Amache Relocation Center

Granada, Colorado

J.S. and S.W. Aber

Introduction and history

The Amache Relocation Center (also known as the Granada Relocation Center) was built and operated during World War II to house Japanese-Americans, who were forced to move from the west coast (mainly California) far inland to southeastern Colorado. In most cases, they had to sell their homes and businesses with short notice at prices far below market value, and their assets were frozen. Amache was in operation from August 1942 until October 1945. It reached a capacity of more than 7500 evacuees in October 1942 ( Timeline 2017), two-thirds of whom were American citizens. At this time, it was the tenth largest city in Colorado. In all, more than 10,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated there, as people came and went. Today Amache is a ghost town.

When the relocation center was first established, there was confusion between the center and the nearby town of Granada, so the name Amache was chosen for the relocation center post office. Amache was the daughter of Ochinee (Lone Bear), a Cheyenne chief (M. Tonai, pers. comm.). She married John C. Prowers, a prominent local rancher, for whom the county is named, Prowers County. Her father was subsequently killed in the Sand Creek Massacre, which took place about 40 miles to the north in 1864.

Amache is located on chalky uplands next to the Arkansas River valley close to the city of Granada. This is semi-arid High Plains country, which must have looked bleak to those who were forced to move here from the west coast. Most of the buildings were wood-frame structures erected on concrete foundations. The living quarters were arranged in blocks that contained 12 barracks, constructed with minimal walls and roofs, heated with coal-burning stoves, and floored with bricks set in dirt. The barracks had no insultation and no furniture—conditions were primitive. The center farms produced abundant food each year from irrigated fields in the Arkanasas valley, and surplus food was sent to other relocation centers. But the residents had to eat army-style meals in large mess halls.

The center was a small city with a hospital, post office, elementary and high schools, and stores. But, the center was surrounded with a fence, and guard towers were equiped with machine guns—the Japanese-Americans were virtual prisoners. Nonetheless, many young men volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army during the war, and they gained a reputation for their heroic efforts. Others were allowed to leave during the war for higher education, jobs, or to resettle in the U.S. interior or east, but the west coast was off limits until the end of the war.

Left: sketch map of Amache Relocation Center at the main entrance to the protected site. Locations given in photos below are keyed to this diagram. Note map shows south direction toward top. Right: prickly pear cactus in full bloom at Amache for Memorial Day 2007.

For several years we have driven by Amache on U.S. highway 50, on trips between Colorado and Kansas, and we have thought many times about conducting kite aerial photography (KAP). Finally we had good weather conditions for Memorial Day weekend 2007. On a brisk southeasterly breeze we flew our large rokkaku and took pictures with the Canon S70 camera rig. Elevation is approximately 3600 feet, almost the lowest point in Colorado. Following an exceptionally snowy winter and wet spring, wildflowers were blooming in profusion, which made working at this site particularly enjoyable. Still we had to watch our step to avoid yucca and cactus spines.

KAP oblique views
Left: overview from the middle of Amache (near the high school) looking toward the southeast. Trees have grown up around numerous building foundations. Right: view eastward on the south side showing the southeastern portion of the center. Blocks 11G (left) and 12G (right) are in the foreground.
Left: overview toward the northeast. Ruins of the high school are in the center foreground, and the city of Granada can be seen in the distant background. Right: closer view toward the northeast. The buildings in left background were part of the hospital complex according to the sketch map (above).
Left: northward overview. The high school (HS) and athletic field (AF) can be seen in the foreground, and crop fields occupy the Arkansas River valley in the far background. The co-op stores were located directly north (behind) the athletic field. Right: close-up view of the co-op stores site in the foreground.
Left: view westward along the southern margin of the center. Block 12E in left foreground, and the cemetery in right background. Cattle are grazing in the pasture in front of the cemetery. Right: authors conducting KAP from the southern margin of the center area, next to block 12G (left), which contained the Buddhist Church.

KAP vertical views
Left: detail showing foundations remaining in block 12F. Right: detail showing foundations remaining in block 12G.
Left: detail showing foundations remaining in blocks 11G (left) and 11E (right). Right: foundations of Amache High School. The high school was constructed for a cost of $301,000, a price that created a national controversy.

Amache was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, and much interest and activity have focused on the site since our KAP visit in 2007. The water tower, a guard tower, and a barracks building have been reconstructed, and archaeologic and preservation projects are underway at Amache ( Timeline 2017).


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Text and images © J.S. and S.W. Aber

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Last update: March 2018.