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Silver in them thar hills 

by Mike Corrigan


North Idaho's Silver Valley has a colorful, gritty and checkered past. And as modern-day residents of Eastern Washington and North Idaho grapple with the legacy of almost a century of mining in the region, reporter/producer Alison Kartevold goes beyond current controversies to illuminate the history of the Coeur d'Alene mining district in a new documentary entitled Silver Linings.


Produced by Kartevold and KSPS-TV, the hour-long documentary is a history of the Silver Valley that focuses on the period of 1883 to roughly 1920, from when gold was first discovered in the area to the era when mineral wealth from silver, zinc and lead mining created one of the richest, fastest growing regions in the country. With words and images taken from old photographs, Silver Linings illustrates the transition from the prospector era to the days of mechanized, hard-rock mining, the recurring natural disasters that plagued the mining communities and the stamina, ingenuity and perseverance of the people who came here and stuck it out.


"The station has wanted to do a project on the Silver Valley for quite a long time," says Kartevold. "There's a renewed interest in it now as far as current events in the area are concerned. Initially, [KSPS station manager] Bill Stanley wanted something that went through the entire history. When I started doing the research, I found that there was no way [with a single documentary] you could do it justice, starting from the beginning and going up to the current day. It's too complex. So we decided to divide it up. We started with the early history because that in itself is a whole era."


Kartevold (who was raised near Rathdrum and is generally familiar with the history of the area) soon made another discovery: namely, that many of the conflicts our growing nation faced at the end of the 19th century (industrialization, labor disputes, Indian relations, immigrant discrimination and women's suffrage) were played out on a grand scale in the Silver Valley.


"There's a lot of history there that had a broad-based impact on the national scene. There were two major labor wars [1892, 1899] that we covered. They got so out of hand, they actually had to declare martial law. The thing about pissing off miners is, they know how to use dynamite -- and they have ready access to it. But I thought it was very interesting because it was something that was happening all over the country. And one of the most powerful labor unions of the day was born out of the first mining war."


But the documentary does touch on current concerns as well, acknowledging the mistakes of the past while placing them into their proper historical context.


"We do talk about the pollution at the end, but, instead of getting into this big debate, I presented it as, very simply, the way people lived then. I mean, they put the outhouses right over the river. Everything went into the river because that's how you got rid of it. But there was no EPA. They just didn't care about such things. It's easy for us now, knowing what we know, with the standards we have now, to impose them. But it's not fair. To them, it was more important to have a job and a home than to have a pristine environment."





Silver Linings airs on KSPS-TV, Ch. 7 in Spokane, on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4:30 pm. Check listings for additional air dates and times.

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