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World War II POW Camp in Snowy Range

In observance of the upcoming Veterans Day, let’s all remember and honor those who served and sacrificed to keep freedom ringing throughout this great land. Remember not only the veterans, but also those who stayed home to feed us, build the tanks and planes and in general support every war effort.

Much has been written about the Heart Mountain detention camp in northern Wyoming. Yet, little is known about two prisoner of war (POW) camps located near Douglas and Ryan Park. The Ryan Park camp operated from 1943 through 1945.

I know little of the Douglas POW camp but have found considerable information concerning the facility at Ryan Park, 20 miles southeast of Saratoga. Articles written by Candy Moulton, George Peverley, Bob Martin and myself, personal interviews with guards and workers, articles from The Saratoga Sun, plus material found in the Bob Martin collection, relate the history of the Ryan Park facility.

Moulton wrote in 1989:

“Manpower shortages of World War II led to establishment of a prison of war camp at Ryan Park in the Medicine Bow mountains of southern Wyoming. While a camp, the facility housed Italian, (Austrian) and German prisoners.

“The prisoners were brought to Ryan Park on the west side of the Snowy Range at the instigation of R. R. Crow who needed men to harvest timber from the Medicine Bow National Forest. 

“‘A caravan of more than a dozen buses carrying Italian prisoners of war and their guards passed through Saratoga Sunday, enroute to Ryan Park, where the prisoners are now employed by R. R. Crow and Co., in timber operations there,’ The Saratoga Sun reported Oct. 28, 1943.

“The original 114 prisoners were guarded by 40 Army guards and housed at the former Ryan Park Civilian Conservation Corps camp. A month later another 50 prisoners arrived at the camp, the Sun reported.

“The prisoners came to Ryan Park from a similar camp near Douglas. ‘The Crow Company has found the procurement of manpower an almost insurmountable obstacle to production for some months past, and it is through the securing of war prisoner labor that will result in a much-desired stepping-up of production at the company’s local sawmill,’ the Sun reported.

“Although interned behind barbed wire fences at the Ryan Park compound, the Italian and German soldiers created beautiful gardens, played classical music and made intricate wood carvings, Meryle Hansen . . . who worked with the prisoners, recalls.”

But, then that’s material for our next Postcard.