- Historic Sites
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
There is no need to tell of more than one of the score or more subsequent raids, all during 1901, which by year’s end had made her incomparably the most notorious female character in the United States. The raid in question gave her the symbol by which she is best remembered half a century later. It also shows graphically the perfection of technique she had achieved.
This attack was in Topeka, to which Carry had corne in order “to free the Capital of Kansas from the shame of its saloons.” With her she brought lour brand-new hatchets that cost 85 cents each and were of the same fine quality as one she had used with terrible effect on the Douglas Avenue Sample Room of James Kurnes, in Wichita.
Snow was falling heavily in Topeka when, at the ungodly hour of six in the morning, Mrs. Nation, a Mrs. John White, and a Miss Madeline Southard, a local evangelist of some power, met on Kansas Avenue and proceeded to the restaurant (and barroom) of K. C. Russam, who had got word that the now-famous enemy of whisky was in town. At the entrance of his place, even at this early hour, the three women ran head-on into a couple of surly guards and were defeated after a brisk contact during which Mrs. Nation sustained slight wounds from her own weapon on forehead and one hand.
Pausing only long enough to stanch the flow of blood with handkerchiefs, the three raiders plodded through the deepening snow across Kansas Avenue, to note there were no guards on duty at the elegant entrance to the Senate Bar, Topeka’s finest drinking establishment. Mrs. Nation, Mrs. White, and Miss Southard pushed open the door and entered without disturbing Benner Tucker, the popular and efficient bartender, who was busy polishing glasses. He became aware of his visitors when he heard pounding and the tinkle of breaking glass.
Mr. Tucker turned instantly to see Miss Southard at work with bright shining hatchet on the cigar case, while Mrs. Nation and Mrs. White were chopping away at the glossy-smooth bar, raising chips of a size and depth beyond the ability of most women. Tucker knew instantly who his callers were. He grabbed the house revolver from behind the bar and advanced with the idea he would frighten these vixens. Frighten? Mrs. Nation met him halfway, lunged, and swung her weapon viciously at his head. Tucker dodged, snatched the hatchet from her hand, fired two shots into the rococo ceiling, then went through the rear door at a dead run, shouting for the police.
Carry Nation gave a bellow of triumph. From one of her companions she took another hatchet and attacked the big mirror. While glass was still falling, she swept her weapon, much like a stick on a picket fence, along the long row of glassware on the back bar, and shouted her special kind of abuse at the absent bartender. “How do you do,” she called, “you maker of drunkards and widows?”
While the acolytes, Mrs. White and Miss Southard, continued to perform as well as their limited imaginations permitted, Mrs. Nation went ahead with feverish experimentation. “The arm of God smiteth!” she cried and grabbed the cash register from its moorings on the bar. With little more than a genteel grunt she lifted the heavy machine above her head, then heaved it halfway across the saloon, to watch it crash to the floor, with its bell ringing No Sale as never before, while tiny wheels and bolts and silver rolled in happy confusion. It had been a mighty effort. She had been granted the strength of giants.
Mrs. Nation paused only to badger the still-absent bartender again. “Good morning,” she shouted, “you destroyer of men’s soulsl” then turned her attention into demolition channels. First she strode up to face the monstrous refrigerator. With the hammer end of her hatchet she smashed the lock, opened the vast door, which she grasped firmly in her two hands, and tore it fair from its hinges. Taking up her hatchet again, she cut the rubber tube which conducted the beer from the tanks to the faucets, and then, using the tube as a hose, sprayed good St. Louis beer over the walls and ceilings, to cascade down and drench herself and co-workers in malted foam. A squad of police entered to arrest the crusaders, after disarming them.
The whole gorgeous story went out over the wires, and Carry and Hatchet went into the folklore of the nation. Cartoonists got busy. Almost before one knew it, too, miniature hatchets labeled with her name were being hawked in cities from coast to coast and offered for sale by news butchers on trains.
Other hatchet women appeared as if by magic. In Danville, Kansas, a tall, lean female named Mary Sheriff wrecked a local joint with a hatchet, collected a group of women she called the Flying Squadron of Jesus, and swept through Harper County like a plague, attacked sample rooms in Attica, Anthony, and other towns and leaving them in dreadful condition; while in Elk County there arose a smasher fit to talk with Mrs. Nation herself. She was Mrs. McHenry. In a brief war she laid waste to every joint in the county, then moved on to new successes all over the state. Other imitators erupted, if only briefly, in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. These plagiarists had no effect on Mrs. Nation’s fame save to enhance it.