To find out more about the project vist the KICAP website. More
Upper Right: Stacey Camp and Lawrence Shaw look at an artifact that was uncovered at the site.
Contact & Location
Lost & Found
LOST & FOUND
Professor Stacey Camp and her team of UI students uncover remnants of a forgotten past at WWII Labor Camp
by Micki Panttaja
Rusty cans, broken bottles, bits of porcelain, gaming tokens, and a dragon tail that serpentines around a piece of pottery. These are remnants of things discarded seven decades ago, but to anthropology professor Stacey Camp and her team of University of Idaho field school students, each item is a glimpse into the lives of the Japanese men interned during World War II at the Kooskia Relocation Camp.
The work camp was established as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order to remove all persons of Japanese ancestry from military areas creating “exclusion zones.” When implemented, the order relocated nearly 120,000 people. The Kooskia labor camp housed 256 men during 1943 – 1945 and was created to provide a workforce for the construction of northern Idaho’s Highway 12.
“The camp is unique by the fact that it was solely inhabited by men,” Camp explains. “Most of the more well-known sites, such as Manzanar in California or Minidoka in southern Idaho, housed families. So it is interesting to discover how the men lived and passed the time.”
Camp began excavating the site in 2010, and found a variety of artifacts that began to shed light on the lives of these men. But the area was covered with a lot of brush and vegetation, as well as a potential rock slide that obscured most of the site.
“It made it difficult to assess the scope of the area. However, the overgrowth was also probably one of the main reasons the camp and the artifacts were preserved. If hikers or campers wandered into this area, they wouldn’t have really seen anything, so it kept the area from being scavenged.”
So this summer, Camp invited students from the College of Western Idaho to join her and her UI students in a collaborative effort to clean the landscape, clear the rockslide, and preserve and catalogue as many of the surface artifacts they could find – which has turned out to be hundreds and hundreds of items.
“Everything on the surface is from the internment era,” Camp explains, and the items reveal many different aspects of camp life.
They have discovered: wire, metal fasteners and other construction materials used on site and perhaps also for building the highway; things that inform about day-to-day life, such as pharmaceutical containers and dental tools; as well as very personal items like, a buckle from a pair of overalls and an otter hand carved in sandstone.
Once the surface are was cleared, she had two of her student researchers go deeper into the pit they were excavating, to a level pre-dating WWII, to see what the site’s previous history could reveal.
Morgan Bingle, an undergraduate student from Seattle, and Theodore Charles, a second year graduate student from Blanchard, Washington, do just that and uncover a stencil several inches down. Professor Camp wonders if it is a remnant of the federal prison that existed before the internment camp.
As Bingle and Charles lay on their stomachs, arms scraping deep into the hole, they excavate past the early 20th century, and head further back in time. Camp watches them quietly work for a few minutes and then leans over and tells them to be careful and keep an eye out for prehistoric artifacts. Such a find would temporarily halt work while the Nez Perce could be consulted.
As the excavation nears its end for the summer, Camp is pleased with the progress made and secure that they have preserved that vast majority of the surface artifacts. However, she confesses that despite their best efforts the area is still vulnerable.
“It’s just a matter of time, before someone stumbles upon the site and starts to remove artifacts,” she admits. In an effort to prevent that, Camp has actively set out to inform the public about the historical value of the site.
“Hopefully, with all of the public outreach and press we are doing, we can educate people about what we can learn about the past through archaeology.”
Interested in volunteering? To learn more about working on a dig, go to: Can You Dig it?