Heart Mountain geological formation of  is part of the Absaroka Range and a uniquely shaped rugged crest in northern Wyoming.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is part of the National Historic Landmarks Program and included in the National Park Service and is extremely well done. 

Located near Cody and Powell it’s due east of Yellowstone Park. In early to mid-summer, luscious green fields and hazel rolling hills lead up to it. You can see the rise of Heart Mountain above the other ridges whether you’re driving on Route 72 from Red Lodge, Montana or on Route 14 between the two Wyoming towns. You can hike and camp nearby, enjoying the great outdoors.

Dramatic Wyoming Sky from Heart Mountain Internment Camp
Dramatic Wyoming Sky from Heart Mountain Internment Camp

Internment Camp Information>Japanese Americans arriving at Heart Mountain because of FDR’s Executive Order 9066 weren’t there for the pleasure of being outdoors.

At its peak, the Heart Mountain internment camp held 10,000 people. Think of that scope in comparison with your community, where you grew up, or the high school/college you attended. The camp formed Wyoming’s third largest city, not closing until two months after the end of World War II.<

In all, 120,000 Japanese Americans were detained in camps scattered across the USA. The 1940 census showed that 127,000 persons of Japanese heritage lived in the USA. That only 7,000 people avoided being incarcerated is something to ponder.

Buildings of the Center

Childhood Learning About World War II Internment Camps

As a child, learning about the camps, I was shocked, appalled that our government would do this to our citizens. It went against everything that I knew about our country at that time. My parents were too young for WWII. Dad lost an beloved Uncle as a result of injuries at Normandy). They explained the retaliation was in the context of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a gut reaction to what the Japanese government did against every person of that heritage in the USA.

Heart Mountain Exhibits are Compelling

The disparity of, “Incarceration in Focus, A Comparative Look at the Photographs of Ansel Adams and Yoshio Okumoto,” was striking. Adams, hired by the government to document camp life. His film shows life with a party atmosphere of smiling people, games, adequate housing and food. Okumoto’s provide a clearer idea of what this concentration camp, as they were called at the time, was really like.

Room setup typify the dwellings of families or barracks for groups of single adults. My college dorm room may have been larger than some. Several original camp buildings are onsite. As you tour, keep in mind these were mostly tar paper shacks in Wyoming where winters are anything but gentle.

It’s touching to read about how life continued for these people. There were marriages, births, deaths, celebrations, organizations, a weekly newspaper. They made something from their situation. Imagine not knowing when internment might end. Or what, if anything, they would find of their homes and former lives when it did.

Like the Tuskegee Airmen achievements, The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, won many decorations in the war. Learning about what they did despite the restricting circumstances is remarkable. For additional facts about Japanese-heritage (Nisei, meaning American born Japanese) serviceman, see their website. Their’s is a remarkable story of patriotism and heroism despite prejudice.

Read “Life in Camp

An article’s title is eye-catching, “My Only Crime is My Face,” written by Mary Oyama. Even without the content, isn’t that headline enough to make anyone rethink their prejudices? Find startling, “The Powell Tribune, which had first reported in a surprised tone that the new farm helpers ‘talked good English,’….” Had no one explained that these were American citizens being detained? Another poignant sentence, “I couldn’t help but reflect that the only true democracy there is is the democracy of childhood—before a child’s mind is contaminated by the prejudices of adults.”

With our social media-drenched world, it’s hard to think of a time when TVs in every home were rarities. The news reached people via radios, newspapers and word of mouth.

In that vein, there are two videos worth watching:

Please view the Tom Brokaw video filmed when he was on hand for the 75th anniversary August 2017.

An enduring and celebratory friendship still exists between Norman Mineta and Alan Simpson. Simpson belonged to the Boy Scouts in Cody who went to meet with the Boy Scout troop at the camp. Decades later, with both men serving in the US House of Representatives, they co-sponsored The Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Touring Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

Heart Mountain is both a lovely piece of landscape and a heart-wrenching bit of American history that can teach many Heart Mountain is a lovely piece of landscape revealing heart-wrenching history that can teach generations about keeping an open heart.

Location: address is Powell, Wyoming, it equal distance between Cody (with an airport) and Powell.

There are seasonal hours, so check the website before going.<br>

Admission: $7 adults, $5 for students and seniors

Length: Allow at least two hours including the 15 minute film and the outside walking tour.


Read: Sights of Wyoming