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Gila River War Relocation Center

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gila River Relocation Center
School children participating in the Harvest Festival Parade
School children participating in the Harvest Festival Parade
Location in Pinal County and the state of Arizona
Location in Pinal County and the state of Arizona
Gila River Relocation Center is located in the United States
Gila River Relocation Center
Gila River Relocation Center
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 33°03′54.3″N 111°49′49.9″W / 33.065083°N 111.830528°W / 33.065083; -111.830528
CountryUnited States
 • Total2.4 sq mi (6.1 km2)
 • Land2.4 sq mi (6.2 km2)
Time zoneUTC-7 (MST (no DST))

The Gila River War Relocation Center was an American concentration camp in Arizona, one of several built by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) during the Second World War for the incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.[1] It was located within the Gila River Indian Reservation (over their objections) about 30 miles (48.3 km) southeast of Phoenix. With a peak population of 13,348, it became the fourth-largest city in the state, operating from May 1942 to November 16, 1945.[2]


The rationale for internment was brought on under the pretext of sabotage of the American western coast by the large Japanese American population. Immediately following the Attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. This executive order was president Roosevelt's authorization to hand authority to the Secretary of War and military commanders to designate areas to detain people living in the United States whom may be a threat to the country and its interests. Though it never specifically named Japanese Americans (or anyone of Japanese ancestry) to be detained, it was outwardly implied due to the outbreak of war with Japan. The Secretary of war was also told to supply accommodations to people who are held by the government. In Executive Order 9066 it is stated “The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary.”[3] The order also gave authority of the prescribed areas to the Secretary of War ahead of other departments in the government and allowed the use of federal troops to enforce compliance with government rules in those areas. Placed in command of issuing the forced removal of Japanese Americans from their homes and businesses was commander of the Western Defense Command Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt.[4] The internment camps were hastily constructed within a few months after the issue of the order. Living quarters across all camps resembled military style barracks as they were constructed from military surplus equipment. Living space was generally tight and incredibly cramped among families.

The forced removal of Japanese Americans from the "affected areas" of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona started between April and May 1942. Families were given just under one week to get their personal and professional affairs in order. As a result, individual families lost thousands of dollars from having to hastily sell off properties severely under market value. After the war, many Japanese Americans who were interned had to completely start over in building their businesses and livelihoods from scratch. During the Ronald Reagan Administration, the federal government acknowledged that it had committed an injustice against Japanese Americans with this act. Congress passed the resolution, H.R.442 (The Civil Liberties Act of 1988), of official apology and authorization to provide restitution to survivors and descendants of inmates.[5] In total 119,000 Americans of Japanese descent were incarcerated throughout World War Two.

Camp History

Gila River War Relocation Center was one of ten internment camps, operated by the WRA located throughout the American interior west. The Gila River camp was one of two internment camps located in Arizona, the other being Poston War Relocation Center. Most camps including Gila River were chosen due to their solitary geographic locations, many of which were located in the middle of deserts.[6] The camp was located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, near an irrigated agricultural center. It comprised two separate camps, named 'Canal' and 'Butte'. Construction began on May 1, 1942, over the strong objections of the reservation's Pima Indian government.[7] The official opening took place less than two months later, on July 20. Canal Camp closed on September 28, 1945. Butte Camp was shut down on November 10, 1945; and the Gila River Relocation Center was officially closed on November 16, 1945.

Gila River received incarcerees from California (Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles). In addition, it took in 2,000 people from the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas when that facility closed in 1944. It became Arizona's fourth-largest city, with a peak population of 13,348.

Some of the incarcerees died en route to Gila River or shortly after arrival in the harsh desert environment. One of these was the mother of Iva Toguri. Toguri was an American woman of Japanese descent who broadcast for the Japanese and was later condemned as "Tokyo Rose"; she was convicted of treason, based on perjured testimony.[8]

Canal Camp Monument
Canal Camp Monument

Gila River was considered one of the least oppressive camps of its kind. It had only a single watchtower, and its fences were among the few that lacked barbed wire. The administrators of the camps seemed to care for the incarcerees, and allowed them access to the amenities of Phoenix. Gila River was one of the first WRA camps to have a local "democratic" governing body of internees for the camp, supervised closely by the WRA. A representative of every block was nominated to the council however, only Nisei (second generation U.S born Japanese Americans) were allowed to hold the offices.[9] They also encouraged recreational activities such as sports and arts. Butte camp contained a 6,000-seat baseball field, designed by Kenichi Zenimura, a professional baseball player, and considered to be the best in the WRA system. Incarcerees also built a theater for plays and films, and playgrounds, and planted trees to relieve the desolation of the arid site. Gila River had a communal medical facility at Butte Hospital. Canal Camp had 404 buildings with 232 barracks and 24 separate schoolhouses. Butte Camp contained 821 buildings with 627 residential barracks. These barracks were made of wood and fireproof shingles that were of limited effectiveness in blocking out the desert heat. Each barrack was made to house four single families in separate apartments. But, the camp exceeded its capacity: it was designed for 10,000 residents, and held more than 13,000. Because of this, some families were housed in the mess hall or recreation buildings, where they had to use hanging blankets as makeshift walls for visual privacy. Water shortages also plagued the camp. Inmates' encounters with poisonous rattlesnakes and scorpions resulted in bites that kept Butte Hospital extremely busy.

The land for the camp sites is owned by the Gila River Indian Tribe and is considered sacred by them. They have restricted public access to the historic sites. All the main structures are long gone. Remaining are such elements as the road grid, concrete slab foundations, manholes, cisterns, several rock alignments, and dozens of small ponds.

During the Ronald Reagan Administration, the federal government acknowledged that it had committed an injustice against Japanese Americans with this program. Congress passed a resolution of official apology and authorization to provide compensation to survivors and descendants of inmates. On December 21, 2006, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 1492 into law guaranteeing $38,000,000 in federal money to restore the Gila River relocation center, along with nine other former American concentration camps used to house Japanese Americans.[10]

Notable internees

Ruins of the buildings in the Gila River War Relocation Center of Camp Butte
Ruins of the buildings in the Gila River War Relocation Center of Camp Butte


See also

External links

  • Gila River Relocation Center records, 1942-1945, The Bancroft Library
  • War Relocation Camps in Arizona 1942-1946
  • Photo of Eleanor Roosevelt visiting the camp
  • Gila River Relocation Center
  • NPS's Gila River page
  • Leong, Karen J. "Densho Encyclopedia: Gila River". Densho. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
  • A Diamond in the Desert written by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
  • Wakida, Patricia. "Densho Encyclopedia: Gila News-Courier (camp newspaper)". Densho. Retrieved 2016-07-12.


  1. ^ "War Relocation Authority | Densho Encyclopedia". Archived from the original on 2019-11-02. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  2. ^ "Gila River | Densho Encyclopedia". Archived from the original on 2019-10-20. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  3. ^ Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (February 19, 1942). "Executive Order 9066". U.S National Archives & Records Administration. Archived from the original on November 11, 2019.
  4. ^ Fox, Stephen C (1988). "General John DeWitt and the Proposed Internment of German and Italian Aliens during World War II". Pacific Historical Review. 57 (4): 407–438 – via JSTOR.
  5. ^ Foley, Thomas S. (1988-08-10). "H.R.442 - 100th Congress (1987-1988): Civil Liberties Act of 1987". Archived from the original on 2019-12-03. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  6. ^ Chen and Yu, Fu-jen and Su-lin (Winter 2005). "Reclaiming the Southwest: A Traumatic Space in the Japanese American Internment Narrative". Journal of the Southwest. 47 (4): 551–570 – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ Fujita-Rony, Thomas (Summer 2005). "Arizona and Japanese American History: The World War II Colorado River Relocation Center". Journal of the Southwest. 47 (2): 209–232 – via JSTOR.
  8. ^ "Iva Toguri D'Aquino | Densho Encyclopedia". Archived from the original on 2019-12-03. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  9. ^ Hansen, Arthur (Winter 1985). "Cultural Politics in the Gila River Relocation Center". Arizona and the West. 27 (4): 327–362 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ Thomas, William M. (2006-12-21). "H.R.1492 - 109th Congress (2005-2006): To provide for the preservation of the historic confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II, and for other purposes". Archived from the original on 2019-12-03. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
This page was last edited on 4 September 2020, at 20:22
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