Cold case or just imaginative revisionism? As I spend time going through old newspaper archives to write historical pieces, I often find the odd story or the story that has no more than a few lines that is never heard of again.
Such is the case of an article about a man named Tameshika Yoshimine.
In June 1942 he was reportedly found "hanging from a tree" near Columbia. He had been missing for about five months when his body was found.
Yoshimine was a miner who it was believed came to Carbon County not long after World War I. He actually held a registration card for the draft of men to go into the military from 1917-18. During his years as a mine worker he had worked in places like Mohrland, Standardville, Spring Canyon, Castle Gate, Latuda and finally at Columbia.
In that last stint as a miner he was hurt in an accident and ended up in a Salt Lake City hospital, where he was staying when the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Shortly after that he was released and came back to Columbia for a few weeks. Then he disappeared, only to be found in that tree a few months later.
December and January of 1942 and 1943 respectively were not good times for people of Japanese descent in this country. In many places racism concerning the Japanese was running high before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and when that happened things went south quickly for those of that nationality. That was particularly true on the west coast. As most people know many Japanese were relocated to camps throughout the west from the coast and from southern Arizona as well. But before that happened violence against those of Japanese heritage escalated greatly, based on fear and as well as bigotry that had existed for a long time.
The story in which I learned about the death of Yoshimine was about five inches long and was published in the Sun Advocate. It was claimed he was 50 years old, and was "apparently disheartened and discouraged because of the conditions brought about in good measure by the war lords of his native nation."
How much of an investigation was done into his death was not really spelled out in the article. It just said that a Deputy Sheriff named Hugh Taylor "gave it as his judgment that the body had been hanging from the tree since the time of Yoshimine's disappearance."
His body was later sent to Salt Lake where it was cremated.
It has to make you think about what happened, doesn't it. In a combination of the times and the events of the times, the attitude of many toward people of Japanese descent and the fact the nation was embroiled in a monumental struggle which seemed to overshadow almost everything else, especially the death of a single man with seemingly no relatives in the United States, there could be more to this story than meets the eye.
Recently I have been watching a series on Netflix called Foyle's War. It is about a police official (chief inspector) in southern England during World War II. While most of what we know about that country during that time was how it resisted a near Nazi invasion and then acted as the springboard for the D-Day invasion in France in 1944, we sometimes forget that while a conflict goes on that is all consuming to a people, the job of investigating everything from minor thefts to murder still proceeds within a country. The fact is that not everyone is good, not everyone is a patriot and not everyone has their eye the national ball. I remember in one segment of the series someone even comments to Foyle about the fact he is investigating small crimes while the country fights for its life. They ask how he feels about what they relate as a petty job during momentous times. His response was basically that someone has to do it to keep the peace and keep civil society running.
Now I don't want to be a revisionist here or delve into something that may have happened exactly as reported in the paper at that time. However, there is suspicion in my mind that there is much more to this small story that appeared on the front page. This county has always prided itself on the fact that it was a great melting pot, one where the ethnic minorities got along well. But there were clashes and there were a lot of feelings between some groups. Could the attack on Pearl Harbor have stirred that pot a little more than was believed then?
The fact is that life, particularly the lives of some in our society, have never seemed to be worth as much as others. The papers in this area pre-1940 demonstrated this time and time again. I don't know how many times I have read small articles in the early 20th century local papers about accidents at mines or on the railroad in which it said an Italian was killed, or a Greek lost his leg or a Japanese man was crushed, without a mention of the person's name. Sometimes when two or three men were involved in an accident, it would list the names of those of Anglo descent, but would only refer to others based on their ethnic status.
This county has a good history and one of bringing people from all over the world to become hardworking Americans. But as in England during World War II, not everyone was good during the war or before for that matter.
Could Yoshimine's death been a murder or a lynching instead of a suicide? Seventy-two years later there is probably no one alive that can even remember him or that it happened. I have dug through a lot of information and can find no other mention of Yoshimine anywhere. The paper only got a little of what law enforcement found, but nothing about what they did in terms of an investigation. There wasn't even a comment from the well known County Sheriff Marion Bliss in the paper at the time.
It was what it was, whether the paper got it right or not.