tv American Frontier CSPAN December 3, 2016 8:00am-8:31am EST
historyweek, america tv's real america brings archival films that provide context for today's public affairs issues. north dakota has been in the news recently as members of the tribe andock sioux their supervisors have been protesting the dakota access pipeline, which would cross ancestral lands and environmentally sensitive areas. america," we
narrator: the wind blows west from the great lakes. the wind sings like a wild bird across the northern states, coming at last to this place. 10,000 square miles of prairie across montana and dakota. they call it the williston basin. ♪ narrator: not so long ago, this was frontier. listen closely and you will hear the old echo of covered wagons, the phantom shadows of pioneers fighting for their lives against the wilderness. lonely women wearing their dreams like a bit of right calico. ♪ narrator: they began with
nothing, with their bare hands and a bucket of hope, breaking the land with freedom's plow, planting towns like fargo, stampede, bluegrass, beaver lodge, lincoln valley, williston. ♪ neil: wheat farmer and schoolteacher. i was born and raised here east of montana along the canadian line, williams county, north dakota. if i were somewhere at the ends of the earth and thinking of home, the thing i would remember would be winter, the enormous frozen silence, the snow cutting us off from the world, the wind
slicing across the field. the way we say it, it's so cold that the shadows freeze to the ground and have to be pried loose with a pickax. ♪ [dog barking] ♪ neil: it might seem like a desolate place to some, but we are mostly norwegian up this way. we have an old immigrant prayer that goes, should all things perish, fleeting as a shooting star, oh, god, let not the ties break that bind me to the north. ♪ [parishioners singing hymn]
♪ neil: 8:00 monday morning -- [bell ringing] neil: i have already put in an hour of chores by the time i turn up to the school. 01-room country schoolhouse at wheatge of a we field -- field. i look at these kids with their restless faces, grandchildren of the pioneers, descendents of the long rifle and the plow.
i find myself wondering, that proud, searching spirit that drove men out along new trails, is it still alive in them? in me? i wonder if this familiar stretch of land were suddenly to become frontier again, how would we meet the test? it may not be long before we know. there is a tense feeling in the air, a sense of waiting, as though some great door is about to swing open. ♪ neil: i remember how it all began, so quietly. a few solitary men climbing the hills, crossing the fields, a geologist searching for clues in the shape of a valley, the composition of a stone, the fossil of a leaf that was green at the time of the dinosaurs. and then, the seismograph crew coming in to map the
underground, drill a hole and drop a dynamite charge, the shock waves going down to hit the buried layers of stone and bounce back to be recorded on sensitive instruments. ♪ neil: by then, we all knew what they were doing, the object of their search was oil. it is hard to imagine that somewhere 1000 miles across the continent, men were adding years of scientific research, checking reports, approaching the decision that might open a new world on our doorstep. >> from all of our available data, i say this is it. >> east of here in the southwest
of six, 15595, there is a fair chance of striking oil and a number of reservoir rocks. neil: i remember the day last winter, saturday morning, it was. i was working with my pa. he is a tough, stubborn old gent. been out here in dakota since the days there was nothing but log cabins and a railroad depot. ♪ neil: a friend of ours came by, a local lawyer, oscar. he had a fellow with him, a stranger by the name of roland, turned out to be a man from the citadel oil company. i remember we invited him inside for some of my wife barbara's good coffee and the usual talk about the weather and wheat crops.
>> the reason i am here is we would like to lease the mineral rights on your land. we are offering $.10 an acre on a ten-year lease. >> wheat is good enough for me. >> most of our operation is underground. the fields are still yours. you can go right on farming. >> and if you should hit oil? >> you get the standard royalty, 1/8 of a barrel. >> every four or five years, another company comes around and buys up a bunch of leases. there must be about half a dozen dry holes out there on the prairie. >> we are willing to take our chances. how about it? >> we will think it over. >> do that. we want you to feel right about it. i will be back in a week or so. >> i'll take every drop of oil
you can find in north dakota. neil: no sooner did the first visitor take off than the next one came rolling in, another land man from burns petroleum. ♪ neil: i remember that within a week we had half a dozen offers. we took our time deciding. we worked hard for what we have got. it took the sweat of generations to turn the prairie into wheat land, and then came the 1930's. i was only a kid, but i still remember the dead look of the land burned dry by the drought. when the wheat went, everything went. the debts piled up until there was nothing a man could do but slam the door and walk away. somehow my pa hung on. he had a motto, stick and stay, it is bound to pay.
and it did, finally. a few seasons of rain, and the earth was rich again, fields golden with grain, wheat like a running river, so now when the oil companies came, we took our times making up our minds. a man with a couple of full silos and 50 head of cattle can afford to take his time. finally, we signed with citadel. that was last year. since then, not a word out of them. maybe they found out there isn't any oil. maybe pa was right. ♪ >> neil, they started drilling. >> is that right? >> come on, i want to go see.
>> all right, let's go take a look. ♪ neil: out in bronson's north 40, they were putting up a giant 10-story derrick they called a rig. ♪ neil: the geologist showed us around, and it was like watching a little town take shape. welders and roustabouts working in the stinging cold, putting up the drilling platform, digging the mud pit, stringing power lines, working with icy feet and numb fingers. getting things ready to sink the drilling bit into the frozen earth. ♪
>> we can get out of the wind in here. >> i guess once you start to drill, you're sure of finding oil down there. >> we are not sure of anything. in this business, it is always maybe. the only way to find out is to drill. only about one out of nine of those wildcats comes in. >> how much does it cost to drill a well like that? >> it depends. the first hole, drilling in this weather, as deep as we will have to go, probably cost about $500,000. >> whew. >> that is the oil business, a real gamble, one out of nine with half a million riding on the black. >> pretty tough odds. >> plenty of men willing to take it, especially when there's a chance of making a profit. >> indian arrowhead? >> yeah, found it right over there where we put the rig. that is for luck.
we will need it. ♪ neil: in the evenings after that, i watched barbara. i could see she had visions of an oil well out in our wheat field. new wallpaper in the parlor, and a college fund for the kids we hoped to have some day. and pa? he keeps saying they are crazy, but he is dreaming, too, 10 more head of cattle, a new barn. and me? i don't know. i'm not sure. what sort of changes will it bring? everywhere in town, you hear people talk about oil. ♪ neil: the farmers around the
county, the closest most of them have been to oil has been putting a couple of quarts in a tractor, and suddenly they become experts, talking about jackknifed rigs and rotary drills. of course there are plenty who still say, "i will stick with wheat." >> i told my pa that if we get oil, let's get a car. >> what did he say? >> we will be lucky if we get a wheelbarrow. neil: afternoons when i get home from school before i start my chores, i find myself going out to the rig to stand with joe guthrie, watching the crude. a rugged bunch of boys, roughnecks from oklahoma and arkansas. i watch them change a bit, pull out a pipe, clamp on the big
tongs. a man on the cat head spins her in reverse, uncoupling the 90-foot of drill pipe, then the block hoists it to the derrick man. then the block shooting down again to grab the next joint, split-second timing, slam on the brakes, clamp on the tongs, yank out the safety slips, the driller and the tong buckers working together with the swift precision of an all-american backfield. a rugged, proud, independent breed, always ready to pull up stakes and head out to where oil is to be found, california, montana, gulf of mexico, or right in our own backyard. ♪
neil: nights back in town, a group of us began getting together -- store owners, doctors, lawyers. >> all right, maybe it will all come to nothing. maybe it is a false alarm. all i am saying is it is important we plan a little, just in case. >> plan for what? >> housing, office space. we are liable to have 50 companies. a couple thousand newcomers overnight. >> we are overcrowded at the hospital as it is. >> i can tell you that if they
strike oil, it will be the biggest thing that ever hit this state. it will be the frontier all over again, new folks coming in. >> children, who knows how many? do we have room in our schools? what is this oil? what happens when they find it? a wild scramble, boom and bust, what happens? i don't know. i'm just asking. i want to know. >> mr. mayor, i move we set up -- neil: we've formed a citizens petroleum committee to work with the oil companies and get the facts, to make a survey of the town and find out what facilities we had. ♪ neil: meanwhile, citadel was learning the hard way about a north dakota winter, the deadly cold, 30 below, and the wind like a fist in your face. most of the crew was from the south, and to them, the cold was
beyond belief. ♪ neil: the supply trucks were having trouble getting through, fighting a nerve-racking battle to move along the highways. it got so that when a man left home for the rig, they would radio ahead to make sure he was not marooned somewhere. a dozen times cars were stranded and they had to send out searching parties. ♪ neil: the company was taking every precaution it could, but it was a brutal, backbreaking job struggling against the ice 24 hours around the clock. ♪
neil: sometimes the bitter weather got more than a man was willing to take. >> where are you going? >> to get my fur hat. >> where is it at? >> in oklahoma. ♪ neil: yet somehow the drilling went on and the bit kept gnawing away at the iron-hard earth. >> what you think of those indians living here for centuries? those first homesteaders, a fortune right under their feet? >> how could they have known? if they had known, what could they have done about it? >> you are right. it takes tools and skill, the freedom to explore, invent, discover. you think of the gold rush, all
those people racing for the hills, some of them passing right over a treasure a thousand times more rich maybe. >> maybe. ♪ neil: it seems as though everywhere you go, people are passing along reports of the latest depths. i hear she's down to 5000 feet. down to 8255. and then the day came when they got down past 11,000 and the drilling stopped, the end of the line. ♪ neil: the word spread that if there was any oil, this would be the last depth where they could hit it. from my house, people came to -- from miles around, people came to watch, just a thin pipe sticking out of the ground over an empty pit, and everyone waiting. this is the payoff.
or is it? ♪ neil: a few moments, and they will be throwing open the valve. ♪ neil: we stand fair, our eyes glued to that pipe. will it just keeps spilling its thin stream of muddy water or will it gush forth the white foam that means oil? waiting, waiting, each of us with his hopes, his secret dreams. ♪
>> by golly, this is oil. [laughter] neil: they flashed the word from the field to the production office in williston, and from there to the central office in oklahoma. day and night, our little telephone board was lit up like a christmas tree. calls from new york, california, houston. bit by bit, we began to realize how big of a thing this was, a river of cars came pouring in from every corner of the country. the streets and hotels jammed with a stream of newcomers, reflecting all the marvelous, varied, cross weave of america. every day bringing a new flood of cars, every train bringing
new faces, a construction engineer coming in on a fast express from cheyenne, a pipe salesman flying up from tulsa. trucking outfits and supply companies bringing in everything from six-inch bolts to storage tanks, riveting guns to road graders, brick builders and drilling contractors rolling in, ready for work. a hundred oil companies racing to get a foot in the doorway, competing for leases, drilling wells across 10,000 square miles of north dakota and montana. ♪ neil: landmen and lawyers waiting their turn to pour over the county records, all the planning by the citizens committee finally paid off. we were ready with lists of
office space, new housing was underway, extra books for the new kids at school. a thousand questions were in the air. the oil companies tried to answer them by picking a panel of experts and sending them out across the basin to a series of town meetings. >> perhaps you are not familiar with the fact that petroleum is a source of insecticides, rust preventatives, plastics, alcohol, and a thousand other products. however, it is not possible to give you all the uses of crude oil at this time. perhaps some of you have some questions? >> do any of you folks have any questions? >> i was just wondering, how long is all this going to last? >> i guess what is on your minds is the old story of boom and bust. i assure you that we will be in the williston basin for a good many years looking for oil. the exploration process is only in its infancy. in the old days, the idea was
punch as many holes as possible, get the oil, and get it quick. else, the oilbody companies live and learn. our policy is scientific conservation in the best interests of the people. all over the country, we are learning how to produce our fields to assure us of the greatest recovery. neil: if i still had any questions about boom and bust, through the next month, i saw the answer with my own eyes. i became aware of the new techniques, the modern miracles of conservation the companies had devised. i began to realize that this was something that stretched far beyond these familiar fields. here, they were producing power for the nation to run its cars and heat its houses, to run its factories and keep it strong. the ceaseless pounding of work was like a heartbeat pouring energy out to the veins of america.
♪ neil: and then the word came, that on next monday morning, they were going to start drilling on our land. of course we hoped our well would come in, but i cannot help thinking, suppose they hit a dry hole? it had happened before to our neighbors across the fields. and what about the folks back in town who don't own any land, what about them? what would oil mean to their future? again, i found the answer before my eyes. i found it on the morning larson had forgotten his lunch and his pa stopped by. that's the first time i knew fred larson had taken a job with an oil company. then i began to realize that there were others, local people working in new jobs, experts coming in, bringing their special skills and teaching them
in turn to my friends. i finally understood that oil will enrich the lives of hundreds of my neighbors who will never own a well or see a drop of petroleum. i finally knew for sure that the coming of oil was good for all of us. narrator: the wind of spring blows west across the lakes. the warm wind sings across dakota,and the coda -- coming at last to this place. but there is a new song in the air, a song of great promise. winter will come again, but it will never be the same. for this land is more than wheat now, and life is no longer at the mercy of the seasons.
now in this place, a new frontier is born, a new breed of pioneers worked to bring forth the riches of the land. the pounding tempo rising from this prairie is the heartbeat of a great nation forever seeking a new american frontier. ♪ >> december 7 marks the 75th anniversary of the japanese attack on pearl harbor, and this weekend on american history tv on c-span3, we are featuring programs remembering that day. sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern, the u.s. army, directed by frank capra, "know your enemy -- japan," or trace japan as
determined to rule the world through military conquest. >> the rest of the world would fall, and the japs would have command. >> just after 5:00, survivors from the uss arizona, where 1177 crewmen were killed, recalling what they witnessed on that day. at six clark eastern -- -- 6:00 eastern -- >> the missouri was commissioned in 1944. she is often remembered for one event, the surrender of japan at tokyo bay. >> we will tour pearl harbor memorial sites on the island of oahu. for our complete american history tv schedule, go to cspan.org. we