CPS Unit Number 031-01

CPS Unit Number 031-01

Camp: 31

Unit ID: 1

Title: Placerville

Operating agency: MCC

Opened: 4 1942

Closed: 12 1946


CPS Camp No.31, a Forest Service base camp located three miles west of Camino, California and operated by the Mennonite Central Committee, opened in April 1942 and closed in December 1946. Men made transportation improvements, worked on erosion control, fought and prevented fires.

Camino, California, United States
Location Description:

CPS Camp No. 31, a Forest Service base camp, was located three miles west of Camino, California in the Eldorado National Forest.  This camp rested on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Range in the Eldorado National Forest.  The site was on US Route 50 roughly sixty miles east of Sacramento, twelve miles above Placerville, and three miles west of Camino. 

Camp staff:

Directors: H. H. Brenneman, Leland Bachman, Erwin Goering, Jesse Harber, Delbert Schrag, David Ebersole, Theodore Friesen, Robert Kaufman, Verney Unruh


Dietician:  Florence Auernheimer, Viola Duerksen, Mrs. Selma Linscheid, Lena Pauls


Matron:  Mrs. Leland A. Bachman, Mrs. H. H. Brubaker, Verna Mae Kauffman Goering, Margaret Dirks van der Smisssen

Matron-Dietician:  Belva Waltner Unruh


Nurse-Matron: Ellen Harder, Emma Hess, Linda Kauffman, Susie Schmidt, Katherine Shank

The people:

In this Mennonite operated camp, only about half of the men reported Mennonite denominational affiliation when entering CPS.    Assignees were diverse in many ways, including religion and educational level.  In August of the first year, of the one hundred forty-six men in the camp, eighty-nine reported Mennonite denominational affiliations  and fifty-seven reported other religious affiliations including Pentecostal Church of God, Baptist, Apostolic Christian, Catholic, Church of Christ, Church of the First Born, Disciples of Christ, Emissaries of Divine Light, Friends, Full Gospel, Jehovah’s Witness, Latter-day Saints, Lutheran, Methodist, Molokan, United Presbyterian, War Resisters, Christadelphian, Church of the Essenes and non-affiliated. 


Some of the men came from CPS No. 21 at Cascade Locks, Oregon.  A number of the men were married.

The work:

The men fought fires, conducted fire prevention work, improved roads and trails, and performed erosion control duties.  The unit made improvements in forest culture, forest protection, in structures and in the range. 

Camp life:

Not all agreed with the nature of work assigned by the Forest Service. 


In one case, the men were concerned about their being assigned for emergency farm labor pruning fruit trees for the Placerville Fruit Association, since that association paid the government sixty cents per hour for a man’s work pruning pear trees.  Some of the men feared that the money earned might go into the federal treasury.  Several months were required to clarify use of funds earned by COs and involved not only MCC leaders, but also Paul Comly French of the National Service Board for Religious Objectors (NSBRO) and General Hershey, the Director of Selective Service.  This was unsettling to the activists in the camp who believed that the men should not compromise conscience nor the CPS program.  It should be noted, however, that others in the camp believed that the work contributed to food production and was thus a witness for peace in the community.


In another case, some men expressed concerns about the lack of organization and work schedules, which were based on the older CCC or WPA models.  The crew would leave between 7:30 and 8:00 am, drive to the location of the day’s work, and spend another thirty minutes waiting for crews to begin.  Then after a lunch break of an hour and a half, they completed only two more hours of work prior to returning to the base camp.  For men aware of the hard for long days back in their home communities, the schedule proved frustrating, particularly when they knew their efforts were needed back home. 


Since the purpose of the camp was to fight fires, when none were burning, then supervisors developed different work tasks, often in side camps away from the base camp.    


The camp experienced public relations problems with citizens of Placerville when a speaker at the Lions Club observed that the men were allowed more liberty than soldiers.  The speaker made some threats about leisure time for hunting and fishing.  This led to a heated discussion about the rights of all citizens, including religious freedom.  In response, the camp men decided to stay on camp grounds for a time.  There were other incidents reported by Gingerich in response to good will initiatives performed by the men.


In 1945, the camp hosted a conscription institute for CPS campers in the region.  The purpose was to explore the nature of “the Christian attitude” toward conscription in preparation for peacetime conscription.  The institute also evaluated the CPS alternative, and identified follow-up strategies for discussions in local camps and units. 


Women made significant contributions to the CPS program volunteering as dieticians, nurses and matrons. 


The Mennonite Central Committee recognized the difficulty wives faced within the communities when they followed their husbands.  This occurred even though they  were making positive contributions to CPS camp morale.  As a result Olga Martens visited wives living near the western camps and Edna Byler visited wives in the eastern hospital units to understand their issues and be of support to them.  (Gingerich p. 379)


From June 1942 through April 1945, the men published The Snowliner.


For more information on camp work, life and programs see Melvin Gingerich, Service for Peace: A History of Mennonite Civilian Public Service. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee printed by Herald Press, Scottdale, PA 1949, pp. 128-138.


For more information on women COs see Rachel Waltner Goossen, Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-47. Chapel Hill, NC:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.


For general information on CPS camps see Albert N. Keim, The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service. Intercourse, PA: Good Books 1990.


For discussion of CO concerns that pay might go toward war efforts, see Steven M. Nolt, “The CPS Frozen Fund: The Beginning of Peace-time Interaction between Historic Peace Churches and the United States Government”, Mennonite Quarterly Review 67 (April 1993): 201-224.


For information on protests of conscience, see Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-1947. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952, pp. 257-278.