Jessica Ross

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Japanese American Miners
Jessica Ross

Mining in Wyoming during WWII

During World War II, racial tension was dramatically increased and the tension between diverse races became significant. Because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, all Japanese, Italian, and Germans residing in Rock Springs, Wyoming and surrounding areas were forced to register with local authorities. The first people to register were Japanese miners. After the registration all the Japanese were being encouraged to stay at home and avoid public places. Besides being forced to register, Italian, German, and Japanese immigrants were also required to attain certificates of identification. On February thirteenth, an article was published in Rock Springs Daily, saying, "… all Japanese national employed by the Union Pacific Railroad in the area were dismissed…" Because these men lived in homes provided by their occupation, when they were fired, they lost their homes as well.

The Japanese that were working in the coal mines at that time were allowed to keep their jobs, but those working for the railroad were fired. Throughout World War II, the Japanese in southwest Wyoming contributed by mining and processing coal. At that time, coal was the main fuel used to fire Union Pacific's locomotives. The trains were an essential locomotive because they provided transportation for men going off to war and various war materials to the pacific coast. Japanese miners, both male and female, worked in and around the coal mines in Wyoming to provide fuel for the Union Pacific Railroad.

The only recorded death occurred as a result of an accident in the coal mine. One of the Japanese workers claim that Tom Kawaguchi had gotten killed when he was in the tipple and fell inside the conveyor, which caused him to go through the crusher. Tom Kawaguchi was the only Japanese that was working in the mines that was killed. The tipple was a loading and handling facility used to process the coal from the Reliance mines and was a relatively modern facility for the time, and capable of loading five railroad cars at one time. Tom Kawaguchi was a single male and was seventy one years old when he died in the Reliance tipple. The death of Tom Kawaguchi was a significant death because it reflects the contributions immigrants made to the coal industry, not only in Wyoming, but all over America during World War II.

Life in Wyoming during the 1930s and early 1940s was not the most desirable. The housing lacked heating but it did provide comforts for the residents. Because the houses were built so quickly, the people that were living in them complained about snow and dust blowing in through the structure. Because there were always excessive amounts of dust in the streets from the mines, mining towns in southeast Wyoming are commonly remembered for the brown and black film that covered everything, including cooking utensils and bedding.

The contributions of the Japanese immigrants were needed in Wyoming during WWII. Many veterans still live in Rock Springs, Wyoming today who can recall the war years. The war touched them as it has touched all Americans. Mining was a very significant part of Wyoming's history during World War II and without it; it would have been a very significant issue to transport men and supplies off to war.