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Amache Archaeology Collection

Connecting the Pieces: Dialogues on the Amache Archaeology Collection Online Exhibit  


Stone, 4'' wide. Found in Block 7H.


Imagine you have one week to gather the things that are most important to you and relocate to an internment camp. What would you bring? Archaeologists have revealed that the answer to this question may surprise you. A type of natural glass created by volcanic action, obsidians carry trace elements specific to their source. Behind one of the barracks at Amache, archaeologists found this piece of obsidian that sources back to Glass Mountain, Siskiyou County, California.

This piece is thought to have functioned as a part of an extensive garden that wrapped all the way around the outside of the barrack. You may think raw obsidian looks pretty unremarkable, but once its outer covering is removed, it becomes a beautiful piece of shiny black stone. It took a great deal of skill and time to create this worked obsidian and must have been valued by its collector.

- Missy O 'Doherty, DU Student Curator

Personal Reflection

Amache Gardening Evolves

One of the first tasks of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) was to find concentration camp sites for the over 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry removed from the west coast. So that farming programs at the camps could be successful, the agency chose sites based on existing irrigation projects or agricultural potential. Privately owned farms and ranches were purchased or condemned to establish Amache. The WRA purchased water rights from Lamar, Marvel, and the XY canals, and used the Arkansas River, 2.5 miles to the north of the central camp area, to water some fields. At its height, Amache agriculture was successful enough to supply Amache as well as other WRA camps.

With water available, the Amache internees transformed a harsh environment to one that reflected their culture by planting trees, constructing ponds, and growing victory gardens. Entryway gardens for individual barrack apartments helped break up the institutional monotony. The gardens demonstrate how internees progressed from an attitude of acceptance and resignation – 'it cannot be helped' (shikata ga nai)—to one that showed "perseverance and fortitude," or gaman. Thomas Shigekuni, whose family lived in Block 12G at Amache, remembers planting trees at the camp with his brother Henry. Before the war, their family was in the nursery business in Los Angeles. They were familiar with how the Chinese Elm goes dormant in the winter thus helping it withstand harsh winters. Henry was granted permission to go to Lamar to purchase Chinese Elms for $.50 each. He bought enough 6' trees for his family and other residents of his block.

He also purchased peat moss to ensure the successful transplanting that resulted in most of the trees still standing today. Through oral histories, we know some plants were purchased in nearby towns. Excavations also reveal that Amache's gardeners transplanted local vegetation like yucca, asters, wildflowers, and purslane into their gardens. Other plants were grown from seeds brought with internees or purchased from mail order catalogues. Stones, a common feature of traditional Japanese gardens, added pleasing, aesthetic and cultural elements. Many of the stones archaeologist have found in Amache's gardens were gathered locally, but others, like this one, were brought to camp from some distance. The rock in this garden, could be a keepsake of a meaningful event prior to incarceration and a symbol of hope for the future.

- Millie Kenko Morimoto King, Sansei (third generation Japanese American), incarcerated at Rohwer with parents, aunts and uncles incarcerated at Tule Lake

worked obsidian: an amache mystery

 Through analysis of trace elements, archaeologists know this stone originally came from an extinct volcano high in the Sierra Mountains of California, Glass Mountain. Most of the residents of Block 7H where this stone was found, lived in California, but about 300 miles south. Glass Mountain is about 30 miles from Tule Lake, another WRA camp. Beginning in the Fall of 1943, hundreds of incarcerees from Tule Lake were transferred to Amache. Just like the Amache internees, they may have picked up beautiful stones such as this on their excursions away from the California camp.

How did this object make its way to Amache? Ainsley Hana King and Peter Austin Knoblauch, whose family were interned at Rohwer, Manzanar, and Tule Lake, wrote these books presenting two different scenarios to help us imagine its journey.

Ainsley's Story

Peter's Story


Elementary school children landscaping outside the school barrack. Older children created the garden designs.
Photograph by Joseph McClelland. Courtesy of the Amache Preservation Society.


Improvements in common areas saw trees planted/transplanted between barracks and around mess halls, construction of ponds, several vegetable Victory Gardens, and more decorative entryway gardens.
Photograph by Joseph McClelland.

Courtesy of the Amache Preservation Society.

Left: Peter Austin Knoblauch, Community Curator. Left center: Millie Kenko Morimoto King, Community Curator. Right center: Missy O'Doherty, DU Student Curator. Right: Ainsley Hana King, Community Curator.