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Japanese influences in the North Platte Valley

Posted: Tuesday, Nov 20th, 2012

Photo/ Bud Patterson - Nancy Sato, of Scottsbluff, displays an origami swan, made by her daughter, to the group at the Western History Center.

LINGLE – “Japanese Heritage in the North Platte Valley” ,was the topic Nancy Sato of Scottsbluff, Neb. introduced to listeners at the Western History Center on Thursday night.

Sato and her husband, Roger Sato, lived in the Scottsbluff area where he farmed and she worked as a nurse. She is retired now, and Roger passed away in April of 2012. Sato presented, to the crowd of about 30 people, research her husband had done prior to his death on the history of the Japanese people to the United States and specifically the North Platte Valley area.

“The history of the immigration of the Japanese into the United States began in 1868, Sato said, “when 150 Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii. One-third of them reached the U.S. mainland.

In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed and branch work began on various spurs of the railroad. As the thousands of Chinese laborers who had worked on the mainline were discharged, the Japanese immigrants were hired to work on these branch projects. According to Sato, the various railroad companies liked the Japanese laborers because “they were faithful, cooperative and hard workers.”

By 1904, more than 3,000 Japanese laborers worked on the railroads and in the coalmines in Wyoming. As construction on the branch lines was completed, 500 Japanese laborers were discharged and stayed in the North Platter River Valley.

Eventually, these Japanese workers migrated to jobs in agriculture.

“In 1906,” continued Sato, “Great Western Sugar Company began introducing the sugar beet industry into the North Platte Valley. A sugar factory was built in Scottsbluff, and 12,000 acres of sugar beets were planted. Quite a few Japanese moved to Scottsbluff to become beet workers.”

Over time, many of these workers began acquiring their own farms and leases and raising their own crops. Besides sugar beets, the Japanese farmers raised barley, oats, potatoes, wheat, corn and alfalfa.

“There was a lot of alfalfa raised for hay, and most of the farmers’ work was done with horses, and it took a lot of hay to feed them and keep them healthy.”

Japanese farmers in the North Platte Valley also raised vegetables and sold their produce to local grocery stores. People from the small towns in the area would often drive to the farms to buy fresh vegetables. In 1940, a canning factory opened in Scottsbluff, and peas, sweet corn, tomatoes and string beans were raised in the valley for processing and shipping at the factory.

Though World War II would challenge the resolve of many Japanese Americans, contrary to popular belief, not all Japanese Americans were relocated to camps like the one at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming. Those that were relocated were usually from the east or west coast. Those Japanese Americans living and working in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and other non-coastal states were left to live in their own homes and keep their jobs, including farming.

To be sure, there have been many bumps in the road as Japanese immigrants worked to make America their new home and as their naturalized sons and daughters tried to realize the American Dream. However, it is safe to say that American agriculture is where it is today, a world leader in innovation and production, in no small part because of the Japanese American farmer of the North Platte Valley.

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