#Lookback: Prisoner of War (POW) Camps in Fremont County

There was two Prisoner of War (POW) Camps in Fremont County, which were in operation towards the end of World War II. The first POW Camp to be established in Fremont County was in the forest, near Dubois, and was named Camp Dubois. The second camp was in the old Riverton Armory which was located south of West Adams Road and was named Camp Riverton. Camp Dubois and Camp Riverton were both POW branch camps. In the United States, branch camps started to form in the fall of 1943, when the POW Labor Program was established to provide additional labor from prisoners to the civilians. So, through this program, a small number of prisoners were sent from a base camp to the branch camp to help complete a task at that location. After the task was completed, then the POWs were sent back to their base camp.

Camp Dubois was established in July 1944, at the request of the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company. Camp Dubois was in the Shoshone National Forest, southwest of Dubois, near Little Warm Spring Creek. The camp was constructed of a combination of wood-framed buildings and tents. The wood-framed buildings were the mess halls, bathrooms, and washrooms. The facilities for the enlisted men and the POWs were separated. There was a road running down the center of the camp that leads to the quarters for the enlisted men located at the back of the camp. There were seven tents for camp staff. Each tent housed two enlisted men. On the east side of the road, there were thirty-six tents where the POWs lived. Four prisoners were assigned to each sixteen by sixteen tent. In addition to prisoner lodgings, there was a tent for the infirmary, the barber, and a post exchange. On the west side of the road, there were the mess halls, bathrooms, and washrooms.

Up to 150 POWs were sent to Camp Dubois from Camp Scottsbluff. However, the total number of prisoners at Camp Dubois fluctuated depending on the workload. Camp Scottsbluff was located near Scottsbluff, Nebraska, which was about 30 miles from the border of Nebraska and Wyoming and was in operation from June 1943 to March 1946. The camp was isolated and the weather in the winter was often severe. Sometimes the weather was so severe that the camp was only reachable from the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company headquarters, only eight miles away.

Starting in October 1944, Lieutenant Harold Harlamert became the camp commander at Camp Dubois. At any given time, there were 7-10 Army officials working at Camp Dubois, along with Lieutenant Harlamert. The enlisted men at Camp Dubois worked as clerks, guards, and drivers. The camp was not heavily guarded due to the isolated nature of the camp. During their free time, officers would try to create their own fun. This included hunting, fishing, and asking local cowboys to play dress-up with their clothes. At 10 pm every night, the lights at Camp Dubois were turned on so enlisted men could spend free time reading, writing letters, playing musical instruments, and playing cards. At one point, there was a radio available at Camp Dubois loaned to the men by Ricker Van Metre, the president of the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company. The radio was later set on fire by a short circuit in the camp’s lighting system.

The prisoners at Camp Dubois worked alongside civilian loggers harvesting wood for the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company. They worked in pairs cutting down trees using two-man cross-cut saws. POWs also dragged cut logs out of the logging site to the local sawmills. They also worked at the sawmills processing the cut logs and transporting them to the Wind River where they were stacked. In the spring, the stacked logs were bulldozed into the river and floated down to Riverton. The prisoners spent their free time in a similar way as the enlisted men. They even could spend time hunting and fishing, since the camp was so isolated. In addition, POWs undertook woodworking projects, which sometimes were given to others as special gifts, including some of the camp guards. When the German POWs were on the transport ships taking them to the POW camps, they were given books to study English. Some POWs used their free time to study English so they could learn how to communicate better with the enlisted men and the civilians who worked alongside them harvesting wood.

Camp Dubois was closed on January 15, 1946. After Camp Dubois was closed, the site was dismantled and bulldozed. Today, little of the camp can be seen. The road system at the camp can be identified but is overgrown. Parts of the boardwalks used as walkways are still at the camp. Small parts of the wooden flumes used to carry water to the kitchen and washrooms are still at the site. Some of the building foundations are also left at the site.

Camp Riverton was established in the Riverton Armory. The Riverton Armory was a two-story, wood-frame building that was originally constructed in 1925. In March of 1945, Army officers from Camp Scottsbluff visited the Riverton Armory to determine if it was suitable for housing POWs. These Army officers approved Camp Riverton to house approximately 100 prisoners after some renovations were made. The renovations included: a partition inside the building, a guardhouse, an infirmary, bathrooms, additional plumbing, and a large fence. The renovations, which cost roughly 2,200 dollars, were paid for by the State Extension Service and the Holly Sugar Corporation. Local farmers were given the responsibility of constructing a tall fence around the Riverton Armory.

Later, in June of 1945, a group of 104 German prisoners was sent to Camp Riverton from Camp Douglas. Camp Douglas, in operation from August 1943 to February 1946, was a base camp located one mile from Douglas, Wyoming. The POWs sent to Camp Riverton worked with local farmers and helped with local construction projects. The prisoner’s primary jobs were general farm work, harvesting crops, and tinning beets. The farmers would pick up the prisoners at the Riverton Armory in the morning and would drop off the prisoners at the end of the day in the evening.

In the Riverton area, there were about 1,800 acres of beets to harvest in 1945. This was the main project that the POWs were assigned during their stay at Camp Riverton. Prior to the end of the beet harvest, a group of prisoners was scheduled to be moved to work elsewhere, but the Holly Sugar Corporation and the Riverton Chamber of Commerce joined forces to convince the Army to keep all 104 German prisoners at Camp Riverton until the end of the beet harvest. On November 5th, 1945, the POWs left Camp Riverton and returned to Camp Douglas.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Fremont County Museums will reopen to the public Tuesday May 26th. We will resume our regularly scheduled hours Monday-Saturday from 9-5.

Upcoming Programs

June 3rd, 9 am at the Dubois Museum, “Kids Corner: All About Bears”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

June 9th, 9 am at the Dubois Museum, “Five Mile Creek Tie Hack Tour”

Wind River Visitors Council Children’s Exploration Series

June 10th, 9 am at the Dubois Museum “Kids Corner: Moon, Earth, Sun & Stars”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.