The Unique Kooskia Internment Camp

In use during the years 1942-1945, the Kooskia Internment Camp held 265 Japanese men. During these years they worked in the camp as well as a labor force building the Lewis-Clark Highway that is still in use today. Here, they lived, slept, and worked far away from their families.

Executive Order 9066 placed over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry into internment camps like the one at Kooskia. Signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, it went into immediate effect. Along with internment and work camps like Kooskia, there were concentration, isolation, and prison camps where the government kept Japanese people from the rest of the U.S. population. The camp of Kooskia, however, was different from other interment camps.

Whereas other camps contained both Isei (first generation Japenese immigrants) and Nisei (second generation Japanese-Americans), the internees of Kooskia were not American citizens but all resident aliens. Therefore, the United States government treated them as prisoners of war and their conditions and treatment were governed by the Geneva Convention. The internees also displayed a healthy amount of knowledge concerning their rights under the Geneva Convention, surprising the administrators at Kooskia. The internees there had more freedoms and privileges than any of the other internees in the other camps. For instance, there were no barbwire fences or guard towers because the location was quite remote, allowing the workers to walk about freely.

The Kooskia Scrapbook held at the University of Idaho documents these men working and building a life for themselves. The men not only worked, but they also played, relaxed and had plenty of leisure time and activities to fill that time. They could participate in several different sports available to them. There was softball, wrestling, foot racing, and table tennis. Other non-physical competitive activities were board games like checkers and go, a Japanese version of chess. Other recreational activities included boating, fishing, hiking, and more cultural activities like drawing, woodworking, stonecrafting, and weaving. They also read books and magazines, wrote letters and poetry to their families and each other, and they had access to movies. A last part of recreational living was the mixture of musical instruments available to the internees to play. These activities attest to the internees ability to make the best of a bad situation. What is not pictured in the scrapbook, however, are the pain, suffering, and inherent injustice that these and other internees faced.

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