Railway Token found at the Kooskia Internment Camp

NOTE: This post is authored by Rachel Stokeld, an M.A. graduate student in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Idaho.

The city of Tacoma was established as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1887.  This spurred an economic and population boom. To serve the growing population of Tacoma, Washington, streetcar lines developed. People had begun to live in residential areas away from industrial areas and the city center; city planners had designed separate residential and commercial areas and so streetcars transported people to and from work and shopping.  In 1938, the streetcars were replaced by buses.

A token from the Tacoma streetcar was recovered from the Kooskia Internment Camp during excavations in 2010.  Whether the token was deposited during the World War II Japanese internment period or during one of the other occupations of the site – as a  Civilian Conservation Corps camp and federal prison during the 1930s – is in question.  If an internee did bring the token to Kooskia after 1942, then the Tacoma streetcar had already been out of service for over four years.  This leads to interesting questions about the use of the token.

Token, side one: reads "Tacoma, Washington."
Token, side two: reads "Good for One fare."

At the outset of the internment period, Tacoma had an established Japanese community. The first Japanese immigrants came to Tacoma in the years prior to 1900.  Many were self-employed or found employment in the lumber mills. They settled mainly west of downtown along South 15th Street and Broadway in a mixed residential and commercial

When President Roosevelt issued the order for all ethnic Japanese, even United States citizens, to report for relocation, Tacoma Mayor Harry P. Cain protested the action. He may have been the only local government leader in the nation to do so. Japanese in the Tacoma area were ordered to report to the Puyallup fairgrounds for relocation. The fairgrounds were given the name Camp Harmony for this process.

Newspaper clipping from Washington.

This newspaper clipping illustrates the areas of Washington State where Japanese residents were subject to relocation. Tacoma is included in “Military Area No. 1”, as is Seattle. This area has the highest population all in all and also the highest Japanese population. The caption names “enemy aliens and all Japanese” as groups to be removed from this zone. The caption goes on to list specific sites assessed to have special need to be protected, such as power plants. It illustrates the perceived threat that the general Japanese American was suspected of posing to the nation.

872 Japanese residents of the Puget Sound were interned. Only 174 individuals returned to Tacoma at the end of the war. Many of those who did return discovered that their neighborhood was now occupied by African Americans who came into the area to work in war-time industries.

A search of the Kooskia records held in our laboratory should reveal which internees came from the Tacoma area and may be responsible for bringing this artifact to the site. This could lead to further biographical data on these individuals and on their lives prior to and after their internment. I intend to conduct this research for my final class project this semester.


Galacci, Caroline Denyer. The City of Destine and the South Sound: an Illustrated History of Tacoma and Pierce County. Heritage Media Corp. Carlsbad, CA. 2001.



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