On-line Book
Book Cover
Cover Page


Table of Contents





Brief History

Gila River


Heart Mountain







Tule Lake

Isolation Centers

Add'l Facilities

Assembly Centers

DoJ and US Army Facilities



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Confinement and Ethnicity:
Barbed wire divider
An Overview of World War II
Japanese American Relocation Sites

by J. Burton, M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord

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Chapter 10 (continued)
Poston Relocation Center

The relocation center began operation May 8, 1942, with the arrival of 11 Japanese-American volunteers. Within days there were 250 more volunteers, who cleaned up and prepared the barracks for the arrival of over 7000 evacuees over the next three weeks (Leighton 1945). The maximum population for all three cantonments was 17,814, reached in September 1942. Poston was the largest relocation center in the country, and the third largest city in Arizona. Evacuees were from the Mayer, Salinas, Santa Anita, and Pinedale assembly centers.

By the fall of 1942 heating stoves had not yet been installed, so barracks and offices were unheated, and extremely cold without wallboard or insulation. Evacuees huddled around makeshift bonfires within each block for warmth. In addition, promised clothing and clothing allowances had not been delivered, and salaries had not been paid since September. Adding insult to injury, government resources were spent to fence in the evacuees rather than to remedy these problems or to construct chicken and hog farms that could alleviate food shortages. Further, the administration was seen as curtailing the power of the evacuees' representative council, misappropriating supplies meant for evacuees, and fomenting paranoia by soliciting information about troublemakers.

Given the discontent, all that was needed was a spark for the center to come close to open revolt. In November 1942 a suspected informer was beaten and administration officials arrested two Kibei men. Demanding that the arrested men be released, workers went on strike on November 19, and the police station was picketed. The unity of the strikers wavered, however, when many found the use of Japanese national symbols by some demonstrators (flags and music) too anti-American. The assistant director, in charge during the director's absence, resisted recommendations from some of his staff to call in the military to break the strike, and negotiated with the leaders of the protest. The strike ended peacefully on November 24, when a compromise settlement was reached by the director and members of the evacuees' Emergency Executive Council. The suspect was released on his own recognizance and the case was turned over to the U.S. Attorney, who later declined to prosecute the case.

Most of the administration staff who had advocated a hard-line stance against the strikers soon left (Leighton 1945). Tensions slowly abated, and the evacuees and staff gradually returned to their routines as conditions improved. The last evacuees left Poston November 28, 1945. A few Hopi Indian families moved in before the last Japanese Americans left to keep the farms going. After the relocation center was closed, the barracks and other buildings were sold, moved, and reused, and fields were converted to Reservation use.

map of Poston Relocation Center
Figure 10.6. Poston Relocation Center.
(click image for larger size (~68K) )
The three separate camps, Poston I, II, and III, were laid out from north to south at about 3-mile intervals along what is now known as Mohave Road, which at the time ended at the south end of the project at Poston III (Figure 10.6). The three camps were surrounded by a single fence. Although the fence excluded Mohave Road, traffic was controlled by a military police post about 1 mile north of Poston I. All three camps were bounded on the east by Mohave Road and on the west by the "main drain" canal.

There was a gate house at the Poston I entrance off Mohave Road at 7th Street; Poston II and III did not have gate houses. In all three camps, numbered streets ran east-west, lettered streets ran north-south. The only named streets were in the staff housing area east of the main road at Poston I: Military Street and Indian Street ran east-west, Sollier and Skidmore Avenues ran north-south.

Poston I, the largest of the three units, was the farthest north. It included administration offices, three staff housing areas, warehouses, 36 residential blocks for evacuees, and the hospital and military police compound for the entire center (Figure 10.7).

The evacuee residential blocks at Poston I were laid out both north and south of a fire break between 6th and 7th Streets (the firebreak is the location of the present Poston Road). The blocks were generally grouped by fours, separated by fire breaks. Each block contained fourteen 20-by-100-foot barracks, a mess hall, a recreation building, a men's latrine, a women's latrine, a laundry, an ironing building, and a fuel oil shed. Recreation halls were used for various purposes, including a sewing school, churches, service organizations, beauty and barber shops, and internal police offices.

Poston I central area
Figure 10.7. Poston I central area.
(National Archives)
(click image for larger size (~120K) )

Internees added their own improvements to the residential area, such as ponds, gardens, and trees and other vegetation to cut down on the dust and heat (Figures 10.8 and 10.9). Ditches ran east-west and north-south through the fire breaks, and three swimming pools were constructed along the ditches. A fire station was located east of Block 30. The mess hall in Block 32 was used for an agricultural office. Evacuees constructed a large stage in the firebreak west of Block 4 (Figure 10.10), and canteens were located east of Block 28 and west of Block 34.

Pond at Poston I
Figure 10.9. Pond at Poston I.
(Francis Stewart photograph, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)
Pouring foundation for school
Figure 10.15. Pouring foundation for school.
(Francis Stewart photograph, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

Since no arrangements had been made for schools, evacuees built their own classrooms and school auditoriums. The elementary school at Poston I was located west of Blocks 19 and 30, and included an office, library, auditorium, 10 classroom buildings, and covered walkways. The high school, located west of the evacuee residential area, included an office, library, auditorium, auto and wood shop, and eight classroom buildings. Sufficient lumber was not available, so walls were constructed of adobe, a material foreign to most evacuees (Figures 10.11-10.15). Many evacuees considered the material inferior and too labor-intensive. The difficult work was exacerbated by the 115-degree temperatures, and the fact that the adobe ruined their clothes (Leighton 1945). The elementary school auditorium and classroom buildings, although now abandoned, still stand.

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Last Modified: Fri, Sep 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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