one time in the dark reaches of American mining history, determined forces
were locked in battle for the very soul of the nation. It was a time when
the fuse was lit, the blast was imminent, and the warning cry was offered:
"fire in the hole."
At the turn of the 20th
century the West was poised on the brink of an industrial showdown. The conflict
raged from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, destroyed thousands of lives,
and challenged the nation's core values of justice and hard work.
KUED presents Fire
in the Hole, an examination of the mining labor conflicts that shaped
the West during the early 1900s. The two-hour documentary premiered in
Using archival photographs,
written documents, dramatic re-creations, and interviews with historians,
Fire in the Hole was produced, written, and directed by the Emmy Award-winning
team of Ken Verdoia and Nancy
Green, creators of Utah:
The Struggle for Statehood, Brigham
Young, and Joe
Shot in seven states,
the documentary takes viewers from the mountains of Coeur
D'Alene, Idaho to the open windswept
deserts of Arizona, from the Utah
prison courtyard where Joe Hill was executed to the killing
fields of Ludlow, Colorado, where men, women, and children were gunned
down by the national guard.
"Fire in the Hole
tackles the timeless ideals of justice, equality, and freedom," says Green.
"It is the most American of stories."
documentary couches the labor conflicts in social and historical context,
at a time when industrialists surged forward to form an unchecked elite. Names
like Rockefeller, Morgan, and Carnegie symbolized unquestioned dominance in
their fields and staggering personal fortune.
European immigration was reaching its peak; foreign workers formed an endless
pool of unskilled labor, taking work that often involved low pay and high
danger. Tens of thousands of the new immigrants made their way West, where
mines ground out the natural resources to drive industry forward.
The era of the strike-it-rich
prospector had evaporated. Now the mines were part of giant corporations,
often owned by interests in the East that employed hundreds of men who worked
10-hour shifts thirteen out of every fourteen days. Cave-ins and explosions
would punctuate the terror of miners. (See
turn-of-the-century miners at work in a short Quicktime movie.View
this vintage footage by downloading
a free version of Quicktime.).
Adding to the despair
was the reminder that there was always another immigrant in line to take the
job of a complaining miner. Protests over working conditions or safety could
be dealt with harshly. A common saying reminded workers that it was better
to hold your tongue so you could hold your job.
"The 40-hour work week,
worker's compensation, minimum wage – all the things we take for granted in
our daily work were ideals of these unionists. People were willing to die
and, sadly, to kill for those principles," says Verdoia.
The lost chapter in the
pages of American history, Fire in the Hole is filled with near-mythic
characters. The program tells the story of Big
Bill Haywood, the one-eyed miner from Bingham Canyon who ruthlessly fought
for change in labor rights; Mother Jones, a fiery orator who urged men to
join unions and empowered women to raise their voices in support; and John
D. Rockefeller, Jr., who owned the one of the largest coal mines in Colorado,
and claimed he would rather spend a million dollars and lose all his mining
operation than recognize a union.
"Working on the project,
I was struck by the lack of cynicism among these dynamic figures," says Green.
"Back then, people passionately debated politics and philosophy and honestly
believed they could shape the world in which they lived."
The turbulent times facing
American workers on the edge of a new industrial era resonate today, according
to Verdoia. "It was the turn of a new century, when optimism and fear existed
in equal measure...A time when new technology was revolutionizing the way
America worked and did business. That's why this story is a direct parallel
to where we are in the year 2000, as the explosion of information technology
leaves us on the brink of the unknown," he says.
Fire in the Hole
was photographed by Bill Brussard and features original music by Frank Jarvis,
Carol Dalrymple, and Dan Waldis, who capture the musical themes, passions,
and folk life of the bygone era.