Fort Stanton (Old Raton Ranch)

Fort Stanton

In late January of 1942, 32 Japanese residents of Clovis, New Mexico, were uprooted from their homes and sent to an isolated, little-known confinement camp near Fort Stanton, called the Old Raton Ranch. The Clovis residents included the families of ten Japanese who were employed by the Santa Fe Railroad (primarily as machinists with top seniority), and who had arrived in the town between 1919 and 1922. In 1922 there was a union-led walkout and strike by the railroad shopmen that the Japanese workers refused to join. This contributed to ill feelings on the part of the Anglo workers and in turn, the railroad company favored the Japanese—they had a reputation as excellent workers who caused no trouble. Prior to World War II, the Japanese workers and their families lived rent free in a cluster of one-story buildings that were located 75 yards east of the roundhouse. Although the Japanese were largely isolated, the children attended local schools and some townspeople visited the compound to purchase fresh vegetables and items the families had imported from Japan.

Sketch of Japanese housing at Santa Fe railroad in Clovis, Courtesy of Roy Ebihara
On December 7, 1941, Santa Fe Railway Superintendent W. R. Harrison met with Clovis company officials. He also called the Anglo shop workers together and reported to his bosses in Chicago that the workers had expressed anger and resentment toward the Japanese. Harrison told the Japanese “to lay off work and to stay close to their quarters.” These corporate decisions made in response to a local crisis were the first steps of the eventual removal of the families to a confinement camp. 

In addition to the actions of Harrison, in general the railroads, mines, and other industries that employed “enemy aliens” had turned quickly to the FBI to obtain advice on what to do about their Japanese workers in the face of restrictions being imposed. Within hours, for instance, the White House ordered that enemy aliens were not to board trains or be close to “vital facilities” like rail yards. Yet the FBI and the military also told the companies and local authorities that “no publicity” should be given to these actions. The outward impression was that corporate executives were making these tough decisions on their own, while vague and evolving federal policies were actually in play. Therefore, while “local factors” were certainly important to what happened in Clovis and elsewhere, the government was probably much more involved than previously identified.

On January 19, 1942, the government sent four U.S. border patrolmen to Clovis to assume control of the situation. They arrived in town that evening and, according to one of them, found the families “huddled in their compound . . . , very muchly [sic] in fear for their lives.” He added that the railroad felt the Japanese workers could not be employed in “vital war industry” because of the “extreme danger of sabotage.” Protective guard was established for the next four days as a solution was sought, and on January 23, the Japanese people were “taken into custody and evacuated from Clovis.” An Albuquerque paper added several days later, and the remembrance of at least one detainee confirms, that the Clovis Japanese went to a “concentration camp” near Fort Stanton, transported in government cars.

They arrived at the Fort Stanton Military Reservation, a detention camp for some 400 German non-combatant detainees, at around 7:00 a.m. on January 24th. It was soon decided that Fort Stanton would not suffice and that the detainees would be moved to an abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps camp twelve miles away, known as Old Raton Ranch. The Japanese families spent almost a year there in harsh and extremely isolated conditions. The fourteen-acre camp had nine buildings, two electric generators, abundant water, and no fences or security guards, but it also had an inadequate sewage disposal system and was in a general state of disrepair. No government money was spent on camp repairs, but the Japanese used materials on hand to improve their conditions, and by June they were managing a thriving garden with many different vegetables flourishing.