Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Monday, May 23, 2005


Poston actually comprised three separate camps: Poston I, II, and III, which were about three miles apart along what is now Mohave Road. The Colorado River Indian Reservation Tribal Council originally opposed the use of their land for a relocation camp because they did not want to inflict the same type of injustice that they had suffered. But the tribe was overruled by the Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The War Relocation Authority (WRA) turned over administration of the center to the BIA, but the WRA regained control in late 1943 when tensions developed between the two agencies. The BIA wanted to establish long-term farming ventures with the Japanese Americans, but the WRA's plan was to encourage residents to leave for resettlement at the end of the war.
Called Roasten, Toasten, and Dustin by the internees, the camps were built by contractor Del Webb using 5,000 workers on a double work shift. Poston I was completed in less than three weeks and Poston II and III within 120 days. Guard towers were not needed at Poston because its location was so isolated and remote.
Poston I, the largest of the three camps, was the farthest north. It included administration offices, staff housing areas, warehouses, 36 evacuee residential blocks, a hospital and a military police compound that served the entire camp. Each block contained fourteen barracks, a mess hall, a recreation building, a men's latrine, a women's latrine, laundry facilities, and a fuel oil shed. Recreation halls were used for various purposes, including churches, service organizations, and beauty and barber shops.
Families were assigned space in the wood and tarpaper barracks according to the number of people in their household, usually four families to a building. Housing was primitive and especially hard on the elderly and the ill. Many internees had to carry several buckets of water to their living quarters each day. The lack of privacy was particularly difficult for Japanese women, who were required to sleep, eat, bathe and use the toilet in the company of others. Although the rooms were bare and bleak, the residents did what they could to make themselves comfortable. They bought toiletries and clothes from the "Community Enterprises" store or ordered material from the Sears-Roebuck catalog to make curtains. The men collected lumber from wherever they could to make furniture and filled mattresses with hay. A honeymoon cottage was set aside for newlyweds; 662 babies were born and 221 adults passed away in the camp.
Unlike most other camps, Poston's agricultural fields were contained within the fenced security area. Internees grew vegetables and fruit for camp and commercial consumption, and they also raised chickens and hogs, which greatly improved the quality of meals. The government only allotted about 40 cents per meal, and the food was inedible to most people and made from whatever was cheapest and easiest to get. Internees reportedly went on strike after they were served liver for several weeks. By the end of the second year of operation, the internees produced 85 percent of the vegetables they consumed. Over 1,400 acres of vegetables and 800 acres of field crops were under cultivation.
Internees could also work both inside and outside the camp. Inside, they did a variety of jobs and were paid from $12 to $19 a month. They could work as farm laborers outside the camp and college students were allowed to leave to finish their education. At Poston I, a factory that produced camouflage nets and ship models used as training aids for the Navy was operated from fall 1942 to May 1943.
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