Heading to Arkansas

This leg of my journey required some imagination, because there is so little physical evidence at three of the four WRA Camp sites in Arkansas and Arizona. During the first nine days of April, I visited the Jerome and Rohwer Camps in Arkansas and the Gila River and Poston Camps in Arizona.

To get to the Jerome and Rohwer Camps, I flew into Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, and set out driving through the countryside. My first destination was McGehee, Arkansas, a small town that is about half way between the two camps. I had not expected such physical beauty.

Almost everywhere I go, there is beauty to be seen.  The highways take you through mile after mile of pine forests.  There is something peaceful about such a drive, if you are on an adventure. Water is everywhere, and the closer you get to the Mississippi River, the more water there is.

Driving on US Highway 278 through the country, I crossed something called Bayou Bartholomew.  On my drives to and from Little Rock, I crossed this Bayou several times. My new Arkansas friends told me that it is the longest Bayou in the world, stretching 359 miles from Arkansas into Louisiana… Something way outside my experience…

Bayou Bartholomew 2

This is the type of beauty that I saw in the Bayou Bartholomew (not my picture). It is a foreign thing for someone who has spent most of his life living on the West Coast.  There are all kinds of critters who live in it and on its periphery, like this character seen below (again, not my picture)…

Bayou Bartholomew1

When the waters of the Mississippi River rise, going over into the flood plain areas that run alongside it, critters like this one and others (including a variety of poisonous snakes) will migrate out of their homes and into swamps and other flooded land.  This was the environment into which thousands of Japanese Americans were sent.  Despite its inherent beauty, it would have been a strange and frightening place to be put into a prison camp that flooded regularly with the winter and spring rains. Both the Jerome and the Rohwer Camps were in areas subject to such flooding.

“[Rohwer was] far enough south to catch Gulf Coast hurricanes, far enough north to catch Midwestern tornadoes, close enough to the [Mississippi] river to be inundated by Mississippi Valley floods, and lush enough to be the haven for every creepy, crawly creature and pesky insect in the world.”

Eiichi Kamiya, Rohwer

(from WWII Japanese American Internment Museum, McGehee, Arkansas)

One question that has intrigued me is why the Federal Government decided to put two of the WRA Prison Camps all the way out in Arkansas, near the Mississippi River.  It is a long way to transport people from the West Coast.  Three criteria key to the selection of WRA Camp sites were: distance from the West Coast; remoteness from cities; and, ownership and/or easy control of the land by the Federal Government.  In the case of the Arkansas WRA Camps, the land came under Federal ownership and control because the Farm Security Administration (a New Deal agency whose mission was to combat rural poverty in America) purchased the land from farmers who had gone bankrupt trying to drain the swampy land for farming.

Despite the wild beauty of the location, neither Camp was in a place that appeared hospitable to West Coast dwellers, particularly those who had been forcibly removed from their homes.

My next posts will explore the Jerome Camp.

Thanks for coming along on the journey!

4 Comments on “Heading to Arkansas

  1. I appreciated your description of the landscape. I too didn’t understand the “bayou” of Arkansas.


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