minidoka japanese internment camp guard house

Ghost town: The Minidoka Japanese internment camp in Idaho

by Michael on October 13, 2013

In February, 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed an Executive Order placing all people of Japanese ancestry into relocation centers. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had occurred only two months before; the two events were related. After the sneak attack wartime hysteria had reached a fever pitch and anyone of Japanese descent was considered a potential spy, even those who were American citizens.

Eventually over 110,000 people (about 2/3 of them American citizens) were sent to 10 camps that were sprinkled throughout the American West. The Minidoka Japanese internment camp, also known as Camp Hunt, was the largest with over 9,000 refugees; over a thousand of whom enlisted as soldiers to fight for America’s freedom. Many of the remaining detainees were used as farm labor.

By December, 1944 the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to hold American citizens as prisoners and the detainees were freed within weeks. They were given $25 and a train ticket home while Camp Hunt became Idaho’s largest ghost town.

minidoka japanese relocation center

 The wood barracks with tarpaper roofs were built quickly as temporary structures so few survive.

minidoka camp hunt relocation camp barracks

Along with the barracks there were schools, a camp store, library and administrative offices.

minidoka japanese internment camp barbed wire

Coils of rusty barbed wire that encircled the detainees still litter the landscape.

idaho landscape camp hunt

The setting along the North Side Canal bears a haunting beauty. On Sundays the detainees would sit along its banks and talk of home. (Thanks to reader Andrew for correcting the name of the canal.)

Looking back on it the wartime hysteria against Japanese seems so arbitrary. We were also at war with Italy and my mother and grandparents were Italian. If a similar hysteria had overtaken the East Coast would they too have been relocated to an internment camp along with German-Americans?

A placard at the camp entrance states:

“May these camps serve to remind us what can happen when other factors supersede the constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens and aliens living in this country.”

Visitor information for the Minidoka internment camp

Be aware that the internment camp is not near the town of Minidoka, Idaho which is 50 miles east of it. Rather it is 15 miles east of Jerome and 15 miles north of Twin Falls. Camp Hunt is now a National Historic Site as part of the National Park Service. The remote location is wide open and unstaffed. Interpretive signs explain the activities at the internment camp during World War II. On most days you may find yourself the only visitor there.

Web Site:  Minidoka Internment Camp

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Cat of Sunshine and Siestas October 13, 2013 at 7:15 am

I think it’s amazing that I learned very little about these internment camps in American History classes – it’s almost a precursor to McCarthy and the Red Scare, just on a crueler level. Your pictures make it seem extremely lonely.

Michael October 15, 2013 at 10:38 am

I don’t remember learning about it when I was a kid but I think that has changed in schools now.

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures October 13, 2013 at 9:51 am

Wow it does look like a haunted place!

Helen Anne Travis October 13, 2013 at 11:37 am

Great post and pictures. What a fascinating and spooky spot.

Michael October 24, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Thanks Helen,

Sheri June 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I grew up in this area, it is truely a beautiful spot…not at all spooky! Many of the barracks have been converted into housing and still stand through out the Hunt area. Just north of Eden and Hazelton Idaho. My dad ranch –“Grant Galloways” is in this area, the house, barn and shop areas are old barracks. Southern Idaho is desert country but in this desert is amazingly beauty too.

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren October 14, 2013 at 1:21 am

I’m actually visiting Idaho next year and would be very interested in visiting this place. Thanks for sharing!

Happy travels 🙂

Michael October 15, 2013 at 10:36 am

Glad to be of assistance. Make sure to go to Craters of the Moon nearby too and if you are really into geeky sites you can see the world’s first nuclear reactor.

Aktar October 19, 2013 at 2:27 am

This is place is best suitable for shooting horror movies……….

Patti October 24, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Interesting post about a harsh time in our country’s history.

Billy October 25, 2013 at 11:17 am

If you come to Idaho be sure to visit the Craters of the Moon National Park nearby. It’s beautiful in it’s own way.

Jacob October 25, 2014 at 10:04 pm

I live ruphly 3 miles from this place it’s really amazing to go there this place is forgotten on the map one of the tourist spots that is not on the map

Michael June 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Hi Sheri,

Thanks for your firsthand knowledge of the area. It is a striking landscape.

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