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Bonnet, Book, And Hatchet
Weapon in hand and Biblical imprecations on her lips, Carry Nation campaigned to save men from the drunkard’s fate
December 1957 | Volume 9, Issue 1
She was born Carry Amelia Moore in Kentucky, in 1846. By the time she came into the public eye she was Carry A. Nation, an amazon nearly six feet tall who kept her weight clown to 175 pounds by the prodigious wrecking of saloons. The odd spelling of her first name was clue to the imperfect learning of her father. Her mother lived for many years in the delusion that she was Queen Victoria and died in the Missouri State Hospital for the Insane.
In 1867 Carry met and married a young physician, Dr. Charles Gloyd, who showed up at the altar smelling of cloves and alcohol. Marriage did not perform a miracle. In less than two years he was lowered into a drunkard’s grave. Ten years later Carry married David Nation, and together they faced a quarter of a century of bickering, battles, and wandering, while the incompetent Nation almost but never quite made a living with his combined talents as a lawyer, an editor, and a minister of the Gospel.
Meantime Mrs. Nation brooded on her troubles, and she concluded, finally, that she had been chosen to become a martyr to a number of causes which included not only temperance but also the abolition of tobacco and all fraternal orders. (Carry’s first husband had done a good deal of drinking in the quarters of his lodge, from which women were excluded.) This was the mental baggage she was carrying when the Nations moved again, this time to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where her husband, in the character of the Reverend David Nation, preached a while before reverting to law; and Mrs. Nation was elected president of the Barber County chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
It was an office that she accepted with the utmost seriousness. Kansas was technically dry by constitutional amendment, but actually pretty wet because of the profound appetites of the farmers for the end product of their handsome fields of corn, wheat, and rye. Medicine Lodge alone, as Mrs. Nation quickly discovered, supported seven drinking places, or “joints,” as saloons were popularly known throughout Kansas. She set about to close them by writing appeals to the governor and the attorney general of the state, to the sheriff of Barber County, and to various newspapers. None so much as replied. In this extremity, as she related in her autobiography, Carry Nation had recourse to prayer and divination; and on the afternoon of June 5, 1900, with her eyes tightly shut, she jabbed a pin at random into her opened Bible, then looked to see that she had impaled the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”
Carry was ready to rise and shine, and within a few minutes “a musical voice murmured in her ear” a command to go to Kiowa—a town reputed to be the wettest in Barber County. Presently the voice added: “Take something in your hands and throw at those places and smash them!” Only then did she know exactly what she was to do.
Next day at dawn she bounced out of bed in exaltation. Singing snatches of hymns, she went into the back yard to assemble a creditable pile of stones and bricks. She wrapped these one by one in old newspapers, put them into the buggy, hitched up her horse, and drove out of Medicine Lodge on the jolting and dusty road to Kiowa, nigh twenty miles distant, and destiny. Having arrived after nightfall, she lay low till morning, then hitched up her rig and drove to the joint operated by a Mr. Dobson, there to make history.
With a dozen or more of the missiles stacked upon her IeIt arm, she pushed open the saloon door to find a few hung-over men working hopefully on their eye openers. They stared incredibly at the apparition of this motherly woman (Carry was 54 years old) in a whisky joint, but they stared only briefly. “Men,” said she, “I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate!” Then she let go with her neolithic artillery.
She had a powerful arm and, unlike most women, she could throw. Her first missile smashed the large mirror behind the bar. The second was a perfect strike that shattered every glass on the back bar and also broke several bottles. Now sure of herself, she poured a torrent of paper-wrapped stones at the surviving bottles of liquor, then turned to address the poor proprietor.
“Now, Mr. Dobson,” she said, “I have finished. God be with you.” She flounced out of the devastated joint, got into her buggy, and was about to drive off when a happy idea took her. Reaching under the seat, she picked up two more of her neatly packaged stones and heaved them through Mr. Dobson’s windows. Then she set her horse to walking briskly down the street.
Kiowa’s horrible day was not done, for Carry’s ammunition was no more exhausted than she. In a matter of minutes she made desolation of two more joints, improving her original technique by ripping several prints of actresses and sporting figures from the walls, overturning beer tables, smashing chairs, to emerge from the last joint smelling gloriously ol the alcohol sprayed by breaking bottles and running in riverlets over the barroom floor. She made no haste to leave the stricken town, but courted the attention of the city marshal and the mayor, of whom she demanded to be arrested. The officials declined, and Carry Nation drove out of Kiowa in what until then was the incomparable triumph of her life.
The Kiowa raid was given only short notice in Wichita and Topeka papers, but more, much more, was to come. Carry Nation was resolved to lay waste to every joint in the state, including what she called “the murder mills of the metropolis of Wichita.”