Photo Essay: Colorado’s Amache Concentration Camp

On August 27, 1942 the Amache concentration camp opened its doors to thousands of Japanese Americans who had been uprooted from their lives in California and transported to the remote, windswept plains of Colorado. For the next three years, Amache incarcerates endured weather extremes that ranged from freezing winter snow to summertime heat and dust storms.

With 7,318 residents at its peak, Amache was the 10th largest city in Colorado during World War II, but the smallest of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps. Located within walking distance from the town of Granada, Amache residents enjoyed access to services, commodities, and employment opportunities not available at the other WRA camps. Evidence unearthed during archaeological studies of Amache, including an abalone shell from the Granada Fish Market and swizzle sticks from a local bar, bear witness to the close ties between Amache and its neighboring town.

The higher morale afforded by this relative freedom is evident in photographs of Amache. This visual record has been greatly enhanced by the photographs of George Ochikubo, who—along with his family—was relocated from Portland, Oregon and incarcerated at Amache from 1942 through 1945. While there, Ochikubo used his 4×5 speed graphic camera to take hundreds of striking photographs of the camp’s residents, industries, recreational activities, built environments, and natural surroundings. His photos have an almost cinematic quality: carefully constructed shots that skillfully employ shadow and depth to heighten drama, while also displaying intimacy with the people and places he captured through his lens.

In this photo essay, Ochikubo’s photos are paired with family collections as well as photos from the WRA archives to provide a glimpse into everyday life at the Amache concentration camp.

Approaching sand storm, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.

Lightning in Amache, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.

Arrival of Japanese Americans transferring from Tule Lake, ca. 1942-1945. Catherine Ludy Collection.

Original WRA caption: “Granada Relocation Center, Amache, Colorado. Harvesting the first spinach from the project farm,” June 1943. National Archives and Records Administration Collection. In 1943 alone, inmate farmers produced approximately 4 million pounds of vegetables, over 50,000 bushels of field crops, as well as successfully raising a wide range of livestock. Not only did the farms of Amache make the camp self-sufficient for many foodstuffs, but surplus was sent to other WRA camps.

Shipment of goods from Japan, February 1944. George Ochikubo Collection.

Summer carnival, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.

High school typing class, Amache High School, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.

Elementary school children, ca. 1942-1945. James G. Lindley Collection

Dental check-up, ca. 1942-1945. Catherine Ludy Collection.

Original WRA caption: “Granada Relocation Center, Amache, Colorado. It is a long time between meals at the mess hall for a hungry man, so the cracker box at the Kobayashi barracks gets a frequent raiding,” December 1942. National Archives and Records Administration Collection.

Playing basketball, ca. 1942-1945. James G. Lindley Collection.

Namiye Kinoshita playing in the snow, ca. 1943-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.

Walking on a snow-covered street, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.

Memorial service for Amache servicemen killed in action, ca. 1944-1945. George Ochikubo Collection. Amache had the highest rate of military volunteerism of all the camps. A total of 953 men and women from Amache volunteered or were drafted for military service during WWII. Of this number, 105 were wounded and 31 killed in action.

Gravesite, October 1945. National Archives and Records Administration Collection.

Guard tower, 1944. George Ochikubo Collection.

Read more about the Amache concentration camp in the Densho Encyclopedia.

Browse through more of George Ochikubo’s photographs, as well as other Amache images and documents, in the Densho Digital Repository.

Natasha Varner, Densho Communications Manager

7 Comments
    • 03/09/2015 at 1:00

    The gravesite picture (second to last photo) is reversed. The kanji and kana are backwards.

    • 03/09/2015 at 5:27

    The food from Japan came via the Swedish Exchange Ship Gripsholm, who had brought American (including U.S. Diplomats from Japan in exchange for Japanese Diplomats and Repatriates from the U.S. and Peru. The tubs contained Shoyu and I believe the packages were Tea.

    The photo of the Typing Class is misidentified. All in the photo are girl students. The credits are men, except one. Mits Omoto was a male Woodworking teacher. George Yonemura was a male student, who graduated Winter 1945. Harry Williams was a Science teacher. Martha Murakami was a high school student, who graduated in Summer 1945, but does not seem to be in the photo.

    Playing in the snow, is Namiye Kinoshita.

    The photo of the Grave Site is printed backwards. You can tell by the Japanese on the Grave Marker.

    • 03/09/2015 at 5:59

    Was surprised to see myself in the photo of the elementary school children of Amache (back row, second from left).

  1. Natasha Varner
    • 11/09/2015 at 17:40

    Thank you for the comments and additional information. We’ve updated the caption for the typing class and the girl playing in the snow. Unfortunately, the version of the Grave Site print that we have in our archive is printed in reverse, so we don’t have access to a correct printing.

  2. Natasha Varner
    • 11/09/2015 at 17:40

    Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, the version of the Grave Site print that we have in our archive is printed in reverse, so we don’t have access to a correct printing.

    • 21/02/2016 at 2:26

    The young boy with crackers is my late cousin Don Kobayashi. I thought it looked like him, and knew he was in Amache. I was grateful that the caption included that he was at the Kobayashi barrack to confirm my suspicion.

    • 31/10/2017 at 17:34

    I grew up in Granada and always took for granted that the camp was there, I am happy to see the attention it is getting and the history being brought forth for us to learn about it’s history – thank you

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