The Gila River Indian Community objected to the selection and use of their land for a Relocation Center. The permit for the United States government to use the tribal land was reluctantly granted on October 7, 1942, after 13,000 internees had already moved in.
The center was divided into two camps, Butte and Canal. The two camps were about 3.5 miles apart and included a total of 1,181 buildings.
To protect internees from the intense desert heat, barracks were sheathed in white "beaverboard" and roofs were doubled, with red fireproof shingles on the top roofs.
Eleanor Roosevelt made a surprise visit go Gila River Relocation Center along with Dillon Myer on April 23, 1943.
On November 30, 1942 a group of men beat up Takeo Tada, a Gila administrator, believed by his attackers to be an "inu," or informer. A tense atmosphere ensued as the admitted perpetrator supported by the camp population was given a 30-day sentence. Unlike similar events at Manzanar and Poston, tension did not evolve into a campwide uprising.
Only one guard tower was erected at the Gila River Camp and it was torn down because of staffing limitations. Within six months, the perimeter barbed wire fence around each camp was removed.
Gila River operated a camouflage net factory for five months. A model shipbuilding shop at Canal Camp provided models for use in military training.
Butte Camp featured a baseball diamond designed by professional baseball player Kenichi Zenimura. It included dugouts, bleacher, and other features and could accommodate up to 6,000 spectators.
Gila River had an extensive agricultural program. At its peak, Gila farmed 7,000 acres, 3,000 of which were vegetable crops. Fields of livestock and marigolds were grown for camp use.
The Gila River Indian Community brought claims against the United States in 1971 for failure to comply with the terms of the permit agreed to in 1942. Damages were awarded to the community in 1976.