Heart Mountain Relocation Center

One-story rectangular blueish-gray brick building with tall grasses in foreground.
Barracks building at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Park County, Wyoming.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photo taken by Carol Highsmith.

Quick Facts
Park County, Wyoming
National Historic Landmark

Heart Mountain Relocation Center, located in Park County, Wyoming between Powell and Cody, was one of 10 relocation camps built to house people of Japanese descent forcibly relocated from the West Coast of the United States during World War II. Also known as the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center is one of the few relocation centers with buildings still standing today as well as a number of other remains. The camp was also the site of the largest single draft resistance movement in American history, which was a reflection of the resistance of the people confined there who had lost their civil liberties during the war because of the fear and prejudice against them. At the same time, a number of those confined served in the military from Heart Mountain and received many awards and honors for their service, including the two who received the Medal of Honor.

Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, led to the United States' entry into World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The Order authorized the establishment of military areas encompassing most of the West Coast of the United States, "from which any or all persons may be excluded." This allowed for the removal from these areas of Japanese Americans and those of Japanese ancestry, out of fear that they might support Japan in the war. In March 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102, which established the War Relocation Authority, the federal agency responsible for the evacuation, relocation, and internment of Japanese Americans and the construction and administration of internment camps throughout the United States. The U.S. military supported Executive Order 9066 by assembling and transporting the evacuees. Through Executive Order 9066 came Proclamation No.1, initially a policy of voluntary participation to relocate that soon became mandatory forcing some 120,000 Japanese Americans and those of Japanese ancestry to move to 10 inland war relocation centers across the nation.

Evacuees came to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center by train from California, Washington, and Oregon. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed the construction of the 650 buildings and structures at the center. Construction began on June 15, 1942, and the first evacuees arrived on August 11, 1942. Heart Mountain was located on two terraces of the Shoshone River on a flat, treeless landscape covered in buffalo grass and sagebrush. The dry desert environment received only a small amount of precipitation annually, was hot in the summer, and cold and windy in the winter. The relocation center was named after the Heart Mountain Butte, standing 8 miles to the west. The fourth largest relocation center in the U.S., Heart Mountain contained 46,000 acres most of which was used for farming. Approximately 740 acres of the site was set aside to house up to 10,767 evacuees. At its population peak, the camp was the third largest city in Wyoming. Nine guard towers surrounded the residential portion of the camp as well as a barbed wire fence perimeter.

Heart Mountain Relocation Center was a self-contained facility with residential and administrative buildings. A 30-block grid subdivided the residential section of the center. Twenty of the blocks contained residential buildings and the other 10 consisted of open space, vegetable gardens, and a cemetery. Each block held 24 barracks measuring 120 feet long by 20 feet wide and arranged in 24 block clusters. The hastily constructed barracks had wood frames and black tar paper exteriors. Apartments ranging from 16 feet by 20 feet up to 24 feet by 20 feet divided each barrack. The larger apartments were designed to accommodate families of up to six. Each section also had a mess hall, recreation facility, and two toilet/laundry facilities – one for each gender.

Barracks assignments were based on family size and apartments contained an army cot with two blankets and pillow each member of a family, one light, and a wood-burning stove. The internees quickly began began making improvements to their apartments - hanging bed sheets to create extra "rooms," and stuffing newspaper and rags into cracks in the poorly-constructed walls and floors to keep out the dust and cold. Some inmates ordered tools from Sears and Roebuck catalogs in order to make repairs to their barracks.

Heart Mountain was run like a small town with Caucasian administrators and Nisei(American-born second generation) and Issei (first generation) block managers and councilmen elected by the internees. The center had a hospital, schools, a garment factory, cabinet shop, sawmill, and silk screen shop staffed primarily by internees who earned a small salary of $12–$19 a month for their work. In addition, internees also worked on the unfinished Heart Mountain Canal for the Bureau of Reclamation, or did agricultural work outside the camp.

After President Roosevelt reinstated the draft for Japanese Americans on January 20, 1944, male residents of Heart Mountain were drafted into military service. Many internees protested this as unfair and unconstitutional because of their confinement during the war. A draft resistance movement began at Heart Mountain with the formation of the Fair Play Committee, a membership organization of draft-age Nisei men who advocated for a restoration of their civil rights as a precondition for compliance with the military draft. The draft resistance movement at Heart Mountain resulted in 85 convictions and imprisonments. Some of the resistance leaders and older men involved in the movement received sentences of three to four years in the maximum-security penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Ironically, the remaining resisters served three-year sentences in the penitentiary at McNeil Island, Washington in the military zone from which many were originally evacuated. Despite the draft resistance movement, 385 residents of Heart Mountain served in the military, many becoming members of the famed all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the most decorated units in the U.S. military. Eleven of the soldiers from Heart Mountain were killed, 52 were wounded in combat, and two received the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

Today, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center and the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center are open to the public. The Heart Mountain Interpretative Center offers photographs, artifacts, oral histories, and interactive exhibits that help visitors understand what confinement was like for the internees and what led to their confinement. The defining feature of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center is the multi-building hospital complex constructed for the relocation center's inmates. Four historic buildings remain at the complex: a hospital boiler house and its associated smokestack, a hospital warehouse, a hospital mess hall, and an administrative staff-housing unit. The administrative site, southwest of the hospital complex includes a reconstruction of the Honor Roll memorial that is part of the Heart Mountain Memorial Park and commemorates servicemen from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center. Original road patterns, building foundations, and historic artifacts dating to World War II are also visible.

Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a National Historic Landmark, is located in the State of Wyoming, 14 miles northeast of Cody, WY and 11 miles southwest of Powell, WY. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is at 1539 Road 19, Powell, WY, partway between the communities of Powell and Cody at the intersection of Highway 14a and Road 19. 

Last updated: May 29, 2018