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Unearthing Amache: The story begins

Angela Rueda

My name is Anika Cook.  I'm an anthropology student at the University of Denver (DU).  DU is conducting a field school at Camp Amache.  The project is focused on researching, interpreting, and preserving the tangible history of Amache, one of ten WWII-era Japanese American internment camps.

We are a team of students, professors, and volunteers attending field school this summer at Amache, and the Amache Museum in Granada, Colorado. We’re led by Bonnie Clark, Associate Professor; Curator of Archaeology, DU Museum of Anthropology.  Some of the volunteers were interned here as children, some are descendants of people who were interned.  We’re all here to learn about life at Amache.

As we start excavation, I’m drawn to the contrasts the people had to experience.  The high plains of southeastern Colorado are full of sage brush, cactus, yucca, and native grasses, but rarely beautiful and intricate gardens. The Japanese Americans were a people used to the beautiful gardens.  Most internees were from the West Coast, and this had to feel like a harsh desert.  They made this land home for three years.  They created beautiful gardens whose remnants can still be seen.

To this day throughout block 7H, the strength of the people interned at Amache shines through. For example, while surveying, our crew found gardens in front of every barrack and around the mess hall and bathhouse-- evidence of the work put in to beautify the landscape.  We’ve also discovered a possible ofuro, a traditional Japanese bath, that we are continuing to explore and will begin excavating shortly.

These treasures of someone's work and life never failed to amaze me. Their ability to preserve and build what they needed, like a rug beater out of springs and some scrap metal, or shovels out of large metal cans and some wood. We continued to find cans with holes in the bottom throughout the gardens, plant pots maybe, all while navigating around the downed trees that internees nurtured and grew in this barren land. Nowadays out on the site, we thank them for work they did and for the shade they provide as we look at what was left behind.  Their ingenuity shines through today, in the mop covered in tar to help seal their barracks better from the elements, in a handmade clay marble, and in all the modified objects they made to work for what they needed.