One morning in 1943, close to eighty men descended into the Smith coal mine in Bearcreek, Montana. Only three came out alive. “Goodbye wifes and daughters . . .” wrote two of the miners as they died. The story of that tragic day and its aftermath unfolds in this book through the eyes of those wives and daughters—women who lost their husbands, fathers, and sons, livelihoods, neighbors, and homes, yet managed to fight back and persevere.
Susan Kushner Resnick has uncovered the story behind all those losses. She chronicles the missteps and questionable ethics of the mine’s managers, who blamed their disregard for safety on the exigencies of World War II; the efforts of an earnest federal mine inspector and the mine union’s president (later a notorious murderer), who tried in vain to make the mine safer; the heroism of the men who battled for nine days to rescue the trapped miners; and the effect the disaster had on the entire mining industry. Resnick illuminates a particular historical tragedy with all its human ramifications while also reminding us that such tragedies caused by corporate greed and indifference are with us to this day.
Tidbit: The title does not contain a typo, and other reviewers have revealed why the misspelling occurs, but I believe it would be best for the reader to discovery the reason from reading the book.
A Reader's Opinion:
The summary gives an excellent description of what the book is about, so what you'll get is my opinion and my observations. I found this author because it was an honor book in the 2011 Montana Book Awards. At first I was curious about the misspelling in the title, but that mystery was solved once I read the book (and I'll admit, a tear or two later). Goodbye Wifes and Daughters is more than just a historical account of a horrible tragedy that could have been avoided. It is also a moving story of survival and enduring through terrible hardships.
I enjoyed the way the author told the story as though you're sitting in a comfortable room on a sofa listening to each survivor or family member talk about their side of what happened. What plans did they have for their futures? What were they doing months, weeks, or days before it happened? Where were they the moment they found out? These questions are answered by those who lived it - that's how the story is told. You'll find heroes in the women and children who came out the other side, many without their husbands, and how as the summary puts it, fought back and persevered.
A mining accident might not seem worthy of a story, after all the war was on and far greater tragedies were taking place, right? You just might feel differently after reading this book, because unlike war, this is a tragedy that could have been stopped and the author does great justice to the story and to the people who lived it.
I highly recommend this book for any reader and I look forward to visiting the site to learn more about the history.
Book Title: Goodbye Wifes and Daughters
Author: Susan Kushner Resnick
Publisher: Bison Books
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Pages: 264 (paperback)
My Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars