Thursday, October 29, 2020

Fort Lincoln (1895-1941), Fort Lincoln Internment Camp (1941-1946), Bismarck, North Dakota.

Fort Lincoln was first established as a military post in 1895 to replace Fort Yates, following the closure of the original Fort Abraham Lincoln on the west side of the Missouri River in 1891. During the interwar period, it was a training site for units of the 7th Corps Area.
Fort Lincoln Main Gate.
In 1941 the U.S. Justice Department turned Fort Lincoln into an Internment Camp for people the government deemed enemy aliens during the beginnings of WWII. The fort’s new purpose came as a shock when it was announced in April that the fort and several other military posts would be housing foreign seamen who were taken from their ships and detained as belligerents in World War II – even though the U.S. was still neutral at this point.
Fort Lincoln Buildings.
Despite protests, a detachment of Border Patrol officers and immigrant inspectors arrived in Bismarck to begin preparing the proposed detention camp. They did most of the work themselves, the local Work Projects Administration (WPA) administrator proving to be totally hostile to the establishment of a detention camp.

The detainment camp was to ultimately house 2,000 people, which would require more housing. So, 20 wood-frame buildings were purchased and shipped up from Alabama; each could house 42 people, but none had insulation. Cots, mattresses, and bedding came from federal agencies. Ten-foot high cyclone fence topped with barbed wire was used to enclose an area measuring 500' by 1300'. To discourage tunneling, 3' long steel rods were driven into the ground every 6 inches under the fence. Seven steel guard towers with weapons and floodlights ringed the fenced enclosure, and a control center was equipped with gas bombs, Remington automatic rifles, gas masks, 12-gauge riot guns, gas guns, four machine guns, and gas billies. Three German shepherds and three saddle horses were kept on the hand for chasing escapees.
North Fence Line in Fort Lincoln Internment Camp.
The first prisoners were to be Italian seamen. Despite the high population of local Germans and German Russians, many thought Italians would be preferable to German prisoners, because the news portrayed Hitler’s men as nastier and more violent. But the train cars loaded with Italians didn’t stop—they continued west to Fort Missoula. On May 28, 1941, the Bismarck Tribune announced the camp’s first prisoners would instead be Germans.
Fort Lincoln Internment Camp Housing.
Two hundred twenty-two German seamen got off the train at Bismarck’s Northern Pacific depot at about 7 PM that evening. When they arrived at the detention camp, the fence enclosure wasn’t finished and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) inspectors had to guard the opening throughout the night.
Fort Lincoln Internment Camp Patrol Inspector.
The Border Patrolmen were pleased with how smoothly everybody settled in, but it wasn’t to last. Two weeks later, a young ships’ third officer, 23-year old Johann Marquenie, used a broken shovel to dig his way under the fence at a point where it crossed a shallow ditch. He disappeared across the Missouri River bottomlands, stole a boat, and headed south. The next day, the patrolmen acted on a tip and tracked him to the Huff neighborhood, where they found him resting in some brush. Marquenie said he simply wanted to be “out alone.”
North Fence Line in Fort Lincoln Internment Camp.
Soon, 37 more seamen arrived, and the camp’s population was about 280 until December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor plunged the U.S. into WWII. Fort Lincoln was turned over to the Department of Justice (DOJ), renamed Fort Lincoln Internment Camp, and expanded to make room for U.S. civilians of Japanese and German descent, mostly non-citizen residents who were arrested on suspicion of Fifth Column[1] activity, despite a lack of supporting evidence or access to due process.  
Northern Pacific Railroad Gang. These German alien internees were housed at Fort Lincoln Concentration Camp, Bismarck, ND. 1943
On February 14, 1942, 650 Japanese Americans were transferred to Fort Lincoln from the DOJ camp at Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the War Relocation Authority camp at Tule Lake, which had become a segregation center for "disloyal" inmates in 1943.
Example of Internment Camps Crowded Living.
These new arrivals were either Nisei who, fed up with the government's incarceration policy and, in some cases, coerced by camp authorities or groups of pro-Japan inmates, had renounced their U.S. citizenship, or non-citizen Issei who had, again under significant duress, requested repatriation to Japan. Another 100 "renunciants" arrived in July. Over half of these men were deported to Japan later in 1945. 

Over the next five years, the camp’s population expanded to a peak population of 1,518 in February 1942, some 3,600 prisoners passed through Fort Lincoln during the war, most of whom were U.S. citizens of Japanese and German descent, until the Fort Lincoln Internment Camp was closed in 1946 when WWII was over.
Guard Tower Fort Lincoln Internment Camp.
Today, the site of Fort Lincoln is owned by the five Indian tribes of North Dakota—the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation; the Spirit Lake Tribe; the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe; the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. It is the home of the United Tribes Technical College. Many of the brick buildings of the fort, completed in the early 1900s, are still in use.


Compiled by Neil, Gale, Ph.D.


[1] A Fifth Column is any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favor of an enemy group or nation. Clandestine fifth column activities can involve acts of sabotage, disinformation, or espionage executed from within by secret sympathizers with an external force.

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