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The Japanese Agricultural Colony at Keetley, Wasatch County
Lesson
From War to war

UTAH aND THE COLD WAR

World War I and Utah
Utah's Capitols
Herbert S. Auerbach, Renaissance Man
Utah's "Ugly Duckling" Salt Flats
Publicizing Bryce Canyon
The Last Indian Uprising
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Some 80 Utah Nurses Served in World War I
World War I Heroine Maud Fitch Lived in Eureka, Utah
Mexican Families and the Sugar Industry in Garland
The Development of Zion National Park
The Twenties
Artist John Held, Jr. Created Cultural Icons, 1920's
Media Development in Weber County
Silent Films Intrigued & Occasionally Offended
Coal Production Amid the Wars
Sheep Fueled 1920's Economy
Military Installations
Boxcars and Section Houses
Jack Dempsey Loved Fighting, Mining, and Cowboying
Radio in Utah Began in May 1922 on Station KZN
The Cigarette Ban of the 19020's Caused an Uproar
Prohibition Failed to Stop the Liquor Flow in Utah
Lawyer Ran For President on the Farmer-Labor Ticket
George Sutherland Served on the U.S. Supreme Court
Alice Stratton Feared and Made Fun of "Kaiser Bill"
Klansmen at a Funeral and a Terrible Lynching
President Harding's 1923 Visit to Utah
Growing Crops For the Cannery
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"Even Grasshoppers Were Starving" During Drought
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"Alphabet" Agencies in Utah County
The Civilian Conservation Corps Was a Boon to Utah
The Civilian Conservation Corps
Marriner S. Eccles Helped Design FDR's New Deal
Reed Smoot and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, 1930
Reed Smoot & America's Natural Resources, 1903-33
Children in the 1930's Hoped to Become Nurses & Pilots
Arches National Monument
A Labor Inspector During the Great Depression
Clean Clothes Blowing in the Breeze
Utah's Rosies in the War
Garfield County Airport Has Unusual Hangar
Marie Ogden Led Spiritual Group in San Juan County
Uinta Basin Group Trekked to the 1933 World's Fair
Helen Hofmann Bertagnole-"Utah's Queen of Swing"
World War II in Utah
How Trains Helped Win a War
The War Effort at Home
Topaz Relocation Center
Topaz: Japanese American Interned in UT During WWII
Japanese Agricultural Colony at Keetley
Utahn Survives the Attack at Pearl Harbor
The USS Salt Lake City Made History
Utah Naval Officer Died a Hero's Death at Pearl Harbor
Rhymes Filled Children's Autograph Books
Utah's Rosies Upshot
Women Workers and Housing Issues
World War II Claimed the Lives of Four Utah Brothers

Jeffrey D. Nichols
History Blazer, June 1995

The story of the Japanese internment camps during World War II at Topaz, Millard County, and elsewhere is generally well known. A lesser-known story is that of Keetley Farms, an agricultural colony of "voluntarily" relocated Japanese Americans situated roughly halfway between Park City and Heber City.

The move to Keetley took place against a background of widespread anti-Japanese sentiment after the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941. Thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry found themselves the object of suspicion and hatred. The immediate concern of other Americans was the possibility of sabotage, but California especially had a long history of prejudice against Japanese immigrants. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 authorizing the removal of 110,000 Japanese, U.S. citizens and aliens, from the West Coast to the interior in February 1942. The military authorities in California, headed by Lt. Gen. J. L. DeWitt, did not initially have the resources to move the Japanese, so for a brief time DeWitt encouraged voluntary relocation. Although some 10,000 Japanese indicated their desire to move voluntarily, less than 5,000 were able to do so; the rest could not leave their homes so quickly. Many encountered hostility during their exodus from the coast and had no chance of employment at the end of their journey.

A prosperous Oakland produce dealer named Fred Isamu Wada, whose wife Masako was from Ogden, decided to visit Utah to investigate possible areas for relocation for himself and other California Japanese. Duchesne County authorities attempted to attract the Japanese as agricultural laborers, but Wada decided that eastern Utah was too remote. Instead, he struck a bargain with Keetley mayor George Fisher, leasing land from him in exchange for a promise to bring Japanese to the area as farm labor.

Local reaction to the move was initially hostile. Although Utah residents were not as overtly anti-Japanese as Californians, few wanted Japanese living among them. The Park City newspaper, the Park Record, noted that the attacks on Hawaii and the Philippines had been meticulously planned, and that "all these dress rehearsals were supplemented by the most vicious and long-ranged fifth column activities that this war has yet seen." Fisher allayed local suspicions in an interview published in the Park Record three weeks later by swearing to the newcomers' loyalty and noting that the move had not cost Americans anything: "All evacuees brought to Utah by Mr. Fisher are American citizens, some of them second generation. According to Mr. Fisher, they came to Utah with no expense to state or federal governments, paying all travel expenses and freight charges on farm machinery themselves."

On March 26 Wada and a number of other families left Oakland for Utah. (Wada, incidentally, would lose all of his property in California). They left just in time; on March 30 General DeWitt "froze" the movement of all persons of Japanese ancestry in preparation for their forced relocation. Those coming to Keetley would, at any rate, have at least a greater measure of freedom than the internees. Wada established from the start that the community would be a cooperative, nonprofit venture, growing food for the American war effort.

When the snow melted on the Keetley property the new farmers were disappointed at the poor quality of the land. "Hell," Fred Wada later told an interviewer, "we had to move 50 tons of rocks to clear 150 acres to farm." Still, they went to work, repairing buildings, planting a large truck garden, and raising chickens, pigs, and goats. Eventually, the Keetley farmers would herd beef cattle and raise dairy cows as well. Once the farm was established, maintaining it was left to wives and children while many of the men worked as laborers in sugar beet fields and on surrounding farms.

Local hostility toward the Japanese manifested itself early in two incidents of dynamite throwing, fortunately with no injuries. Wada met with representatives of local trade unions in April 1942 to assure them that the Japanese were loyal American citizens and to tell them, "We are here to produce foodstuffs for victory." Relations quickly improved; many of the Japanese children attended school, either at Park City or Heber City, and the Keetley colonists adopted some American activities, including baseball. Several of them had relatives serving in the U.S. Army. The Keetley residents maintained close ties to the internees at Topaz; they made frequent visits there, and some internees furloughed to perform agricultural work came through Keetley.

At the war's end, about two-thirds of the Keetley residents returned to their homes in California after the last harvest. The others remained in Utah, scattering to a number of different communities. Fred Isamu Wada moved his family to the Los Angeles area where he prospered in the produce business for many years. As for Keetley, its destiny was to be covered by the rising waters of the Central Utah Project's Jordanelle Dam a half-century later.

See: Park Record and Wasatch Wave (Heber City) March/April 1942; Sandra C. Taylor, "Japanese Americans and Keetley Farms: Utah's Relocation Colony," Utah Historical Quarterly 54 (Fall 1986); Marilyn Curtis White, "Keetley, Utah: The Birth and Death of a Small Town," Utah Historical Quarterly 62 (Summer 1994)

 

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