Heart Mountain Draft Resisters

Banner featuring Heart Mountain draft resisters in the courtroom

History of the Draft Resisters at Heart Mountain

Of the 10 War Relocation Authority incarceration sites for Japanese Americans, Heart Mountain was the center of resistance to the military draft in 1944 and 1945. More than 80 Heart Mountain incarcerees declined to report for their military induction physicals, which led to their arrest, trial, conviction and imprisonment for violating the Selective Service Act. 

There were two mass trials of Heart Mountain draft resisters. Sixty-three men were tried in the largest mass trial in Wyoming history in federal court in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in June 1944. They were convicted and sentenced to three years in federal prisons in McNeil Island, Washington, and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

A second group of 20 men were tried in Cheyenne in July 1945. They were also convicted and sentenced to two years in either McNeil Island or Fort Leavenworth. 

All 85 Heart Mountain draft resisters, as well as those from other camps, were pardoned by President Harry Truman on December 24, 1947. Some of them would later go on to serve in the military during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.

Another group of eight men incarcerated at Heart Mountain was tried for inciting others to violate the Selective Service Act. These men were members of the Fair Play Committee, a group of prisoners who opposed their incarceration, treatment and the military draft. They were tried separately in the summer of 1944, were convicted and sentenced to terms in the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1945, their convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court. 

Learn More: Biographies, Questionnaires, & Case Files

Through a grant from the federal Japanese American Confinement Sites program, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation has obtained the War Relocation Authority files for most of the draft resisters and leaders of the Fair Play Committee. They have been scanned and digitized for access to family members, researchers, and members of the public interested in learning more about these men who resisted not only the government but pressure from their families and the larger incarceree community to go along with the draft and serve in the military of the country that had imprisoned them and their families without evidence or trial.

These documents show the minute details of life during the forced removal and incarceration of 125,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Draft resisters and their families lost their homes, businesses and savings during the incarceration. Records contained in these files show how many of the resisters also struggled to keep their families and businesses afloat as they remained behind the barbed wire at Heart Mountain and other camps. 

Not all files are the same. Some contain multiple documents related to the incarceree’s draft resistance, trial and prison sentence, while others don’t. Some files have details about the incarceree’s family and life before and after incarceration, but some files have none of that. All, however, provide more granular detail about life for those men who bucked the societal pressure to conform and join the Army. 

We believe these files provide more depth to the understanding of the men who challenged their government’s treatment of them, their families, and the other Japanese Americans incarcerated during the war.