Disease and Medicine at the Kooskia Internment Camp

Hello, my name is Coby Varriale and I am an undergraduate at the University studying anthropology. I began my academic career studying history but I quickly realized that history neglects many of the less enfranchised people that archaeology focuses on. The Kooskia Internment Camp Project is an excellent example of a small group of men that history has largely forgotten and deserve to be remembered. My interest in this project came after doing some other research on the treatment of prisoners of war during World War II. I became interested in how Americans treated their prisoners of war and Japanese-Americans at internment camps, specifically what kind of diseases and medical care they received.

Article 14 of the “Convention Relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War” states that:

Every camp shall have an infirmary where prisoners of war shall receive every kind of attention they need…Expenses of treatment…shall be borne by the detaining Power…Prisoners affected with a serious illness or whose condition necessitates an important surgical operation, must be omitted, at the expense of the detaining Power, to any military or civil medical unit qualified to treat them.

Undoubtedly the internees held at the Kooskia Internment Camp suffered from diseases and injuries as a result of their internment. Exactly what diseases affected internees can be determine from several sources including documents of what was ordered and material from the archaeological record. A wide variety of bottles have been found at the site from a number of various manufacturers and short of chemical analysis it is impossible to determine with any certainty what they contained. An excellent example of a medicinal bottle can be seen in figure 1. This bottle was manufactured by the Whitall Tatum Company of Millville, New Jersey as indicated by an inverted triangle containing a W above a T maker’s mark on the bottom. What this bottle contained exactly is a mystery but it almost certainly contained some sort of medication.

Figure 1. Glass medicine bottle manufactured by the Whitall Tatum Company ca. 1925-38

A medical report filed by the camp doctor, an Italian internee named Dr. Borovicka, lists sixteen patients under antiluetic treatment. Lues is an archaic term for the disease syphilis which is generally transmitted through sexual contact. It is unknown how these men acquired the disease but this report shows that it existed in no small number among internees. There were a variety of treatments available to people suffering from Lues. The bottle below in figure 2 represents another medicinal bottle that possibly contained one of several types of medications. The maker’s mark on the bottom of this bottle indicates that it was manufactured in 1935 by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company at their Gas City, Indiana plant.

Figure 2. Glass bottle manufactured by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company at the Gas City, Indiana plant in 1935.

While we cannot infer exactly what these and other bottles found at the site they still provide some insight into the medical condition of internees. By looking at bottles and other archaeological evidence as well as documents we can slowly begin to see how such hard physical labor exerted its toll on the Japanese men working at the Kooskia Internment Camp.



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