We left Buffalo and traveled to Buffalo Bill State Park just outside of Cody. This is a nice state park and since we booked early we were able to get one of the few sites with electric and water hookup. We drove through three tunnels to get to the park which is located near the Buffalo Bill Dam.
We stopped by the Buffalo Bill Dam Visitors Center. Construction of the dam took place from 1905 to 1910. During the construction period several contractors went broke due to bad weather and floods hindering the work. Laborers refused to work for $2.50 for a ten hour day. When the U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Co. took over the project in 1906 the workers demanded and received $3.00 for an eight hour day. The original dam cost $929,658. At that time it was the tallest dam in the world. Subsequent projects for major canals, roads, bridges, buildings and land inundated by the reservoir waters cost $3.3 million. Through the years it has helped turn the arid high plains of the Big Horn Basin into one of Wyoming’s most fertile farming regions, irrigating over 93,000 acres.
In 1946 the name of the dam was changed from Shoshone to Buffalo Bill. In 1993 a $132 million dollar project which took seven years was completed. This raised the dam by 25 feet and added about 50% to the amount of water stored in the reservoir. With this addition came opportunities for more hydro-electricity generation, recreational activities such as boating and fishing.
Another day we made the short drive to the small town of Powell to see the Heart Mountain WWII Japanese American Confinement Site. Six weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which led to the forced removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. They were forced to leave everything behind except what they could carry in one suitcase. By August, the War Relocation Authority had constructed ten camps in remote, isolated locations. A total of 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated behind barbed wire. The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was one of those camps. From 1942 to 1945, a total of 14,025 people lived at Heart Mountain Relocation Center making it Wyoming’s third largest city. It was a city surrounded by barbed wire, guard towers and armed guards. Of the people kept there, seventy percent were American citizens having been born in the United States with thirty percent being born in Japan. These people had done nothing wrong, it was merely “guilt by association”. With most of the people being from California, they were not used to the cold, snowy Wyoming winters. In the summer it was hot and dusty with dust and dirt blowing in through cracks in the walls and under the doors. Besides leaving friends, jobs and possessions behind, the food was poor and they lived in uninsulated barracks with seven people to a room with no privacy. The bathrooms and showers were just large rooms. Later the Heart Mountain Relocation Center included a hospital, two grade schools and one high school, post office, fire and police systems, a judicial system, a newspaper printed in Cody, and a sewage treatment system. They developed a successful agricultural program to provide fresh food and had recreational programs including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
From 1942 to 1945, five hundred and fifty six babies were born, 148 people died, and 800 men and women served in the Armed Forces. Their allegiance to the United States was tested by placing them in their own infantry which ended up being one of the most decorated infantry of the war. Eight five protesters refused to serve the draft order. Sixty three were charged with resisting the draft and were sent to federal penitentiaries. They felt like they were merely trading one prison for another.
The Heart Mountain Relocation Center officially closed on November 10, 1945. They received a train ticket and $25 to begin their new lives. Some manages to rebuild their lives while others struggled and never recovered. In 1988, the federal government apologized calling it a result of wartime hysteria, racial prejudice and failure in political leadership.
Today the Heart Mountain Relocation Center has a museum with exhibits, photographs and oral histories of former residents. The barracks are all gone and a boiler house chimney on the hill is all that is left of the once 150 bed hospital. On the hill overlooking the museum is a memorial listing the names of the men and women from Heart Mountain who served in the U.S. military during WWII.
We really enjoyed our short time in Cody. There were things we didn’t have time to see and added Cody to our list of places we would like to return to someday.