The barroom at the Hotel Carey in Wichita, Kansas was extremely busy most nights. Cowhands and trail riders followed the smell of whisky and the sound of an inexperienced musician playing an out of tune piano inside the saloon. Beyond the swinging doors awaited a host of well-used female companions and an assortment of alcohol to help drown away the stresses of life on the rugged plains. Patrons were too busy drinking, playing cards or flirting with soiled doves to notice the stout, 6 foot tall woman enter the saloon. She wore a long black alpaca dress and bonnet and carried a Bible. Almost as if she were offended by the obvious snub, the matronly newcomer loudly announced her presence. As it was December 23, 1900, she shouted, “Glory to God! Peace on earth and good will to men!”
At the conclusion of her proclamation she hurled a massive brick at the expensive mirror hanging behind the bar and shattered the center of it. As the stunned bartender and customers looked on, she pulled an iron rod from under her full skirt and began tearing the place apart.
The Sheriff was quickly sent for and soon the violent woman was being escorted out of the business and marched to the local jail. As the door on her cell was slammed shut and locked she yelled out to the police, “You put me in here a cub, but I will go out a roaring lion and make all hell howl.”
Carrie Nation’s triad echoed throughout the Wild West. For decades the lives of women from Kansas to California had been adversely effected by their husband’s, father’s and brother’s abuse of alcohol. Carrie was one of the first to take such a public, albeit, forceful stance against the problem. The Bible thumping, brick and bat wielding Nation was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The radical organization, founding in 1874, encouraged wives and mothers concerned about the effects of alcohol, to join in the crusade against liquor and the sellers of vile drink. Beginning in 1899, prior to Carrie’s outbursts, the group had primarily subscribed to peaceful protests.
Carrie was born Carrie Amelia Moore on November 25th 1846 in Garrard County, Kentucky. Her father was an itinerate minister who moved his wife and children from Kentucky to Texas, then on to Missouri and back again to Kentucky.
Carrie married for the first time in 1866. Her husband was a heavy drinker and after their wedding she pleaded with him to stop. After six months of persistent nagging, Carrie’s spouse still refused to give up the bottle. With a child on the way she left him and returned home. He died of acute alcoholism one month before his child was born.
Not long after her first husband passed away, Carrie married again. David Nation possessed the same love for alcohol as did the father of her son. He was a lawyer and a minister who did not share in what he called “his wife’s archaic view” about liquor. Their differences of opinion not only interfered with their personal life, but reeked havoc on David’s professional life as well.
The Nations moved to Texas and Carrie immediately joined the Methodist church. Her outlandish beliefs and revelations prompted the members of the congregation to dismiss her. Carrie then formed her own religious group and held weekly meetings at the town cemetery. In 1889, Carrie insisted that David move her and their children to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Kansas had a prohibition law and Carrie believed the fact that liquor was outlawed would stop David from partaking of any libations.
Determined Kansas residents found ways to drink and so did Reverend Nation. Drug stores and clubs sold whisky in backrooms and alleys, calling the liquid medicine instead of alcohol. Carrie was outraged. Not only did she chastise members of her husband’s assembly in Sunday service, but she scolded those she knew drank when she saw them on the street.
Carrie believed the Lord had called her to take such drastic action against alcohol. According to her autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carrie Nation, she felt it was her duty to defend the family home and fight for other women locked in marriages with excessive drinkers.
At the age of 53, she marched into a drug store on the main street of Medicine Lodge and preached the evils of drink to all the customers. She was tossed out of the business, but a crowd of women who had gathered to inquire about the excitement applauded her efforts. Their response and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union members spurred her on. She continued to visit liquor stores until all the bars in town were effectively forced to close.
Carrie waged a one woman campaign against saloons across Kansas and into Oklahoma.
There were times she entered barrooms with a hatchet and smashed tables and bottles of beer. She was arrested on numerous occasions and spent several nights in jail. Her demonstrations made the front page of newspapers from Boston to Independence. She was recognized as a heroine by women everywhere and hailed as a courageous fighter for the cause.
David Nation was unimpressed with his wife’s devotion and tried to convince her to abandon the quest and settle down. She refused and sued for divorce. She turned to the lecture circuit as a way to support herself and her children. Her following was substantial, but when she took to appearing in Vaudevillian style shows and selling souvenir hatchet pins, many of her supporters turned against her. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union had a change of heart about her as well and withdrew their endorsement of her.
The last public assault Carrie waged on a tavern occurred in Butte, Montana in January 1910. Her hatchet was poised to do damage, but the owner of the business, a woman named of May Maloy, stopped her before she could strike a blow. Not long after the humiliating incident, Carrie retired from hatchet marching and dedicated herself strictly to speaking engagement.
She passed away on June 9, 1911, after collapsing during a speech at a park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. She was buried at the Belton City Cemetery in Belton, Missouri, a location where she had spent a great deal of time in the final days of her life. The tombstone over her grave, erected by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union reads, “Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could.” She was 65 years-old when she died.