Japanese American Incarceration in Grand County – An Overview

On February 17, the Moab Museum is hosting a public opening to our latest temporary exhibition, exploring the troubling story of Japanese Americans incarcerated at Dalton Wells, north of town in 1943. A Moab Prison Camp: Japanese American Incarceration in Grand County introduces the local and national story of Japanese American incarceration during WWII, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. 

Interior of the Dalton Wells Barracks, originally built as a Civilian Conservation Corps facility under Roosevelt’s New Deal.

A year later, in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the wartime incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, a majority of whom were US Citizens, in detention facilities across the country. People remained incarcerated for years: forced to live in crowded quarters, guarded at all times, and stripped of constitutional freedoms.

The Moab Isolation Center, located north of Moab at Dalton Wells, played a brief but significant role in the web of Japanese American incarceration facilities: a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp was transformed into a temporary prison camp for so-called “troublemakers” from other camps. In this exhibit, a tale of injustice and resilience unfolds via stories and objects, introducing the national context with Smithsonian’s Righting a Wrong poster exhibition and research conducted by Utah State Parks. 

This exhibit unpacks the nuanced terminology used during that era and following, inviting visitors to confront the usage of words like “relocation” versus “incarceration” and wrestle with the gravity of terms such as “concentration camp.” Through compelling narratives curated collaboratively with descendants and partners, A Moab Prison Camp illuminates the resilience and resistance exhibited by those imprisoned in Moab. It offers a broader exploration of the Japanese American experience during this tumultuous period in US history.

Harry Ueno, incarcerated at the Moab Prison Camp at Dalton Wells in 1943, pictured here with his sons. 

The community is invited to join us on Saturday, February 17th for a free public exhibit opening. From 10am-2pm we will be hosting a Scan and Share event in the Museum gallery. Staff from the Utah Historical Society will be here in the Museum’s galleries to help gather stories or artifacts related to the Moab Isolation Center at Dalton Wells where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII. 

The Moab Museum is dedicated to sharing stories of the natural and human history of the Moab area. To explore more of Moab’s stories and artifacts, find out about upcoming programs, and become a Member, visit www.moabmuseum.org.

This article originally appeared in the Moab Sun News in our weekly Moab History Column.