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Hidden History: Some at Hunt Camp enjoyed travel privileges

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James Watanabe leave document

James Watanabe's Citizen's Indefinite Leave card, issued by the U.S. War Relocation Authority, allowed him to leave the Minidoka Relocation Camp for work or education. The document was signed by Minidoka Assistant Project Director R.S. Davidson in 1943.

In all, 120,000 people of Japanese descent were ripped from their homes in California, Oregon and Washington after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. About 60% of these people were U.S. citizens and 14% were children under the age of 10.

Some 13,000 were imprisoned behind barbed wire at the Minidoka War Relocation Camp near Eden, one of 10 camps used to isolate these Japanese descendants who had been forcibly removed from the West Coast “military exclusion zone” and were considered a security risk by the U.S. government.

Some of the incarcerated were put to work in southern Idaho fields, replacing the many local boys and men who were fighting in World War II; others proved themselves “loyal” Americans and were allowed to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces.

But certain individuals were allowed to leave the camp in order to resettle.

On April 15, 1943, Minidoka Assistant Project Director R.S. Davidson signed James Watanabe’s Citizen’s Indefinite Leave card, allowing him to leave the camp — known locally as the Hunt Camp —for work or education. He was able to travel, but he wasn’t allowed to enter certain prohibited areas in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho Montana, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Alaska.

Watanabe was required to possess the card at all times in case others became suspicious, according to the Smithsonian Institution. His daughter Barbara is a museum specialist in the Anthropology Department of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Barbara Watanabe donated to the Smithsonian her father’s card and her grandmother’s wicker suitcase — the only thing her grandmother was allowed to take from her home before she and her son were put on a bus with other internees.

Mychel Matthews is the senior reporter for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and at If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at or call her at 208-735-3233.


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