Wild Horses and Heart Mountain Internment Camp

Yeah, I know, weird title, but it was that kind of day. After seeing the dam we still had a couple of hours to kill before the 4pm pickup for Jack so on the advice of some folks Lee works with we headed East from Cody on HWY 14. Lisa and Rob had seen wild horses between MM 74 & 75 so we thought why not. Back in 2018 we visited the Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corral and were very impressed by how the BLM manages these precious resources.

Turns out the McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Management Area is pretty big but its also pretty arid so the horses could be anywhere. We were lucky enough to see some horses off in the distance between 74 and 75 so we decided to turn around and go on a BLM road into the area. I want to caution you here that without four wheel drive I definitely wouldn’t recommend the side roads, but this particular road we are on we learned is used by pipeline inspectors so the main road was gravel but well maintained.

Unfortunately most of the horses stayed pretty far from the main road, but the road itself was really beautiful. It reminded us both of Utah and although a pipeline was under the area the only way you would know that was the occasional sign. We were really out in the middle of nowhere but we saw a couple of people and they told us if we kept going we would hit another highway so we continued on getting pretty close to one horse along the way.

The last horse we saw looked pretty thin, but Lee thought it was probably OK. Resources are scarce in these desert conditions which is why the BLM carefully manages the population. It was a really cool drive and when we came out on 14A we headed back towards Cody. In a little while we were surprised to see a Japanese Internment Camp Museum in the middle of a huge field. We have passed by several of these in our travels but never seen one that was open so we stopped at Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Site.

We had about 15 minutes before they closed so we skipped the movie and headed straight into the museum. First I had to use the restroom and was surprised that they had mirrors in the stalls. There was no privacy in the interment camp in the restrooms and they wanted to simulate that.

The displays were very well done and many of the quotes were first hand accounts by the children that were there. One thing I did find confusing was the reference to the Issei, Nisei, and Kibei. In our hurry I had missed the display that explained these were generational terms. The Issei were immigrants from Japan, Nisei were first generation American citizens, and the Kibei were second generation who were sent back to Japan for schooling. These groups were treated very differently and since the Nisei and Kibei were younger this went against the Japanese traditions of elders being community leaders.

The governor of Wyoming did not want the Japanese in the Cody area and only accepted them after a personal appeal by Dwight Eisenhower under the condition that they leave the area immediately after the war was over. The local towns gave many of them trouble as well refusing to serve the Japanese in town or even in some cases physically attacking those found outside the camp. One major exception to this was the largely Mormon town of Lovell who openly supported them.

It was an odd mix of rules and restrictions in and around the camp. Some people were allowed to work outside the camp while others were punished for something as simple as sledding on a hill outside the wires. They had their own newspaper and camera club, but they were also ill equipped for the weather and crammed into small spaces with no privacy. Some young men had the opportunity to serve in the war and gain their freedom, but those that refused were prosecuted for draft evasion which is pretty crazy when you think about it. They were being treated as prisoners of war.

When the camps closed things got really difficult. Most of the detainees had lost their homes and businesses and although some had made wages as laborers they were minimal. Many people literally had no place to go and the state wanted them out as soon as possible. Thankfully the Quakers stepped in and helped relocate many of the families back east. They ended up spread all across the country and their lives were irrevocably changed. The children in particular were left from the scars of that experience although many (like George Takei from Star Trek) went on to have successful careers.

I am really glad we stopped but after seeing the Plains Indian Museum and then this I wasn’t feeling really great about our country to be honest. Still not all history is good history and Lee and I both think it is important to not focus on the sanitized version of our history.

We went and picked up Jack and then had a looong three hour drive back. It was an extremely long and jam packed day but I am really glad we got to experience it. Many people spend the night when they visit Cody which might be a better way to go but we made it work for us.

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