March 4 is Idaho Day, the day Idahoans commemorate the establishment of Idaho Territory by President Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1863. Former State Representative Linden Bateman, a dedicated history enthusiast from Idaho Falls, convinced the Legislature to designate the 4th of March each year as the day to celebrate the birth of our great State. What a great idea!
The theme of Idaho Day this year is “My Town Idaho.” When Linden suggested I write an Idaho Day column, I wondered what could be said about Eden, my hometown in the Magic Valley. After all, it only had 456 people when I was growing up — according to the sign as you entered town. And, I was never sure how it got its name. Was there really a garden involved?
On the other hand, Eden served as the springboard for Terrel Bell, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education for President Reagan from 1981 to 1984. He began his teaching career at Eden High School in 1946. I started grade school across the street in 1948. Bell is credited with convincing President Reagan not to do away with the U.S. Department of Education.
My father, Henry Jones, put Eden on the map for a number of years — operating the largest cattle-feeding operation in the area at that time. He was well known as a man of his word in all of his dealings, often paying above market price for cattle feed. He was a great example.
But Eden played a role in the larger world. In 1942, the federal government shamefully set up a camp that imprisoned about 9,000 people of Japanese ancestry for the duration of World War II. It was known locally as the Hunt Camp and located about 6 miles northwest of Eden, as the crow flies.
Over 60 percent of the people incarcerated in what was officially called the Minidoka War Relocation Center were U.S. citizens, but that did not make any difference. President Roosevelt was advised that these folks did not pose a security threat, but that did not make any difference, either.
War hysteria, much of it whipped up by demagogues and pandering politicians, overcame common sense and decency. It goes to show the power of fear-driven policy, especially where an easily identifiable group of people is the target.
These loyal Americans were housed in drafty tar-paper barracks. It is interesting that this and other such concentration camps produced a crop of patriotic young soldiers who fought and died for the country that was incarcerating their families at home. William Nakamura, who enlisted from the Hunt Camp in 1943, died fighting for the United States near Castellina, Italy, on the Fourth of July, 1944. The Congressional Medal of Honor, recognizing his extraordinary heroism, was awarded to his family on June 21, 2000 — 56 years later.
Idaho citizens have come to recognize the injustice visited on these good people. Governor Brad Little issued a proclamation on Feb. 18 to remember those who were incarcerated at what is now known as the Minidoka National Historic Site.
There is little left at the site nowadays. In the late 40s and early 50s, there were still quite a few of the decrepit tar-paper buildings located there. Most were moved off-site to serve as houses or outbuildings for veterans who homesteaded the Hunt Project. I think some of them were used at the Eden schools as auxiliary buildings.
On April 17, 1952, CBS Radio (for younger readers, there was no TV to speak of and almost everyone listened to the radio stations for their news) was at the Hunt Camp to conduct a national broadcast of Farm-In-A-Day. A farmstead was built pretty much in one day by 1,500 volunteers, who constructed a house, corrals, and outbuildings for a military veteran and his family. There were reportedly 11,000 spectators, including me and the Schutte boys, Jim and Burton. It was a big deal.
So, in light of all that, maybe Eden was not such small potatoes in the eyes of the Potato State. Actually, it was a great place to grow up — a nice little town and wonderful people. Happy birthday to our dear State and its remarkable people, especially the good people of and from Eden.