By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
CAPALDO, Kan. —
An historical event that drew national attention and was recreated this summer by local women will be featured on a PBS television program Thursday night.
A recreation of the 1921 Amazon Army march, which included one of the original marchers and descendents of other marchers, will air during Sunflower Journeys on KTWU Public Television at 7 p.m.
The original march, referred to by national media sources including the New York Times as an “army of Amazons,” took place on three cold days in December 1921. Thousands of women participated, pushed back by state militia with rifles.
They were protesting the work of “scabs,” or replacement miners brought in to work the mines after their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers went on strike.
On a hot, sticky day in July, Sunflower Journeys producer Jim Kelly directed local women in recreating the march and interviewed historian Randy Roberts, who curates Axe Library’s Special Collections at Pittsburg State University.
He also worked with Linda Knoll, a Pittsburg historian and teacher who helped coordinate the event and whose grandmother, Maggie O’Nelio, was among the original marchers, to film vignettes on stage at Pittsburg High School.
The result of their work is “Girls to Women,” which will air in an 8-minute segment as part of a 30-minute program.
“The biggest challenge for this and every story is deciding what to include in a seven and a half to eight minute story. I can’t say everything there is to say about any subject in that amount of time, especially a story as complex as the march and the events that led up to it,” Kelly said. “Eight minutes is much longer than your average news story but it seems it’s never enough.”
The segment will include a re-enactment of Mary Skubitz, portrayed by Linda Foxwell, rallying the women to march, and an interruption by an angry sheriff, played by Hugh Campell, who warned the women to disperse, to no avail.
“We are excited that the story of these brave women will be shared with such a huge audience,” said Phyllis Bitner, one of the participants of the recreation who also heads up the Miners Hall Museum in nearby Franklin — the site of the original rallying point for the march. She will be watching the segment Thursday with her husband, Scotty, at home.
“I wonder if we — today’s women — would be as brave and dedicated. I know we are hardworking and dedicated, but can you imagine being in a new country, speaking many foreign languages and still coming together to fight for one cause? Amazing women,” she said.
Kelly said he was born and raised in Kansas and has a passion for telling its stories.
“We’ve been producing Sunflower Journeys for 25 years and all of us at KTWU feel it’s an honor to produce the series and tell stories about Kansas and Kansans,” Kelly said.