This is perhaps my favorite Woody Guthrie song, and undoubtedly one of his most important. It's also one of the saddest songs ever written.
In line with Guthrie's habit of pulling songs from headlines in his hard travels, he wrote it to commemorate the senseless mass disaster - and likely mass murder - in which 76 men, women, and children of striking copper mining families were trampled to death during a crowded holiday celebration at Italian Hall after someone yelled "Fire!" The person who yelled the fire and started the riot and stampede to the second floor exit that led to all this death and mayhem was never identified.
The song's reach is longstanding, if not as part of our historical record then as part of our collective unconscious. Any fan of Dylan knows that he used the song's chord progression and structure for his "Song to Woody" from his debut album:
And Woody's song Arlo, a masterful storyteller in his own right, gives some of the tragedy's continuing legacy in his introduction to his rendition of the song one hundred years after the event in 2013: