Camp's place in Japanese American, and American, history" (2001:167).
The proposed research involves preliminary archaeological testing, minimal excavation, GIS work and public outreach to be performed at the former location of Kooskia Internment Camp, a World War II U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detention facility and work camp for individuals of Japanese heritage. Built on the site of a former federal prison work camp (Canyon Creek Prison Camp) (Sappington and Carley 1989; Burton 1999; Wegars 2001), Kooskia Internment Camp was occupied by a diverse group of 256 Japanese internees between May 1943 and 1945. Internees were charged with the daunting and dangerous task of completing the construction of Highway U.S. 12 (located between Idaho and Montana). Besides being a relatively neglected and remote site of Japanese confinement, Kooskia Internment Camp represents the U.S. government's first attempt to use internees as a work force. In addition, many of the Japanese occupants of the camp were forcibly removed by the United States government from Latin American countries such as Peru, Mexico and Panama. These understudied aspects of American history demand and require more exposure and research.
Kooskia Internment Camp has a complex, multilayered occupational history that spans both prehistoric and historic periods. Though the site is a known camping and hunting ground of the Nez Perce (Sappington and Carley 1989), the work proposed in this research design focuses specifically on the historical period in which internees occupied the site.
Besides the Nez Perce's long-term occupation, the site witnessed new visitors in the 1800s and early 1900s. In September 1893, 27 year-old William P. Carlin of Vancouver, 28 year-old engineer A. L. A. Himmelwright and 30 year-old John Harvey Pierce of While Plains, New York, met in Spokane and set out for a hunting trip along in the vicinity of Kooskia Internment Camp. They were guided by Martin C. Spencer and brought 52 year-old George Colegate of Post Falls, Idaho, along as a cook. During their trek, they camped at Apgar Creek and fished at the mouth of Canyon Creek (Space 1980:40). A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, which also went by the names of Camp F-38 and Camp 38, was built along the Lochsa River in June 1933 (Sappington and Carley 1989:16). It housed 200 individuals who constructed roads, established telephone lines and fought fires (Sappington and Carley 1989:16). The camp closed in October 1933.
Two years later (August 1935), the CCC camp was once again occupied by "federal convicts from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, along with officials and guards" (Elsensohn 1951:55 in Sappington and Carley 1989:16). Now known as Canyon Creek Prison Camp, its residents were charged with the task of constructing the Lewis and Clark Highway (Parsell 1986:40). The camp was closed in 1943 due to "war-related expenses" amassed by the Justice Bureau of Prisons (Wegars 2001:146). Many of the buildings and landscapes that the Japanese internees would later occupy were built in conjunction with Canyon Creek Prison Camp. These structures included "workshops, dormitories, a garage, a power plant, a storehouse, a barbershop and a laundry" (Sappington and Carley1989:16).
A portion of the proposed research involves reexamining resources cited by historians and archaeologists who have written about the region or site. This will involve a thorough scan of local newspapers and publications for information on Kooskia. These resources include the Kooskia Mountaineer, Lewiston Morning Tribune, Lochsa Pioneer (literary magazine written by prisoners at Canyon Creek Camp), Orofino Idaho County Free Press and the Clearwater Tribune. Dr. Camp will also examine archival information held at the National Archives in Washington, DC. One file, in particular, has been identified by Dr. Priscilla Wegars (2001) as containing a significant amount of information on Kooskia; the name of this file is "INS Records Related to the Detention and Internment of Enemy Aliens during World War II, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85."