Category Archives: U.S.

WW2 Internees in North Dakota

One of the books we bought in Lincoln, Nebraska, during our road trip up the Missouri River and back was Nebraska POW Camps, by Melissa Amateis Marsh (History Press, 2014). I blogged a passage from the Kindle edition in November 2018. The author lists North Dakota as among the few states without POW camps during World War II (along with Montana, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont). However, Fort Lincoln in North Dakota did house internees who were designated “enemy aliens” but not enemy soldiers: including sailors from enemy nations, along with selected U.S. residents of German or Japanese ancestry. The Densho Encyclopedia online provides details.

There were two separate populations of Japanese American internees as well as German crews of ships seized in U.S. ports and resident German enemy alien internees. The very first prisoners at Fort Lincoln were 220 German seamen who arrived on May 31, 1941. The U.S. had detained crews from German ships docked in the U.S. since after the German attack on Poland in 1939, most of them at Ellis Island. More German seamen arrived after this initial group, and on December 20, 110 German enemy aliens arrived, most from the West Coast, bringing the population of Fort Lincoln to 410.

The first group of Japanese American internees consisted of over 1,100 Issei who arrived at Fort Lincoln in two groups in February of 1942: 415 from the West Coast arrived on February 9 and 715 more on February 26. Most of these men were immigrant community leaders—Buddhist priests, Japanese language school teachers, newspaper editors, and heads of Japanese immigrant economic or cultural organizations—who were arrested after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but before the mass roundup of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Most came via short-term detention stations such as Tuna Canyon, Griffith Park, or San Pedro. Enemy Alien Hearing Boards convened at Ft. Lincoln in February for the German internees, most of whom were released or paroled afterwards. Hearings for the Japanese internees were marred by conflict between Korean immigrant translators and internees and resulted in three Issei requiring medical attention. Complaints to the Spanish consul resulted in an internal investigation by the INS that found that Issei had been unjustly abused and resulted in the dismissal of two interpreters and the suspension of three INS inspectors. Issei whom the boards “released” were allowed to rejoin their families at “assembly centers” or War Relocation Authority camps in the summer and fall of 1942; those ordered interned were transferred to army-run internment camps such as Lordsburg . By October 1942, nearly all of the Japanese and German internees had moved on, leaving just three hundred or so German seamen. As part of the general movement of enemy aliens from army run camps back to INS run camps in order to make room for the growing numbers of POWs, over 1,000 German enemy aliens moved to Ft. Lincoln starting in March 1943, joining the remaining German seamen and pushing the camp’s population to over 1,500.

The second group of Japanese Americans at Ft. Lincoln arrived in early 1945 and were mostly young Nisei and Kibei who had been incarcerated at Tule Lake. This younger group were among the 5,400 at Tule Lake who, under duress, renounced their U.S. citizenship, enabling the Department of Justice to intern them in DOJ camps as “enemy aliens” and to deport them. Reasons for renouncing varied, ranging from anger and protest against the country that imprisoned them, to fear of being forcibly relocated again without a job or housing or community support while the war with Japan raged on. While an initial group identified as leaders of community resistance in Tule Lake were sent to Santa Fe, there was not enough room there to accommodate all. With the numbers of German enemy alien internees and German seamen down to about 700, less than half of the peak, there was room at Fort Lincoln. As a result, about 650 were transferred from Tule Lake on February 10, arriving at Ft. Lincoln on February 14. One hundred more renunciants were transferred from Tule Lake to Ft. Lincoln in July 1945. The U.S. prepared to deport two-thirds of this group in November and December 1945; however, many had changed their minds about renouncing and going to Japan. With the aid of lawyer Wayne Collins, most were able to avoid deportation and to eventually recover their U.S. citizenship. The last of the German internees were sent to Ellis Island in February 1946. The last to leave were 200 of the Tule Lake group, who left on March 6 for Santa Fe. In total, 3,850 internees passed through Ft. Lincoln.

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Homesteaders vs. Land Speculators

From Homesteading the Plains Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 8-10:

A second pressure forcing the government to divest itself of its land were speculators, or less pejoratively, land investors, who were a continual presence. Squatters took action right on the land, but speculators operated everywhere, not only on the ground but in nearby cities like Omaha and Denver, in fashionable New York and Boston offices, and in the halls of Congress. The Nebraska City News in September 1867, for example, noted that “seven thousand acres of land lying west of Lincoln were entered by a gentleman from Pennsylvania” and the Kansas Farmer groused that the worst land monopolists used agricultural college scrip to gobble up vast tracts. Although it was (and is) easy to focus on the few immensely successful and therefore notorious speculators, the truth was that nearly every landowner tried to profit from rising land prices. Indeed, many players both large and small invested in land, a long-established activity that was hardly dishonorable. Aside from Henry George and the Single-Taxers, no serious effort was made to prevent people from profiting from the rising value of their land, for the simple fact that it was widely assumed to be the landowner’s right, and besides, so many hoped to benefit.

Stories of speculators profiting from insider dealing, fraud, and outright theft provoked great outrage because most people distinguished between those landowners, labeled “speculators,” who were only interested in profiting from the rising value of their holdings, and the quicker the better, and other landowners, “actual settlers” in the words of the Homestead Act’s title, who wanted land as a long-term holding on which to build a farm and create a lifetime livelihood. The St. Paul Weekly Pioneer, observing that two whole counties had nearly been gobbled up by speculators using agricultural college scrip and military bounty warrants, thundered, “These two counties had far better have been visited by the locusts of Egypt or the grasshoppers of the Red River than by these speculators.” The fact that some actual settlers did not succeed, and others changed their plans after the hard experience of trying to make a farm in hostile conditions, did not change matters. Moreover, as Gilbert Fite has noted, “Despite the fact that millions of acres fell into the hands of corporations and speculators who held them for profitable prices, there was no real lack of good land on the Minnesota, Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas frontier in the late 1860s and early 1870s.” Nineteenth-century farmers were said to be perpetually overinvested in land, betting that land prices would rise, and as historian Roy Robbins explained, “Many settlers had invested in lands on credit hoping to pay out of the increase in the value of their holdings. . . . Some were able to do so but many were not.” Investors who grabbed title to public land simply to profit from its rising price were widely disliked, although they had much influence in the halls of Congress and other power centers.

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Preemptive Homesteaders: Squatters

From Homesteading the Plains Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 7-8:

Even if the federal government had not wanted to distribute its land, it would have found it nearly impossible to avoid it—indeed, in those instances where it tried to restrict settlement, it almost uniformly failed. The first pressure it faced was the constant rush of squatters onto public land. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many people eagerly sought land in the unsettled regions of the public domain to make farms for themselves. Like the flow of illegal immigration today, squatting was pervasive, insistent, unstoppable, and enjoyed considerable public sympathy. Attempts to hold off unauthorized settlement proved futile, whether in the Military Tracts, the Black Hills, or Indian lands elsewhere. The modern eye might see nineteenth-century government land programs as similar to today’s real estate projects, say, a new housing development where interested buyers show up to consider purchasing property that has been clearly defined and laid out. But squatting meant that the process occurred in reverse order: settlers moved into an unorganized region and claimed land, and the laws and surveys and titles raced to catch up.

The long history of preemption mapped this phenomenon. “Preemption” was simply a euphemism for legalizing squatters. Starting in 1830, Congress periodically passed preemption acts which, recognizing the reality on the ground, forgave intrusions by squatters and allowed them to legalize their claims. These bills in effect said that squatting was wrong, but as with medieval papal indulgences, the sin could be forgiven by payment, in this case usually $1.25 per acre. Preemptors had the first right to purchase land once it was surveyed, and since squatters typically arrived first to stake the best land, the preemption price was often a bargain. In the 1841 Preemption Act, Congress abandoned the idea that squatting was trespass and wrong and authorized (future) preemptions, but attempted to restrict them to already surveyed lands. By 1853 Congress had abandoned this restriction, too, in recognition of the fact that squatters just moved in wherever they wanted, whether or not the land had been surveyed. Many factors contributed to the momentum to legalize preemptions, but the most basic was simply the impossibility of stopping the flow of people onto the land.

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How the U.S. Disposed of 1.4B Acres

From Homesteading the Plains Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 6-7:

Homesteading was one way in which the federal government transferred parts of America’s enormous public domain to private ownership. The U.S. government acquired nearly 1.5 billion acres in the lower forty-eight states between 1781 and 1853, through the Revolutionary War treaty, the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican War cessions, the settlement of boundary disputes with the British over Canada, and a few other minor acquisitions. From the outset many individuals, whether landless or the mightiest land barons, mining companies, and speculators, eagerly looked on public land as a source of potential riches for themselves. But the government was also interested in moving public land into private hands for a variety of motives that shifted over time. Initially it sought to use land sales to fund the federal budget, but later it distributed land to stimulate canal and railroad growth, to occupy remote regions and thereby forestall threats from foreign powers, to populate the West in order to foster private economic development, and to create a land-owning, small-farmer middle class that would sustain a democratic society.

We can trace in broad terms the disposition of this 1.442 billion-acre public domain. The national government today continues possession of about 26 percent (380 million acres). It transferred approximately 22 percent (328 million acres) to individual states, most of which was sold, and homesteaders claimed about 19 percent (270 million, or possibly as much as 285 million, acres). The balance, roughly 32 percent (between 449 and 464 million acres) was transferred to private owners through sales, grants to railroad corporations, veterans’ bonuses, agricultural college grants, and other distributions, or it was stolen, misappropriated, reserved, or otherwise caused to disappear from the public land rolls. Homesteading accounted for between a quarter and a third of the public land transferred by the federal government to private owners.

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Photos of NRHP Sites in the Dakotas

When the Far Outliers take road trips in the U.S., one of our hobbies is finding sites on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) that do not have photos in their Wikipedia entries. If and when we find those sites, many of which are well off the beaten track in rural areas, we take photos and upload them to Wikimedia Commons, then link them to the articles about those sites.

One of our unexpected finds on this trip was the small Assyrian Muslim Cemetery and mosque in tiny Ross, Mountrail County, North Dakota, on our way from Minot to Williston, ND. According to a plaque on its exterior, the diminutive mosque was originally built in 1928, fell into disrepair, and was rebuilt in 2004. Most of the cemetery headstones faced east, toward the cemetery gate, but one impressive gravestone set apart from the others faced north. The cemetery was placed on the NRHP in 2018, and stories about it have appeared in the Minot Daily News and the New York Times.

Mountrail County and Williams County (around Williston) are said to be two of the richest counties in North Dakota, thanks to the plethora of oil wells on the large tracts of farmland. The farthest point on this roadtrip was just over the Montana state line at historic Fort Union Trading Post.


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Ambonese Musicians in Paducah, KY

The Far Outliers are near the beginning of a major road trip up the center of the U.S. Last night we arrived in Paducah, KY, from Murfreesboro, TN, taking the scenic route through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. My retired librarian brother, who was born in Japan but has long worked and retired in Paducah, took us to Paducah Beer Werks, which was hosting a Bluegrass Jam with two sets of musicians, Wheelhouse Rousters, a local troupe, and Kaihulu from Ambon, Indonesia. I fondly remembered their hometown from an academic junket in 1990, which I memorialized in one of my earliest blogposts. The two bands connected at a UNESCO Creative City event in South Korea, and Kaihulu came to connect Paducah with Ambon, each now designated a UNESCO Creative City. We had the chance to chat with some of the musicians, who were astounded to meet someone who had visited their hometown and remembered Pattimura University and other places in Ambon. A small world story.

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Reviving Palauan Musical Traditions

At points during its period of Japanese rule (roughly 1915-1945), Palau had more Japanese colonists than native Palauans, who incorporated many Japanese words, names, and songs into their local traditions. Even after the war, Palau continued to be a repository of old-style Japanese enka musicians, who retained many Japanese evocative phrases in their Palauan renditions. Lots of Palauans also mastered the mandolin as well as the guitar.

From Ouchacha: Musings on Palauan cha-cha and other musical forms:

In March of 2018, my friend Tony Phillips and I went to Palau to perform some of the old songs in the 1960s String Band style as “Ngirchoureng“, meet and play with some of the musicians and composers, and talk to folks about how much we love this music.  After returning to California, we spent some time recording the Palauan songs that we had worked up for our trip. Just like our performances at the Night Market and Museum back in March, but this time, you can adjust the volume to your liking. Hopefully I fixed the pronunciation problems that you all so kindly overlooked. We’ve produced a CD of 20 songs, and we’re pretty happy with the way it turned out. Thanks again for the wonderful hospitality of our friends in Palau, old and new.

I selected the title “Mengemedaol er a Irechar” because I like the sense that the word “mengemedaol” can mean either “to welcome” or “to celebrate.” The way I think of this word, is through its relation to the word “klechedaol,” the activity where one village invites another to come and spend some time together, dancing, singing and just renewing their friendship. Mengemedaol is like the welcome that one family makes to another, as they come together to share some joy. And it is also the prelude — the first step — to a celebration of shared experiences. And I think that is what we should do with respect to the past: welcome it into our lives and celebrate the beauty that was brought to us by our elders and ancestors. I don’t know about you, but I think it is pretty cool that in 2018 I am singing a song — Tobiera — that two remechas named Dilmers and Degaragas sang in 1936 and was composed by some unidentified person in 1931, 87 years ago. How different their lives were to ours today, but we can cross the bridge to the past (adidil er a irechar) and join them for a song.

If you click on the link you can listen online to all the songs on the CD.

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First Chinese Typewriter Designs

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 64-69:

Zhou’s breakthrough was figuring out how to correlate the physical act of selecting and retrieving a character in a tray with the mechanical motion of preparing a character, etched onto a cylinder, to be inked and printed. The result was a single coordination of mechanical motions, optimally economized and completed by a human operator. In his article for The Chinese Students’ Monthly, Zhou documented the details of his typewriter and the technical challenges he had to overcome. He had known, of course, that he was not the first. There was Sheffield’s machine and an earlier Japanese prototype, both of which he acknowledged as having arrived at similar ideas independent of his endeavor. It was a respectful nod to those who came before him.

Just as he was preparing to publish his article, though, an unexpected challenger nearly derailed Zhou’s debut. Qi Xuan was a fellow Chinese student studying engineering at New York University. Unbeknownst to Zhou, Qi had been on a parallel track. Relying on a different set of principles for building his own Chinese typewriting machine, he figured out how to do what Zhou, Sheffield, and others thought was impossible: arrange the characters by parts.

In place of Zhou’s character grid, the keyboard of Qi’s machine had only three keys—a back spacer, a forward spacer, and one that selected the character. But Qi’s machine also relied on cylinders of type (two cylinders instead of Zhou’s four). The upper cylinder, with characters inscribed on paper, served as a guide. The lower cylinder, with corresponding characters engraved on a copper surface, made the actual impression. An operator would use a hand wheel to rotate the machine’s upper cylinder until the correct row appeared in a viewfinder on the front of the machine. Then three keys would be used to select the correct character from the row and lock the cylinders in position, aligning the corresponding character cast on the lower cylinder and stamping it on the page.

Though they looked very different, the underlying design and mechanisms of Zhou’s and Qi’s machines were very similar. And Qi’s handled 4,200 actual Chinese characters, just 200 more than Zhou’s core lexicon. Qi’s machine, however, was different in one very important respect: he had broken with the prevailing commitment to reproduce whole, complete characters. Of his 4,200 individual Chinese characters, 1,720 were in the form of character components, radicals, and their possible variant positions in a square space, which allowed his machine to generate, in theory, more versions out of the same parts. In three steps, using these keys, the operator could purportedly produce 50,000 combinations.

Operating his machine, Qi explained, was closer to spelling an English word than producing a Chinese character. If you treat radicals like groups of letters, you can play with different combinations the way you would in a word game. Let’s say you have three English words—“exist,” “expect,” and “submit.” You can generate more words by mixing and matching their parts to form new words like “sum,” “suspect,” “subsist,” “bit,” “mist,” “its,” and “sex.” Unlike modern English words, which have equal spacing for each letter and line up in a neat row, components and radicals can move around from character to character. In print they can occupy different quadrants of the square space that each character fills, which means their position, and consequently their size, can change. For example, the character for “fire,” 火, fills an entire square space when standing alone, but it becomes thinner when it is a radical put on the left of the character “braise,” shao 燒. In turn, it changes form altogether—into four flames—when placed at the bottom of the character for “hot,” re 熱. Qi accounted for possible variant positions like these by giving them separate engravings on the cylinders. Consequently, there are at least three options for “fire” to be combined with other components and thereby form a greater number of characters.

Qi challenged the idea that characters had to be individual, stand-alone units. He thought of them as more modular, like alphabet-based words, things that could be recycled to compose different characters. And once he started tinkering, some of the Kangxi radicals did not sit well with him. He took more liberties and slipped in a few radicals he had devised that he thought worked better. A bigger shift than Zhou’s was creeping in. Others would also start to ask whether exclusively using radicals for character classification still made sense.

For different reasons, Sheffield and Zhou both concluded that characters were the way they were for good reasons and preserving them was of the utmost importance. Qi’s scheme “looked well on the face of it,” Zhou cautioned, “but they forgot, that the same ‘radical’ in different characters differ [sic] not only in size but also in shape, and, furthermore, they occupy different positions in a character.” He named one example, the square-shaped radical meaning “mouth” 口, which shows up in the characters for “ancient” 古 and “cry” 哭 but in each its size and location are quite different. Consequently, one cannot use the same square for “mouth” in both cases, as they were designed to fit into different configurations. If the different sizes of 口 were forced together, they would create absurd-looking characters with overlapping strokes in all the wrong places.

Zhou’s design eventually won out.

Japanese modernizers had a much easier time adapting katakana for use in typewriters, semaphore, and telegraphy.

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Solving a Cold Case in Kenya

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 1-3:

There were many people in Kenya who had a motive for killing Erroll, and many who had the opportunity that night. Yet nobody was convicted of his murder, and the question of who killed him, who fired the gun at the junction, became a classic mystery. It was at the same time a scandal and a cause célèbre which seemed to epitomise the extravagant way of life of an aristocratic section of the white community in Kenya at the moment of greatest danger for Britain and the West.

Erroll was killed on the very day that the campaign was launched in Nairobi to remove Mussolini’s army from Abyssinia. It was Erroll, ironically, as Military Secretary, who had been responsible for gathering the European and African troops for that campaign. The Dunkirk evacuation in May and June 1940, and the bombing of Britain’s cities, weighed heavily on the conscience of the white community in Kenya, who were keenly aware of their isolation from the main war effort. The last thing they wanted was for Nairobi’s social elite to be paraded in court, making world headlines which competed on page one with news of the war itself. It was a source of acute embarrassment. One headline read: “Passionate Peer Gets His.”

The story confirmed the licentious image of the Colony in the popular imagination in Britain and America, and revived the legend of “Happy Valley,” an area in the White Highlands which had been notorious since the 1920s as a playground for aristocratic fugitives of all kinds.

Happy Valley originated with Erroll himself and with Lady Idina Gordon, who later became his wife, and who set up house there in 1924. Friends from England brought home tales of glorious entertainment in an exhilarating landscape, surrounded by titled guests and many, many servants.

In New York and London the legend grew up of a set of socialites in the Aberdares whose existence was a permanent feast of dissipation and sensuous pleasure. Happy Valley was the byword for this way of life. Rumours circulated about endless orgies, of wife swapping, drinking and stripping, often embellished in the heat of gossip. The Wanjohi River was said to run with cocktails and there was that joke, quickly worn to death by its own success: are you married or do you live in Kenya? To have gone anywhere near Happy Valley was to have lost all innocence, to have submitted to the most vicious passions.

With Erroll’s murder and the scandal that followed, the spirit of Happy Valley was broken for ever. For the whites in Kenya it signalled the end of a way of life which stretched back three decades. The spell was broken, the ruling confidence that underpinned their unique occupation was gone, and it was never to be the same again.

Yet the mystery of who killed Lord Erroll survived and flourished, and continues to exert a strange power over all who come into contact with it. In Kenya’s remaining white community, it is still talked about as if it had happened yesterday. The virus of speculation has become endemic, and even today the place is alive with experts. One is told of many different people who alone hold the key to it all, but who will never be persuaded to tell. Others, including a former Governor of Kenya, achieved local fame by promising to leave the solution in written testimony in their wills—but the executors have always been left empty-handed. Much of this oral history is encrusted with distortion and incestuous folklore, each version fiercely held to be the truth—a warning to anyone broaching the subject in the Muthaiga Country Club.

So compelling was the mystery that throughout the 1960s it dominated the thoughts of a man of letters as distinguished as Cyril Connolly. In the spring of 1969, twenty-eight years after the event, Connolly and I decided to investigate the story for the Sunday Times Magazine, where I worked as a staff writer. We discovered that everything written on the subject—including the only book—depended on the public record of the trial, adding nothing new, and came no closer to a solution than the Nairobi High Court in 1941. To our surprise, no one had returned to the original sources, or had gathered and sifted the popular wisdom, or had filled in the glaring empty spaces in the evidence collected by the Nairobi C.I.D. in the weeks after the murder.

Our article, which we called “Christmas at Karen,” turned out to be the prelude to a much longer quest. It generated an unexpected response, awakening memories and producing a mass of new evidence in its wake. The trail led us on. And Connolly, the literary critic par excellence, did not take his obsessions lightly. The volumes of notes that he left me in his will testify to that. My own fascination with the story, shared with Connolly as I played Watson to his Holmes in that year when we worked closely together, was revived when I opened the notebooks again, soon after his death in 1974. I decided to pursue the trail that we had embarked upon together.

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Who Fought for Whom, 1861-65?

From Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 245-246:

Though the conflict may have been a rich man’s war, it was not as much of a poor man’s fight as the rich tried to make it. That was true for North and South. On both sides, the lowest of the lower classes tended to be as adamant as the rich in their refusal to fight—or refusal to fight for their region’s dominant regime. In the South, while most Confederate soldiers were nonslaveholders and poorer than their slaveholding neighbors, southerners even poorer still were more likely to dodge the draft, desert, or serve in the Union army. As for the North, James McPherson, in his Battle Cry of Freedom, presents evidence suggesting that the poorest northerners were among the least likely to serve. It was in fact their resistance to the draft, and northern dissent generally, that goes a long way toward explaining how a Confederacy at war with itself as well as the North was able to survive for as long as it did….

Despite the North’s population advantage of two to one, only about a million native-born northerners served in the Union military—roughly the same as the number of southerners who served the Confederacy. Nearly a fourth of the Union armed forces were made up of immigrants, and almost another fourth were southerners, black and white. It was, in the end, southerners who gave the Union armies their numerical superiority on the battlefield. Given the limits of support Lincoln was able to muster in the North, the war’s resolution largely came down to Southerners themselves. Had all soldiers from the South fought for the South, or more precisely for the Richmond regime, the result would have been at least parity on the battlefield and perhaps Confederate victory.

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