The WRA Camp at Poston was located about 15 miles South of Parker, AZ, next to the Colorado River and the California border. The Camp opened on June 2, 1942, and soon housed 17,814 people. It was the third largest “city” in Arizona at the time – half the size of Tucson. No one moved to the Camp by choice.
This photo gives an inkling of how dusty it was. [Densho Digital Archives]
One group of Poston barracks. [Densho Digital Archives]
“…you know, Salinas is a cool place. When the weather hit 80 degrees, we were burning up already. And the day we got to Parker, Arizona, 114 degrees. And later on, as I thought about all this that happened the day we got there, people were fainting like flies, because none of us prepared for any of this. And you’d think they’d come out and give us salt pills? We weren’t even talked to about using salt. And if it wasn’t for the fact that some of the people that got there earlier than us found out that you gotta take a lotta salt, because you sweat like hell. And there’s, all you got is a barrack, and it’s hot as hell in the barracks. So we were very fortunate, because of the fact our train was the last one to leave Salinas. Well, by the time we got to Poston, every, a lotta, half of the people already settled in. So they come out to meet us when we got there on the bus. And they were the ones that gave us salt pills…”
Rudy Tokiwa, Poston [Densho Digital Archive]
Most of the inmates at Poston came from Central and Southern California farming areas. Unlike the experience for other Camps, most people who came to Poston, arrived directly from their home towns (without first going to an Assembly Center). The Camp filled up quickly, reaching its peak population in three months. It must have been utter chaos in the early stages.
The first day at Poston. [National Archives]
New arrivals, of all ages. [Densho Digital Archive]
First things first… stuff your own mattress with hay. [Densho Digital Archive]
The people who were imprisoned in Poston did everything they could, with scarce resources, to make a life in the WRA Camp. The conditions were harsh. There were cramped living quarters. Dust infiltrated most buildings because they were built of green wood that quickly dried out, leaving gaps in the floor that allowed the wind to blow in the dust. Life included communal eating at mess halls, and communal showers and toilets in men’s and women’s latrines (one each for each group of 14 barracks). The people imprisoned in the Camp showed incredible imagination, tenacity, and resilience to make a life there. Some thrived, some were broken, all endured.
A makeshift family “apartment” within a barracks building. [L.A. Times]
Sprinkling to try to keep the dust down. [Densho Digital Archive]
“They made charcoal so that we would have charcoal in the winter to keep us warm. Because we lived at the very end of camp and there was this vast area, land, next to us, the men in our block would go out there and excavate the land and then chop the trees down. We had mesquite trees and ironwood trees in that area. So they would chop that down and then somehow put that into this excavated area and then set it on fire and then put something on top of it and kind of smoke it all up so that the charcoal would form. I can’t describe it to you. But anyway, they used to make the charcoal.”
Laurie Sasaki, Poston [Densho Digital Archive]
The Catholic Church [Densho Digital Archive]
Poston inmates built this pond with its miniature structures. [Densho Digital Archive]
The Federal Government established the Poston WRA Camp on the land of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. They did so over the objection of the Tribal Council. The Elders on the Council wanted no part of the injustice done to Japanese Americans.
Tribal Council Chairman, Henry Walsh, visiting the Camp site. [Densho Digital Archive]
That’s it for the historical photos. In the next posts, we’ll explore Poston as it currently exists as well as the cooperation among the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Japanese Americans who once lived on their land.
Thanks for coming along on the journey.
Grace and peace to you…