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Kooskia, Idaho, World War II Japanese Internment Camp

The Kooskia (pronounced KOOS-key) Internment Camp is an obscure and virtually forgotten World War II detention facility that was located in a remote area of north central Idaho, 30 miles from the town of Kooskia, and 6 miles east of the hamlet of Lowell, at Canyon Creek. The Kooskia Internment Camp was administered by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for the U.S. Department of Justice. It held men of Japanese ancestry who were termed "enemy aliens," even though most of them were long-time U.S. residents, denied naturalization by racist U.S. laws.

Immediately following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, numerous Japanese, German and Italian aliens were arrested and detained on no specific grounds, without the due process guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution, and were sent to INS detention camps at Fort Missoula, Montana; Bismarck, North Dakota; and elsewhere. The INS camps were separate and distinct from the ten major camps under War Relocation Authority (WRA) supervision. The WRA camps, including Minidoka (now the Minidoka National Historic Site) near Jerome, in southern Idaho, housed some 120,000 American citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who were unconstitutionally removed, relocated and imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II.

Although there were a number of Justice Department internment camps throughout the United States during WWII, the Kooskia Internment Camp was unique because it was the only camp of its kind in the United States. Its inmates had volunteered to go there from other camps, and received wages for their work. A total of some 265 male Japanese citizens; 24 male and 3 female Euroamerican civilian employees; 2 male internee doctors, one Italian and one German; and 1 male Japanese American interpreter occupied the Kooskia Internment Camp at various times between May 1943 and May 1945. Although some of the internees held camp jobs, most of the men were construction workers for a portion of the present Highway 12 between Lewiston, Idaho, and Missoula, Montana, parallel to the wild and scenic Lochsa River.

The Japanese internees at the Kooskia camp came from Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawai'i, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Washington. They included Reverend Hozen Seki, founder of the New York Buddhist Church; Toraichi Kono, former employee of Charlie Chaplin; and Japanese Latin Americans kidnapped from their respective countries, chiefly Peru, by U.S. government agencies. "Digging in the documents" has produced INS, Forest Service, Border Patrol, and University of Idaho photographs and other records. These, combined with internee and employee oral and written interviews, illuminate the internees' experiences, emphasizing the perspectives of the men detained at the Kooskia Internment Camp.

The Kooskia Internment Camp project was partially funded by an Idaho Humanities Council Research Fellowship and by a grant from the federal Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CLPEF). The CLPEF was authorized by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which awarded apologies and redress payments to citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry unconstitutionally evacuated, relocated and interned during World War II. The Act also provided for the establishment of the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, financing endeavors that inform the public about the internment in order to prevent the recurrence of any similar event. Wegars' report to the CLPEF is entitled, "A Real He-Man's Job:" Japanese Internees and the Kooskia Internment Camp, Idaho, 1943-1945," emphasizing the perspective of the Kooskia internees. Although no more copies of that report are available, it has been excerpted for several publications, you may purchase the book Imprisoned in Paradise: Japanese Internee Road Workers at the World War II Kooskia Internment Camp, and a PowerPoint lecture has been presented to numerous public groups. Wegars also received a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP), a product of the California State Library. That project was Golden State Meets Gem State: Californians at Idaho's Kooskia Internment Camp, 1943-1945; some 82 of the Kooskia internees (31 percent) had ties to California. In connection with that grant, slide presentations were given during early 2002 at a number of locations in California.

For further reading, Wegars' essay, "Japanese and Japanese Latin Americans at Idaho's Kooskia Internment Camp," appears in Guilt by Association: Essays on Japanese Settlement, Internment, and Relocation in the Rocky Mountain West, Mike Mackey, editor, pp. 145-183 (Powell, WY: Western History Publications, 2001). See a brief trailer for the documentary film Toraichi Kono: Living in Silence, about Kooskia internee Toraichi Kono, a former employee of former movie comedian Charlie Chaplin. The Densho Encyclopedia contains an entry on Kooskia, as well as entries on other World War II detention facilities and incarceration camps.

Additional Information

Priscilla Wegars is interested in communicating with former Kooskia Internment Camp internees and employees, or their descendants, in order to interview them. She is also eager to locate additional letters, diaries, photographs or other documents relating to the Kooskia Internment Camp experience. She would also enjoy hearing from any man, or descendants of any man, who was at CCC Camp F-38 or who was incarcerated or worked at Federal Prison Camp No. 11 at Canyon Creek.

Kooskia Internment Camp Anniversary Picnic, May 25, 1944
Kooskia Internment Camp Anniversary Picnic, May 25, 1944. Photo courtesy of Mickey Barton and the Asian American Comparative Collection, University of Idaho. The 15 Japanese men pictured are (roughly left to right): Sokichi Hashimoto, Tomosaburo Kato (front), Naokichi (George) Kobayashi, Goro Mochizuki, Ichita Yoshida, Haruyuki Nagamine, Tatsuo (Jumbo) Nishimura, Yoneji Imamura, Motokichi Koda (barely visible to right of tree at center), Hisashi Imamura, Riichi Kinugawa, Seisaburo Yogi, Eiichi Morita, Masashi Yamamoto (a.k.a. Chiyogi Okamoto), and Keiji Kijima. The 4 Euroamerican men pictured are: on the left at top center, Milt Barton, power shovel operator; to the right of Barton is Ralph Wilhite, head mechanic; squatting, lower right, is Merrill Scott, Camp Superintendent (he replaced D. A. Remer beginning in late 1943); above Scott, facing away from camera, is Hans Werner Kempski, then the camp's German internee doctor.

Asian American Comparative Collection

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Asian American Comparative Collection
University of Idaho
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