By Jim Hannah
Dynamite Dan. No one dared call him that to his face, but throughout Klondike gold country he was as feared—and as rarely sighted—as Bigfoot himself. He lived alone in a cabin overlooking the entrance to a gold mine that was the envy of all.
Not so enviable was Dan’s reputation, sullied by having stolen his claim from its rightful owners through intimidation, violence, and crooked contracts that he signed but never honored. “Those first miners would never have found the motherlode,” Dan argued. “They were shiftless and lazy, with no idea how to work up a claim. Why, most of that gold would still be in the ground if it weren’t for me!”
And most of the gold would still be in the ground if Dan hadn’t used a second strategy in addition to claim-jumping—the exploitation of workers. Gold mining in those early days was both brutal and dangerous. The deeper the shaft, the greater the danger, and after decades of extraction Dan’s mine was legendary, not only for its yield, but for its fatalities. Little time was wasted shoring up the shafts, so cave-ins were common. And when these occurred, Dan simply employed more miners, all of them desperate for any job that would support themselves and their families when their dreams of gold hadn’t panned out. Even then, their meager wages were mostly siphoned off by the profits of Dan’s company store, and the rent for his subsistence housing.
Oddly, as Dan became ever more wealthy and financially secure, he became ever more greedy and paranoid. And that’s where his moniker, “Dynamite Dan,” came from. While Dan himself was seldom seen at the mine, and never inside it, he could hear and feel the tremendous impact as blasts rattled the cups in his cupboard and echoed throughout the valley. “Now that,” he mused to himself, “is POWER!”
What might it be like to have absolute power, he mused to himself. But first he would need to secure himself against those who might want to do him harm, or steal his wealth. Soon enough his cabin was surrounded by sheds where donkey-load after donkey-load of dynamite was stored, surrounded by armed guards. He also kept several sticks of dynamite on his nightstand as an added precaution, because “you just can’t be too careful these days,” he’d murmur to himself as he fell asleep.
But one night his dreams brought an inspiration. He saw grand cities with towering spires, and on each spire a gold D shimmered in the sun. “Eureka!’ he shouted in the dark. The very next morning he began buying property throughout the valley, and ordering many more donkey-loads of dynamite. Within a few months he owned scores of storage sheds as far as the eye could see, each filled with dynamite and blasting caps, surrounded by guards. The plan was simplicity itself: intimidate the other miners as he had intimidated those he’d driven off their claim when his fortune began.
Not that he would probably ever need to set off the dynamite, he reasoned to himself. The threat of his Power alone should keep everyone in line. And he decided that rather than drive off the small-time miners, for now he’d just extract protection fees, and save himself the bother of day-to-day operations.
All went well at first. Ambushed by Dan’s deviousness, the other miners saw no alternative to paying off what had now become The Dynamite Dan Extraction Company, Unlimited. But over time Dan began to observe a troubling pattern. Some of the more resourced and resourceful miners began to accumulate donkey-loads of their own dynamite, and stored them in guarded sheds near Dan’s property. They eventually even fashioned catapults with which they could deliver their nitro to the very door of Dan’s cabin.
How dare they? Dan raged. Who do they think they are? They can’t be trusted with that much dynamite! But he could hardly ask them to scale back the very means by which he had himself risen to Power. So he built even more sheds, filled with even more dynamite, surrounded by even more guards.
But eventually the combined explosive power became so ominous that Dan reluctantly entered into a coalition with his most formidable foes. And so was born the Dannite Mutual Protection Club, limited to nine members who together held sway over the other 140 or so miners.
And this arrangement worked for a while, until some of the more desperate non-club miners with little to lose realized that even with their limited supply of dynamite they could inflict an unacceptable amount of harm on the Club’s holdings and members. A single stick of dynamite, well-placed, was catastrophic. The numerous “Trespassers Will Be Shot on Sight” signs posted by Club members no longer seemed to carry much weight.
At the next board meeting of the Club many forceful options were explored, but no one could think of a way to create peace in the valley. One lone voice suggesting that everyone give up their dynamite was shouted down angrily. But then someone said, “Either we learn to live together, or we’ll all die together.”
Folks began to wonder …
—Jim Hannah, a former PeaceWorks Board member, serves on the leadership council of the Justice and Peace Action Team of Greater Kansas City (comprised of the Central and Midlands Mission Centers of Community of Christ). © Jim Hannah, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.