As Rugged as the Terrain: CCC “Boys,” Federal Convicts, and World War II Alien Internees Wrestle with a Mountain Wilderness [Review]


As Rugged as the Terrain

As Rugged as the Terrain: CCC “Boys,” Federal Convicts, and World War II Alien Internees Wrestle with a Mountain Wilderness

Priscilla Wegars

Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press, 2013

ISBN 978-0870045400, paperback

394 pages, $21.95

When I chose this book to review it was to quench a real curiosity. I had some knowledge about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Idaho, but that is where my knowledge ended.

Most of us know about the CCC as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal work program in the 1930s. The U.S. Forest Service building, aka the “Log Cabin Literacy Center,” proudly stands adjacent to the Boise Public Library. It stands as a testament to the CCC’s skills. The CCC performed numerous activities in the central part of Idaho, including building part of US Highway 12 and constructing many Forest Service roads to name a few. A great story detailed in the book is how the CCC protected the camp from a bear using a flashlight!

Was there a Japanese internment camp in Idaho? Most people including myself would reply – Yes, at Minidoka! When I mention there was also one in Kooskia – first I have to explain where Kooskia is, then mention that it was the location of Idaho’s second internment camp.

U.S. Federal Prison #11 was also in Kooskia. It is hard to believe that a Federal Prison was built and staffed in the middle of the wilderness. Only inmates that were “flowers of the system” were allowed at #11. One very interesting portion of the book was Appendix B. It discussed camaraderie of the inmates and the educational program the inmates established. They taught each other various subjects, including bookkeeping, Spanish, placer mining, English, radio code and math.

Did you know there were Prisoners of War (POWs) in Idaho? The majority of the POWs were sailors/merchant marines from German and Italian supply and cruise ships. At the start of World War II, enemy ships were held at US ports as enemy combatants. There were German and Italian POWs all over northern Idaho, with one of the main camps in Kooskia. The discussion of the meals consumed by the POWs made my mouth water! This is especially true if you have ever visited and consumed food in Germany or Italy. The cooks and bakers from the enemy cruise ships provided elegant and nutritious food besides staying within their assigned rations.

As a former Medical Librarian, the discussion of the medical treatment provided by the German POW medical doctor, the Japanese internee dentist and others was interesting. Talk about emergency medicine in a hardship situation – they had their share of trials! The discussion by Wegars on the “quack” doctor was interesting and worth reading; it was amazing that it took months to uncover his quackery.

All Idahoans owe a debt of gratitude to these groups for their perseverance in building US Highway 12 and other projects throughout in Idaho. This book is definitely not fiction! Who should read it? It is a must for Idaho or World War II History buffs! Patrons interested in “old” medical techniques would thoroughly enjoy the chapter on medicine. Who should buy it? Public and academic librarians should make this a must-have Idaho History book. As the librarian for Idaho Transportation Department, I am recommending it to my staff for the US Highway 12 road history alone. This is a book that anyone should enjoy reading, if only for the comical antics of the various groups.

If this book piqued your interest in the Japanese internment camp at Kooskia, you should also read Priscilla Wegars’ other book, Imprisoned in Paradise: Japanese Road Workers at the World War II Kooskia Internment Camp. I just started it and it is very hard to put down.

Inez Hopkins is a Senior Research Analyst at the Idaho Transportation Department in Boise, Idaho.


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