"Carry Nation" (Nov. 25, 1846 – June 9, 1911) was a key member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She is most well known for busting up saloons with a hatchet. Her family moved several times before settling in Cass County, Missouri. Although her father signed her name as "Carry" Amelia Moore in the family Bible, she used the spelling "Carrie" through much of her life. She reverted to "Carry" to help promote her temperance activities.
In 1880, Kansas became the first state adopt a constitutional amendment banning alcoholic beverages. In her autobiography's 1905 revised edition, "The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation," Nation said there was a "crisis" of enforcement of prohibition laws. (2) The frustrated reformer turned to destruction of the illegal substance. Initially, she smashed bottles with bricks and rocks, and later starting using her famed hatchet.
While living in Medicine Lodge, Kan., she received a vision to attack saloons. (2) (Medicine Lodge is the county seat of Barber County, just north of Oklahoma.) After gathering broken bricks, and wrapping them in paper, she traveled in her horse-drawn buggy to the small Barber County town of Kiowa, Kan. on June 6, 1900. Early on June 7 she first went to Dobson Saloon. "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.'" (2)
As Mr. Dobson and another man watched, she destroyed the saloon's bottles with rocks. She later wrote in her autobiography, "The first smashing was like the opening of a battle. The crashing glass sent a thrill through the community and resounded o'er the land a talisman of destruction to the liquor traffic. It set everybody to talking, even the public school children and students in all the higher institutions were profoundly interested. The press and the pulpit broke their silence and from all over the state came the echo. It was the firing of the signal guns." (2)
She then attacked two other saloons in Kiowa. Other saloon owners closed their businesses and wouldn't let her in. "By this time, the streets were crowded with people; most of them seemed to look puzzled. There was one boy about 15 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.'" She announced she was going home.
But the Kiowa marshal held her horse's reins and said the mayor wanted to talk to her. The mayor was a co-owner of one of the saloons, and demanded payment for his damaged windows. Nation told him the business was illegal, and she owed nothing. After conferring with the city attorney, she was allowed to leave the town. (2)
Two online exhibits have been developed by the Kansas Museum of History: "Carry A. Nation: The Famous and Original Bar Room Smasher" addresses the reformer's life and times. It is a companion piece to "Sinners and Saints: Vice and Reform in Kansas." (1) She retired to Eureka Springs, Ark. (Carroll County.) Her home was a boardinghouse for women known as “Hatchet Hall.” Across the street from the house is a spring named for her.
Nation collapsed during a speech in a Eureka Springs park and was taken to an Evergreen Place Hospital in Leavenworth, Kan. She remained there in poor health and died there on June 9, 1911. (2) She is buried in Belton Cemetery, Belton, Mo. (Cass County), south of Kansas City. Her grave was unmarked for many years until the WCTU erected a gravestone with her name and the quote: “Faithful to the Cause, She Hath Done What She Could.” (4)
A drinking fountain was built in her honor in 1918 by the WCTU of Kansas. It was originally in front of Union Station in Wichita, Kan., across the street from the old Eaton Hotel, site of one of her first acts against alcohol. A story that "the fountain was destroyed a few years later when the driver of a beer truck lost control and ran into it" seems to have no substance, according to Jamie Tracy, curator of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. Tracy researched the story and was unable to locate any info on it. (5)
Actually, when the train station closed, the drinking fountain was abandoned, and it gathered dust in a warehouse until it was moved to the Old Cowtown Museum. In the late 1980s, it was moved to Wichita's downtown Naftzger Park, at the corner of Douglas and St. Francis streets. (6)
- 1. Kansas Historical Society, http://www.kshs.org/exhibits/carry/carry1.htm
- 2. "The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation," 1905 revised edition, Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1485/pg1485.html
- 3. Arkansas Department of Heritage
- 4. The Arkansas Encyclopedia
- 5. Roadside America http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/15471
- 6. http://www.kansastravel.org/douglasavenuesculptures.htm