"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mrs. Nation's Hatchetations

As someone who believes that the greatest boon to human civilization is the gin and tonic, no doubt I would be among Carry Nation's least favorite people, but there is something about the woman I can't help but like. While she undoubtedly had a few bottles missing from her liquor cabinet, if you know what I mean, she went about her anti-alcohol crusades with such a perverse zest and (sometimes intentional) humor that she wins my sympathy, and even a certain weird respect. It's hard not to have affection for anyone who describes herself as "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn't like."

Carry (or Carrie) Amelia Moore was born in Kentucky on November 25, 1846. Her home life and family background was less than idyllic. Her father was a teetotaling farmer, honest and upright, but emotionally cold. Carry's mother, Mary Campbell Moore, had an extensive history of mental illness in her family. Mrs. Moore herself occasionally went through periods when she believed she was Queen Victoria. Eventually, she was placed in the Missouri State Hospital for the Insane, where she died in 1893. It is small wonder that young Carry grew up a deeply unhappy person.

It was probably to escape her miserable home life that in 1867, Carry married a doctor who was boarding with her family, Charles Gloyd. As so often happens in these cases, the bride soon learned that she had merely exchanged one form of unhappiness for another. Dr. Gloyd was a chronic drunk who spent most of his time boozing at the local Masonic Hall. (This explains why the Masons would be second only to alcohol itself in Carry's personal enemies list.) After less than a year of marriage, Carry admitted defeat and moved back in with her parents. With her was her new-born daughter, Charlien. Her husband's alcoholism killed him some six months later. Carry later said that her tragic first marriage inspired her temperance crusade, her fervor to "combat to the death this inhumanity to man."

The young widow took a job as a schoolteacher, but lost her position to a more well-connected candidate in 1874. Shortly afterward, she married a lawyer and minister named David Nation. He was some twenty years her senior, and by all accounts a weak, nondescript sort that so often become the husbands of dynamic and assertive women. After the wedding, Nation seems to have played only a minor role in his wife's life. In 1889, the couple moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where the memorable part of her history began.

Carrie Nation in 1874

Kansas was a dry state, but in name only. Taverns were everywhere. Carry, disgusted with this iniquity, founded a local chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. But she was not content with mere messaging and campaigning. She felt it was her God-given mission to close every drinking establishment in the land. "Carry A. Nation," she vowed, would indeed carry her nation to teetotalism.

Whether it liked it or not.

Mrs. Nation would greet any saloonkeeper she saw with cheery salutations such as "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls," and "How do you do, maker of drunkards and orphans?" She bought a small hand organ, which she would use to play hymns outside of taverns. She discovered she had a happy talent for making a complete pest of herself. As she was nearly six feet tall and weighed some 175 pounds, she was a formidable force both psychologically and physically.

And then, Carry Nation had her epiphany. One day in 1900, she...well, this passage from her autobiography, "The Use and the Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation," describes the momentous event better than I ever could:

On the 6th of June, before retiring, as I often did, I threw myself face downward at the foot of my bed and told the Lord to use me any way to suppress the dreadful curse of liquor; that He had ways to do it, that I had done all I knew, that the wicked had conspired to take from us the protection of homes in Kansas; to kill our children and break our hearts. I told Him I wished I had a thousand lives, that I would give Him all of them, and wanted Him to make it known to me, some way. The next morning, before I awoke, I heard these words very distinctly: "Go to Kiowa, and" (as in a vision and here my hands were lifted and cast down suddenly.) "I'll stand by you." I did not hear these words as other words; there was no voice, but they seemed to be spoken in my heart. I sprang from my bed as if electrified, and knew this was directions given me, for I understood that it was God's will for me to go to Kiowa to break, or smash the saloons. I was so glad, that I hardly looked in the face of anyone that day, for fear they would read my thoughts, and do something to prevent me. I told no one of my plans, for I felt that no one would understand, if I should. 
I got a box that would fit under my buggy seat, and every time I thought no one would see me, I went out in the yard and picked up some brick-bats, for rocks are scarce around Medicine Lodge, and I wrapped them up in newspapers to pack in the box under my buggy seat. I also had four bottles I had bought from Southworth, the druggist, with "Schlitz-Malt" in them, which I used to smash with. I bought two kinds of this malt and I opened one bottle and found it to be beer. I was going to use these bottles of beer to convict this wily joint-druggist. 
One of the bottles I took to a W. C. T. U. meeting, and in the presence of the ladies I opened it and drank the contents. Then I had two of them to take me down to a Doctor's office. I fell limp on the sofa and said: "Doctor, what is the matter with me?" 
He looked at my eyes, felt my heart and pulse, shook his head and looked grave. 
I said: "Am I poisoned or in an abnormal state?" 
"Yes, said the Doctor." I said: "What poisoned me is that beer you recommended Bro. ---- to take as a tonic." I resorted to this stratagem, to show the effect that beer has upon the system. This Doctor was a kind man and meant well, but it must have been ignorance that made him say beer could ever be used as a medicine. 
There was another, Dr. Kocile, in Medicine Lodge who used to sell all the whiskey he could. He made a drunkard of a very prominent woman of the town, who took the Keely cure. She told the W. C. T. U. of the villainy of this doctor and she could not have hated anyone more. Oh! the drunkards the doctors are making! No physician, who is worthy of the name will prescribe it as a medicine, for there is not one medical quality in alcohol. It kills the living and preserves the dead. Never preserves anything but death. It is made by a rotting process and it rots the brain, body and soul; it paralyzes the vascular circulation and increases the action of the heart. This is friction and friction in any machinery is dangerous, and the cure is not hastened but delayed. 
I have given space in this book to one of the most scientific articles, showing how dangerous alcohol is to the human system. 
Any physician that will prescribe whiskey or alcohol as a medicine is either a fool or a knave. A fool because he does not understand his business, for even saying that alcohol does arouse the action of the heart, there are medicines that will do that and will not produce the fatal results of alcoholism, which is the worst of all diseases. He is a knave because his practice is a matter of getting a case, and a fee at the same time, like a machine agent who breaks the machine to get the job of mending it. Alcohol destroys the normal condition of all the functions of the body. The stomach is thrown out of fix, and the patient goes to the doctor for a stomach pill, the heart, liver, kidneys, and in fact the whole body is in a deranged condition, and the doctor has a perpetual patient. I sincerely believe this to be the reason why many physicians prescribe it. 
I was doing my own work at the time God spoke to me; cooking, washing and ironing; was a plain home keeper. I cooked enough for my husband until next day, knowing that I would be gone all night. I told him I expected to stay all night with a friend, Mrs. Springer. I hitched my horse to the buggy, put the box of "smashers" in, and at half past three o'clock in the afternoon, the sixth of June, 1900, I started to Kiowa. Whenever I thought of the consequences of what I was going to do, and what my husband and friends would think, also what my enemies would do, I had a sensation of nervousness, almost like fright, but as soon as I would look up and pray, all that would leave me, and things would look bright. And I might say I prayed almost every step of the way. This Mrs. Springer lived about ten miles south of Medicine Lodge. I often stopped there and I knew that Prince, my horse, would naturally go into the gate, opening on the road, if I did not prevent it. I thought perhaps it was God's will for me to drive to Kiowa that night, so gave the horse the reins, and if he turned in, I would stay all night, if not, I would go to Kiowa. Prince hastened his speed past the gate, and I knew that it was God's will for me to go on. I got there at 8:30 P. M. and stayed all night with a friend. Early next morning I had my horse put to the buggy and drove to the first place, kept by Mr. Dobson. I put the smashers on my right arm and went in. He and another man were standing behind the bar. These rocks and bottles being wrapped in paper looked like packages bought from a store. Be wise as devils and harmless as doves. I did not wish my enemies to know what I had. 
I said: "Mr. Dobson, I told you last spring, when I held my county convention here, (I was W. C. T. U. president of Barber County,) to close this place, and you didn't do it. Now I have come with another remonstrance. Get out of the way. I don't want to strike you, but I am going to break up this den of vice." 
I began to throw at the mirror and the bottles below the mirror. Mr. Dobson and his companion jumped into a corner, seemed very much terrified. From that I went to another saloon, until I had destroyed three, breaking some of the windows in the front of the building. In the last place, kept by Lewis, there was quite a young man behind the bar. I said to him: "Young man, come from behind that bar, your mother did not raise you for such a place." I threw a brick at the mirror, which was a very heavy one, and it did not break, but the brick fell and broke everything in its way. I began to look around for something that would break it. I was standing by a billiard table on which there was one ball. I said: "Thank God," and picked it up, threw it, and it made a hole in the mirror. 
While I was throwing these rocks at the dives in Kiowa, there was a picture before my eyes of Mr. McKinley, the President, sitting in an old arm chair and as I threw, the chair would fall to pieces. 
The other dive keepers closed up, stood in front of their places and would not let me come in. By this time, the streets were crowded with people; most of them seemed to look puzzled. There was one boy about fifteen years old who seemed perfectly wild with joy, and he jumped, skipped and yelled with delight. I have since thought of that as being a significant sign. For to smash saloons will save the boy. 
I stood in the middle of the street and spoke in this way: "I have destroyed three of your places of business, and if I have broken a statute of Kansas, put me in jail; if I am not a law-breaker your mayor and councilmen are. You must arrest one of us, for if I am not a criminal, they are." 
One of the councilmen, who was a butcher, said: "Don't you think we can attend to our business." 
"Yes," I said, "You can, but you won't. As Jail Evangelist of Medicine Lodge, I know you have manufactured many criminals and this county is burdened down with taxes to prosecute the results of these dives. Two murders have been committed in the last five years in this county, one in a dive I have just destroyed. You are a butcher of hogs and cattle, but they are butchering men, women and children, positively contrary to the laws of God and man, and the mayor and councilmen are more to blame than the jointist, and now if I have done wrong in any particular, arrest me." When I was through with my speech I got in my buggy and said: "I'll go home." 
The marshal held my horse and said: "Not yet; the mayor wishes to see you."
I drove up where he was, and the man who owned one of the dive- buildings I had smashed was standing by Dr. Korn, the mayor, and said: "I want you to pay for the front windows you broke of my building." 
I said: "No, you are a partner of the dive-keeper and the statutes hold your building responsible. The man that rents the building for any business is no better than the man who carries on the business, and you are "particepts criminus" or party to the crime." They ran back and forward to the city attorney several times. At last they came and told me I could go. As I drove through the streets the reins fell out of my hands and I, standing up in my buggy; lifted my hands twice, saying: "Peace on earth, good will to men." This action I know was done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. "Peace on earth, good will to men" being the result of the destruction of saloons and the motive for destroying them.

Carry Amelia Nation had found her groove.

In December, she rode to Wichita with her eyes set on that city's Hotel Carey, which she saw as another center of sin and evil. She took especial umbrage at "Cleopatra At Her Bath," a life-sized nude painting hung over the bar. She later wrote, "I called to the bartender; told him he was insulting his own mother by having her form stripped naked and hung up in a place where it was not even decent for a woman to be in when she had her clothes on. I told him he was a law-breaker and that he should be behind prison bars, instead of saloon bars. He said nothing to me but walked to the back of his saloon. It is very significant that the picture of naked women are in saloons. Women are stripped of everything by them. Her husband is torn from her, she is robbed of her sons, her home, her food and her virtue, and then they strip her clothes off and hang her up bare in these dens of robbery and murder."

Armed with an iron bar and a bag of rocks, she swept into the establishment, as angry as a tornado and fully as destructive. One of her first actions was to throw rocks and billiard balls through the offending painting. Within a few moments, she had trashed the place, ending on the triumphant note of snatching cigarettes out of the shell-shocked customers and grinding them under her boot heel. An officer arrived and said politely that he must arrest her for defacing property.

"Defacing?" she boomed. "I am defacing nothing! I am destroying!"

After her arrest, the authorities realized they were in an awkward spot. After all, the saloon she had demolished was illegal under state law. After a bit of sighing and head-scratching, they finally dropped the charges against her.

The publicity from the incident made her an instant national star, inspiring much admiration, a good deal of hatred, and not a little fear. Historian Herbert Asbury noted bemusedly that Mrs. Nation's "extraordinary methods" did "more to enforce the prohibition laws than had been accomplished in 20 years by the ineffectual campaigns of the churches and temperance organizations." She returned home in a blaze of glory. David Nation greeted his wife with the comment that next time, she should use a hatchet. Far more destructive. He thought he was joking, but his wife gave him a rare look of approval and said, "That's the most sensible thing you have said since I married you." From then on, she called her raids "hatchetations."

In January 1901, Carry returned to Wichita bearing her new weapon of choice. (She would eventually acquire three hatchets, which she named Faith, Hope, and Charity.) She and three female assistants headed straight for the saloon of James Burnes. When the customers heard she was coming, they fled in terror. This was wise. Within fifteen minutes, the four women had turned the place into nothing but a pile of smashed wood and shattered glass. "Peace on earth, good will to men," Mrs. Nation exulted, and her little army went on to the next bar, leaving only when the proprietor pointed a revolver at them and made it very clear he was prepared to use it. The four women were arrested and hauled off to prison, with Mrs. Nation leading her troops in a rendition of "Nearer My God to Thee."

After being released from custody, Mrs. Nation planned to grace Enterprise and Topeka with her singular talents. At the train station, the sheriff blocked her path, telling her she was under arrest. Carry responded by slapping him. Backup arrived to find Mrs. Nation dragging this officer of the law by his ears all over the station, in the presence of a large and delighted crowd. She was re-arrested, but released on bond the following day. Wichita decided it would be quite happy to simply see the last of her.

To the male drinkers of America, Mrs. Nation was either a laughingstock or an object of alarm and loathing. Even many temperance women objected to her violent tactics. But to other women, particularly ones who had suffered because of the alcoholism of their menfolk, she was a hatchet-wielding hero. Many other women got their own hatchets and emulated her methods in their own hometowns.

Carrie Nation as Joan of Arc

Carry carried on her chosen career of smashing saloons and getting arrested. She entered the realm of political commentary. When the anti-prohibition William McKinley was assassinated, she snorted that "drinkers got what they deserved." His successor, Theodore Roosevelt, was dismissed as a "blood-thirsty, reckless...cigarette-smoking rummy." She made a trip to the White House in order to force Roosevelt to renounce both tobacco and Freemasonry, but, alas, she was not allowed anywhere near the president. She also objected to well-dressed women, scornfully describing them as "mannikins hung with the filthy rags of fashion." (At a Madison Square Garden horse show, Carry enlivened the proceedings by loudly telling a Vanderbilt woman that her attire was disgraceful.)

Mrs. Nation did her part to ensure that the younger generation got off to a good start. In Indiana, she gave hatchets to a group of schoolchildren and watched with maternal pride as her little proteges attacked a saloon. On one occasion, she even crashed the Chamber of the United States Senate, waving her hatchet at the justifiably terrified lawmakers and screaming, "Anarchy! Conspiracy! Treason! Discuss those!" On a more productive note, Mrs. Nation opened a shelter for women with drunken husbands. As quaintly ridiculous as her campaigns against alcohol, tobacco, and "immoral" attire may seem today, it should be noted that she was also advocated the cause of the homeless and was a staunch supporter of equal rights for women.

She even faced down the legendary heavyweight boxer John L. Sullivan. Sullivan had been foolish enough to publicly boast that if Mrs. Nation dared to come near the saloon he owned in New York, he would drop her down a sewer. When he heard that she was calling his bluff and was on her way, hatchet in hand, he ran from the scene like a frightened child.

This is not to say that Mrs. Nation never faced armed resistance. In one Kansas town, a female bartender horsewhipped her. Angry mobs of booze-lovers pelted her with rotten eggs, and, on at least one occasion, beat her up. Another bartender punched her in the face and literally threw her out into the street. But no matter how often she was beaten, threatened, or even shot at, Carry Nation persevered. After all, she was convinced she was facing down the Devil, and had God at her side.

"San Francisco Call," January 3, 1903

She did not hesitate to make full use of her celebrity status. She sold little pewter hatchets to be used as souvenirs, birthday gifts, or even wedding presents as far as I know. She launched a newsletter with the delightful title of "The Smasher's Mail," which eventually grew into a newspaper called "The Hatchet." She even once starred on vaudeville, in a version of "Ten Nights in a Barroom" she renamed "Hatchetation." All proceeds from these endeavors went toward her bail money and fines.

By November 1901, David Nation, increasingly embarrassed by his wife's antics, had had enough. He filed for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion. Carry hardly noticed.

In 1908, Mrs. Nation decided that England needed her services. She sailed across the Atlantic for the strangest invasion the British Isles has ever faced. During the voyage, she made good use of her leisure time by destroying the mirror in the ship's bar. It is sad to report that her efforts to lead England on the path of righteousness met with little success. Upon arrival, she began a lecture tour before audiences that ranged from bemused to antagonistic. Bitterly hostile crowds greeted her nearly everywhere she went. In Glasgow, a mob became so threatening that Carry had to hide in a nearby pub--surely the ultimate humiliation.

The truth was, Mrs. Nation's moment had passed. Her increasingly outlandish behavior began to pall on even her dwindling band of supporters. Although she did much to bring public attention to the temperance cause--a support that would eventually lead to the Prohibition Act of 1919--she herself was largely discredited. When Carry returned to America, she accepted defeat and went to live quietly on an Arkansas farm. Her final "hatchetation" was against a saloon in Butte, Montana, on January 26, 1910. In January 1911, she collapsed while giving a speech in Eureka Springs, Arkansas She was brought to Evergreen Hospital in Kansas, where she died of "paresis" on June 2, 1911. Sadly, her only child, Charlien, inherited the Campbell tendency towards mental illness, and spent much of her life in asylums.

Carry Nation's gravestone was carved with the epitaph "Faithful to the Cause, She Hath Done What She Could." Like the woman or loathe her, one can't argue with that statement.


  1. I've always though Mrs Nation would have been a tough person to know or work with. She certainly had the courage of her convictions, but she was also unbending. Without that quality, one would find it difficult to live in the world, or even to make friends. She reminds of a less dangerous John Brown.

    1. There are those historical figures that I love to read about, but I'd be terrified to encounter in real life.

  2. Tonic as aboon to civilization? Sometimes I can't tell if I should take you seriously.

    Bad weekend, my mom's cat died, I held her until the end. My even older cat died only three weeks ago.

    1. Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. Even if the cat lived to a good age and had an easy end, that's such a painful thing to experience.

    2. I'm sorry about your mom's cat. One of my cats died this summer. My neighbor two doors down shot her with a beebe, and her back legs were paralyzed, so I had her put to sleep. That last hour has to be one of the hardest things to go through.

    3. Back in June one of my younger rescued ferals was killed by a neighbor who shot him with a pellet gun and another was crippled by the same person - the cops couldn't care less.

      A friend of mine also lost her older cat Raisin this spring from a stroke or something like that.

      It hasn't been a good year so far.

    4. I'm sorry for your losses. I hope you will have a better year going forward.

  3. I like a woman who stands up for her beliefs - as long as they're not stupid! She had good reason for doing what she did, alcohol had greatly affected her life and she didn't want it be that way for anyone else. I don't think she gets the recognition she deserbes.


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