May 12, 2015
I’m in Cody, Wyoming for the next two and a half weeks working on a book project with writer Sharon Yamato. We’re researching and interviewing former homesteaders who live in homes that were barracks at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. Sharon got a grant through the Preservation of Japanese American Confinement Sites program administered by the National Park Service to fund our travels, production of a book and a film. So far we’ve seen many examples of former barracks on farms and ranches near Cody. We hope to get out and photograph them. I’ll be updating the blog either daily or almost daily.
After the camps began to close in 1945, the Bureau of Reclamation implemented the Homesteading Act of 1862, settling farmers on tracts in the vast areas of the west. Homesteaders had to be veterans and familiar with farming. Roughly built wooden barracks 120 feet long that housed several Japanese American families in Heart Mountain were sold to the homesteaders for $1.00. Many of the barracks were turned into homes. Our goal is to try and find these homesteaders and the former barracks they live in.
First stop Monday morning was the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, an excellent museum and gallery that tells the story of the WWII confinement site. It’s located just off Rt. 14A, on the site of the original camp, 13 miles from Cody and 11 miles from the town of Powell. The depth and amount of information is really astounding, covering pre-war attitudes to current day pilgrimages to this and other camps. The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation built and operates this incredible place.
Sharon has been here a week, so she drove me around to show me possible barracks that ended up as homes or outbuildings. We saw a section of one that seems to be used to house sheep. We got directions to a fully intact barrack north of Cody that Sharon had seen a few days ago. Turning down a road we saw a full barrack in what appeared to be a meadow, a giant cottonwood tree beside it, mountains in the distance. The scene seemed to place the barrack in the context of the surrounding environment, under a majestic tree. While far removed from the original camp site, it seemed not out of place in the meadow. The windows were boarded up but even from the road you could see flecks of tarpaper on the roof, the texture of weathered wood shining in the late afternoon sun.