The Stories Place Tells: Amache’s past rooted also in hope; future hope of a national park
Editor’s note: This article is part of a multiple article series on the farmers and gardeners of Amache.
Congressman Ken Buck, R-Colo., and Congressman Joe Neguse, D-Colo., chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, introduced bipartisan legislation to designate the Granada Relocation Center, known as Amache, a former Japanese American relocation center in Granada, Colo., as a national park.
“The unjustifiable internment of Japanese Americans is no doubt one of the darkest scars in our country’s history. With the Amache site in Colorado, it is also a deeply personal history for Colorado,” Neguse said. “Designation of the Amache site in southeast Colorado as a national park, will provide education for future generations on this dark time in our nation’s history, as well as healing and honor to those that lived it. It is our hope that preservation of this site will provide reconciliation for our communities and for the nation.”
According to a news release, the Amache National Historic Act (H.R. 2497) follows up on the Amache Study Act, introduced by Rep. Buck and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., which was included in the Dingell Conservation Act and signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2019. This bill directed the Department of Interior to conduct a special resource study at Amache to assess the historical significance of Amache and determine the feasibility of Amache becoming a part of the National Park System.
Amache, was one of the 10 incarceration centers across the U.S. forcing Japanese Americans to relocate into military-style prisons during the first months of World War II. Three such camps, two in California and one in Oregon are already part of the National Park system. About 10,000 Japanese Americans passed through Amache and 7,000 were imprisoned there. Most internees were relocated by the government from California, and many were truck farmers, nursery workers, harvesters and farm workers. Transported by train from the coastal region and California’s Central Valley, the sand swept site of Amache was likely inhospitable in comparison.
Bonnie Clark, a professor of Archaeology at the University of Denver, said the designation would be a positive one, offering assistance to John Hopper and his team of students, the potential addition of five jobs, and the creation of increased tourism opportunities.
Hopper is the dean of students at Granada High School, a secondary teacher, and the driving force behind the Amache Preservation Society. Hopper’s students, with the support of community organizations, have restored the cemetery, established an Amache museum and research center, and have restored landmarks including the water tower, guard tower, and barrack.
Amache, she said, can tell a number of stories and agriculture is just one of them. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, the total crop value in Prowers County nearly doubled year over year from 1942 to 1943, increasing from $2.9 million to $5.03 million. The camp opened in August of 1942, bringing internees — the majority of them American citizens of Japanese descent, by train to the site.
Clark, who is the author of Finding Solace in the Soil, said Amache contained large-scale produce production, community gardens near the camp’s barracks, and victory gardens. The land it was built upon was taken via eminent domain from landowners, but she said, despite tension, the internees were able to assist local farmers in a number of ways.
A labor shortage in 1942 and sugar beet harvest were upon farmers in the Granada area about the time the camp opened. Clark said internees with farming experience — some hired by local farmers and others volunteered — to help bring the sugar beet harvest in. Clark said this was not only economically important but also important to the war effort, with much of the sugar bound for rations for troops. This cooperation was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship between internees and the local community.
Internees grew melons, pumpkins, gourds, and various produce including celery that supplied the camp. The surplus, Clark said, was used in the war effort. During her site work, Clark’s crew unearthed a glass jar containing seeds that appear to be pumpkin or squash. Based on the stamp on the jar, it was manufactured in Los Angeles prior to the war, making it likely that the jar and seeds had been brought along by a seed collecting internee. Internees also ordered seed from Sears Roebuck and wrote letters to family and friends requesting seed. Classified ads even appeared in the Japanese language section of the Amache newspaper in search of seeds.
Clark said the team’s archaeological work also found that the soil in the barrack gardens and victory gardens had been amended using crushed egg shells, fish meal, and through the mixing of soil they determined had come from the banks of the nearby Arkansas River.
If the planting of seeds, as Clark said, is a sign of hope in the future, the farmers and gardeners of Amache were cultivators of hope by the truckload.
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