Civilian Public Service Unit (Mancos, Colorado, USA)

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Civilian Public Service Camp No. 111, a Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation camp in Mancos, Colorado, operated by the Selective Service System, opened in July 1943 and closed in February 1946. Mancos, the first of three government-operated Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps, was located in the isolated Mancos River Valley of southwestern Colorado near the Four Corners area and Mesa Verde National Park at nearly 7,000 feet elevation. The camp director was Charles Thomas.

On 1 July 1943, eighty-one men transferred into the camp, some by their own choice and others without choice as punishment for insubordination or for unsatisfactory work, failure to choose service under a religious agency, or medical observation. If an assignee elected to serve at a "non-religious" camp, he was sent to Mancos. By 1945, one hundred and fifty-two men made up the camp. A total of 364 men served at the camp during its years of operation.

Men had originally requested an alternative to religiously-administered camps believing that they would enjoy more freedoms in government-operated camps. They further sought pay for work in addition to work that would more readily utilize their skills. The men at Mancos reported a diversity of religious affiliations when entering CPS, with a significant number reporting no religious affiliation.

In the camp the men conducted various projects designed to limit soil erosion and promote soil conservation, including construction of an earth dam, clearing of a reservoir site, and development of improved irrigation systems to open 10,000 acres of land for agricultural development. The men published a camp paper Action from July 1943 to June 1944.

When the National Service Board finally urged Selective Service to operate one or more government camps, they did so with three principal stipulations:

  1. The men would receive pay in addition to maintenance
  2. The projects would not have military significance
  3. Men would have opportunity to use skills other than manual labor

However, Major General Lewis B. Hershey, Director of the Selective Service System, did not approve pay for the men at the government-operated camps since no conscientious objector in CPS received a wage for his labor. The government paid for the men's maintenance, medical and dental care, and clothing in addition to providing an allowance of $5.00 per month.

Selective Service, in spite of the expressed secularism of some of the men, agreed with the Federal Council of Churches to appoint a full time chaplain at Mancos. Any group of assignees in the camp was permitted to hold religious services as desired. Christian Kehl, a CPS assignee and chaplain available when the camp opened, was later replaced by visiting chaplains, after he had a policy disagreement with the camp director.

In the camp, Selective Service retained its full authority and control over policy, and when men challenged this underlying principle, camp authorities responded with immediate action to maintain control in a sometimes abrupt or arbitrary manner. This did not sit well with those who distrusted the government or were "chronic objectors" to government authority.

Matters intensified as the men felt a deep sense of injustice over the government's refusal to pay for compulsory labor, to give fair consideration to some who had requested medical discharge, and to permit the opportunity to transfer to special service projects available to those in the church-directed camps.

Camp officials tried two approaches. First, they put the sick to work with indifferent success. Incidents resulted in a review of medical examinations which might result in reclassification, and a loosening of practices compelling sick men to work. The second approach attempted to isolate "the uncooperative." Eventually, the government added two government-operated camps for placement of "uncooperative" men, first at CPS Camp No. 128, Lapine, Oregon, in January 1944 and ultimately at CPS Camp No. 135, Germfask, Michigan.

Some observers noted that the experiences at Mancos took a toll on conscientious objectors, who appeared to lose their vision of protest against war in the face of protesting conditions in the camp.


"CPS Camp Number 111." The Civilian Public Service Story: Living Peace in a Time of War. Web. 26 January 2012.

Author(s) Harlan D Unrau
Date Published February 2012

Cite This Article

MLA style

Unrau, Harlan D. "Civilian Public Service Unit (Mancos, Colorado, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2012. Web. 24 Jun 2018.,_Colorado,_USA)&oldid=79641.

APA style

Unrau, Harlan D. (February 2012). Civilian Public Service Unit (Mancos, Colorado, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 June 2018, from,_Colorado,_USA)&oldid=79641.

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