American West

Bob Fletcher, a former California agriculture inspector who, ignoring the resentment of neighbors, quit his job in the middle of World War II to manage the fruit farms of Japanese families forced to live in internment camps, died on May 23 in Sacramento. He was 101.

His death was confirmed by Doris Taketa, who was 12 when Mr. Fletcher agreed to run her family’s farm in 1942, the year she and her extended family were relocated to the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas.

“He saved us,” Ms. Taketa said.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States government forced 120,000 Japanese-Americans on the West Coast out of their homes and into internment camps for the duration of the war.

Near Sacramento, many of the Japanese who were relocated were farmers who had worked land around the town of Florin since at least the 1890s. Mr. Fletcher, who was single and in his early 30s at the time, knew many of them through his work inspecting fruit for the government. The farmers regarded him as honest, and he respected their operations.

After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in February 1942 that made the relocation possible by declaring certain parts of the West to be military zones, Al Tsukamoto, whose parents arrived in the United States in 1905, approached Mr. Fletcher with a business proposal: would he be willing to manage the farms of two family friends of Mr. Tsukamoto’s, one of whom was elderly, and to pay the taxes and mortgages while they were away? In return, he could keep all the profits.

Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Tsukamoto had not been close, and Mr. Fletcher had no experience growing the farmers’ specialty, flame tokay grapes, but he accepted the offer and soon quit his job.

For the next three years he worked a total of 90 acres on three farms — he had also decided to run Mr. Tsukamoto’s farm. He worked 18-hour days and lived in the bunkhouse Mr. Tsukamoto had reserved for migrant workers. He paid the bills of all three families — the Tsukamotos, the Okamotos and the Nittas. He kept only half of the profits.

Many Japanese-American families lost property while they were in the camps because they could not pay their bills. Most in the Florin area moved elsewhere after the war. When the Tsukamotos returned in 1945, they found that Mr. Fletcher had left them money in the bank and that his new wife, Teresa, had cleaned the Tsukamotos’ house in preparation for their return. She had chosen to join her husband in the bunkhouse instead of accepting the Tsukamotos’ offer to live in the family’s house.

“Teresa’s response was, ‘It’s the Tsukamotos’ house,’ ” recalled Marielle Tsukamoto, who was 5 when she and her family were sent to the Jerome center.

Ms. Tsukamoto is now the president of the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Her mother, Mary Tsukamoto, was a teacher, activist and historian who, with Elizabeth Pinkerton, wrote “We the People: A Story of Internment in America.”

Mr. Fletcher’s willingness to work the farms was not well received in Florin, where before the war some people had resented the Japanese immigrants for their success. Japanese children in the area were required to attend segregated schools. Mr. Fletcher was unruffled by personal attacks; he felt the Japanese farmers were being mistreated.

“I did know a few of them pretty well and never did agree with the evacuation,” he told The Sacramento Bee in 2010. “They were the same as anybody else. It was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor.”

After the war, resentment against the Japanese in Florin continued. If Mr. Tsukamoto tried to buy a part at the hardware store only to be told that the part was not in stock, he would ask Mr. Fletcher to buy it for him.

Robert Emmett Fletcher Jr. was born in San Francisco on July 26, 1911, when the city was still rebuilding after the great earthquake five years earlier. He attended the University of California, Davis, and later managed a peach orchard before taking the job as a state shipping point inspector.

Survivors include his wife, the former Teresa Cassieri, to whom he was married for 67 years; their son, Robert Emmett III; three granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.

The Fletchers bought their own land in Florin after the war and raised hay and cattle. Mr. Fletcher was a volunteer firefighter in Florin for many decades before becoming the paid fire chief. He was also active in historical groups.

He was never much for celebrating his role in the war, and he noted that other Florin residents had helped their Japanese neighbors.

“I don’t know about courage,” he said in 2010 as Florin was preparing to honor him in a ceremony. “It took a devil of a lot of work.”

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Take a look at these incredibly tiny illustrations of the American West by California-based artist Sam Larson. Now go grab a penny and then look at the drawings again to really appreciate just how small they are. Our favorite piece is the Bigfoot scene. That may be the tiniest Sasquatch we’ve ever seen.

Larson posts all of his marvelous miniature illustrations on his Instagram account. Follow him there to see more.

[via My Modern Metropolis]

vimeo

Every couple of months, 68-year-old Ed Zevely rides into the Colorado high country to camp for weeks at a time—and he does it completely alone.

Through thunderstorms, open meadows and treacherous passes, he finds his own patch of serenity. Watch “Open Door to Solitude” now and truly understand the difference between loneliness and solitude.

Registration is now open for the next #ArchivesSleepover! Join us for “History, Heroes, and Treasures: Explorers Night” on August 2 at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC.

Campers will journey to the Arctic, visit Outer Space, and discover the American West as they explore the National Archives Museum’s treasured records, before turning in to sleep in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, next to the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

For more information or to register, go to archivesfoundation.org/sleepover

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Read more:

The American West Dries Up

“Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown stood on a dry, bare hillside in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which would normally be deep under snow at this time of year, and announced an executive order aimed at dramatically reducing water usage statewide. The severity of the drought, now entering its fourth year, has already reached record levels in many places in California and across the West. Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border, is currently at 45 percent of capacity and is at risk of reaching the lowest level on record by September. California’s snowpack, which generally provides about a third of the state’s water, is already at its lowest level on record. Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan traveled to lakes and reservoirs in California, Utah, and Arizona to capture the following scenes of an increasingly waterless West.”

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@countrypolitan’s Westward Odyssey from Casting Director to Cattle Rancher

To see more photos of Jean Laughton’s ranching life, follow @countrypolitan on Instagram.

Jean Laughton (@countrypolitan) is a full-time cattle rancher on the South Dakota prairie. She lives simply in a Scotty camper on her land and spends most of her days settled into stirrups and a leather saddle, astride her favorite horse, Beau. Her photographs of ranching life belie, however, how much her world has changed in the past decade. In her former life, Jean was a casting director living in New York City, who had a passion for westward excursions to photograph the eccentric characters of the American West. Now she’s living the life of the subjects she once documented. “I never really had a plan to ranch — it just kind of happened by chance and through my photography,” Jean says. “It is almost like I am not really a photographer but I use photography to lead me through life.”