Hello, my name is Jamie Capawana, and I am a senior at the University of Idaho studying Anthropology and Psychology. I was first introduced to the Kooskia Japanese Internment Camp this past summer, when I participated in Dr. Camp’s field school of the site. I became interested in studying the buttons we found at the site this last fall when I helped clean and organize the artifacts. The buttons, especially the uniform buttons, peaked my curiosity because I really wanted to know to whom they would have belonged. This proved to be a difficult task for a number of reasons. The foremost reason is that the site housed the internment camp, the Canyon Creek prison camp, and a Civilian Conservation Core camp.
One of the best ways to try to figure out who wore the buttons is to look at the backmarks. The backmarks are labels of various companies who made the buttons. Not all buttons have backmarks but the military buttons did. There were four decipherable backmarks with three different companies: City Button Works, R. Liebmann, and Waterbury Button Company. Of these three, the most helpful company to help date the button was City Button Works. This is because for the most part they only put their name on the back of their metal buttons during World War I (Luscomb 1967:40).
This date helps us to know that most likely these buttons were prior to World War II when the Japanese were interned. This date is also significant because most of the City Button Works buttons were found on the surface during surface collection. Technically, if they actually belonged to a site that existed during World War I they would have been deeper in the ground, but because they were not, they might have belonged to the internees. Archival research also shows that the internees were receiving their clothing from the army surplus. Army surplus stores often carry clothing not used in past wars. This means that the internees were likely wearing old World War I uniforms for their work clothes.
The guards were likely wearing the penitentiary buttons due to a letter found the archives. The letter discussed the ordering of guard uniforms. It mentions the use of Bureau of Prisons’ uniforms for all guards, but that only the officers will wear the buttons and insignia of this service. This means that the officers of either the internment camp or the prison camp could likely have worn the buttons.
Luscomb, Sally C.
1967 The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons. Crown Publishers, New York.