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Visit Colorado’s Amache National Historic Site now

Camp Amache National Historic Site reminds visitors of the courage of Japanese Americans unjustly confined during World War II. After Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into World War, the War Relocation Authority forcibly removed the Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. The wind-swept former camp is now a pale shadow of its 1942-1945 self. A reconstructed barracks, a guard tower, a water tower, and a historic cemetery now mark the site, but most of it was leveled after the war. Look for interpretive signage.

At its peak, the camp housed 7,310 Japanese Americans, a total violation of their civil rights. It became Colorado’s 10th largest city, and two-thirds of its inhabitants were American citizens. (The law denied the oldest Japanese the right to become citizens.)

Amache’s constant wind calls the names of those who came unwillingly to this remote southeastern Colorado town. The history of Japanese American incarceration is a story of betrayal, courage, and resilience in adversity.

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Brown and white "Amache Japanese-American Relocation Center" sign with street signs and a tree
Directional sign at Amache’s main entrance

The nation’s newest National Historic Site

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland established Colorado’s Amache National Historic Site on February 19, 2024. The Town of Granada acquired and donated the land. She established it four days before the 80th Day of Remembrance  of Japanese American Incarceration During World War II on February 19. The site is 2 miles southwest of Granada, Colorado, and 2.5 hours east of Pueblo.

President Joe Biden signed the Amache National Historic Site Act in March 2022, adding the site to the National Park Service System.

I have waited many, many years to see the day … that Amache, as a place of reflection, remembrance, honor, and healing, is protected for our current and future generations.

Bob Fuchigami, Amache survivor

Ending a long wait for recognition

“Amache’s addition to the National Park System is a reminder that a complete account of the nation’s history must include our dark chapters of injustice,” National Park Service director Chuck Sams said. “To heal and grow as a nation we need to reflect on past mistakes, make amends, and strive to form a more perfect union.”   

Roxie’s reliable report: “Amache” was named for Amache Ochinee Prowers, the Southern Cheyenne wife of John Wesley Prowers. She was an activist, cattle rancher, and Santa Fe Trail store owner.

Related: Her father Ochinee (Lone Bear) died in the Sand Creek Massacre.

Black-and-white aerial photo of Amache's buildings
Amache was laid out with barracks and support buildings. (Library of Congress)

What is the Amache National Historic Site?

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 established the War Relocation Authority two months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. People on the West Coast feared that the Japanese Americans would become spies and saboteurs. Amache, formally known as the Granada Relocation Center, was the smallest of those 10 main concentration camps.

The government purchased X-Y Ranch land for the camp. The Lamar Canal and Irrigation Company and the X-Y Irrigation Ditch Company provided the water pipes. The US Army Corps of Engineers began construction on June 12, 1942. The first camp inhabitants arrived in August 1942 and the last ones left in October 1945. When Amache closed, the incarcerees received $25 and a bus ticket to restart their lives. 

An ill-prepared camp

The Japanese internment camp was ill-prepared for the first arrivals. They arrived in the dark, and some fell into open foundations. Amache’s barracks lacked running water, central heating, insulation, or furniture. The exterior walls rested on concrete. The interior walls were bricks on top of bare soil — and they didn’t reach the ceilings.

The arrivals had brought what they could carry on the train. Each person received a cot, a thin mattress, and two army blankets when they arrived. To obtain scant privacy, those with sheets or curtains hung them to separate their family’s space from others’ views. Each family received a 20 by 25 foot allotment.

Moreover, the shelter offered little protection from the extremes of Colorado weather. Temperatures ranged from 110 degrees in the summer to 22 below zero in the winter. And the winds pushed dust, sand, and snow into every cranny. 

Even though they were incarcerated, the camp inhabitants developed a democratic form of government within their prison.

A cubic kiosk with four panels per side
This kiosk displays the names of those who served, with those killed in action and the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient identified.

The incarcerees volunteer despite their country’s rejection

In January 1943, the War Department formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. The members were all Japanese Americans. Despite their country’s rejection, 953 young incarcerees volunteered for military service in the 442nd/100th, the Military Intelligence Service, the Women’s Army Corps, and the Nurses Army Corps. That was 10 percent of those in the camp, the highest percentage of the Japanese incarceration sites.

Thirty-one Amache men sacrificed their lives. Amache held memorial services for them behind the four strands of barbed wire surrounding the camp. A camp marker honors those who served and those who died.

The Japanese served as instructors in Army intelligence language schools and as interpreters in the Pacific Theater of the war.

An incarceree earns the Medal of Honor

The honored dead include Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Kiyoshi K. Muranga. Near Suvereto, Italy, Muranga volunteered to “neutralize” an 88-mm gun with a mortar by himself. He shot three rounds from 400 yards on June 26, 1944. The third landed directly in front of the Nazi weapon. Its crew fatally shot Muranga and fled. 

On June 21, 2000, his brother received the medal from President Bill Clinton. In 2010, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, to the 443rd/100th and the Military Intelligence Service.

Related: The Hero Street USA residents died for their adopted country despite discrimination.

Amache Museum with green awning and adobe walls
The Amache Museum in Granada

Amache’s road to the national park system

Granada High School students decided to preserve Amache. Led by social studies teacher John Hopper, the students and the Town of Granada created the Amache Preservation Society. Those who had been incarcerated and their descendants joined in. The preservation society built the Amache Museum in Downtown Granada and successfully lobbied for National Historic Landmark status. Because they had preserved the camp, something was left to protect. 

The Colorado Congressional delegation introduced the Amache Study Act in 2018. It passed in 2019. Amache became a National Historic Site on March 18, 2022. joining Tule Lake and other incarceration sites.

Preserving a dark portion of American history helps prevent future returns to dark patterns.

A stormy sky at sunset with dirt roads and trees
Amache’s road network and building foundations are still extant.

How to visit the Amache National Historic Site

Amache’s dirt road network remains, and Amache’s historic concrete building foundations are also visible. The preservation society offers an online map and driving tour, but remember: cell phone service is spotty in the area. Download the map and audio tour ahead of time. The society offers guided tours, but call ahead. The museum is in the Town of Granada, population 509. The camp is 1 mile west and a half mile south of the museum.

The annual Amache Pilgrimage takes place on the Saturday before Memorial Day Weekend.

The site offers little shade. Because of this, bring water, wear sunscreen, and a broad-brimmed hat. Beware of rattlesnakes. Shorty’s Café is Granada’s lone restaurant, but Amache does have a picnic table.

By design, all the Japanese relocation centers were far from populated areas. Amache, 4 hours southeast of Denver, is no exception. The Prowers County seat, Lamar, Colorado, population 7,500, is the closest population center. In your comfortable bed, remember the people trapped at Amache.

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