The Cry of a Nation
The barroom at the Hotel Carey in Wichita, Kansas, was extremely busy most nights. Cowhands and trail riders arrived by following the smell of whiskey 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, six-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 men, “You put me in here a cub, but I will go out a roaring lion and make all hell howl.” Carrie Nation’s tirade echoed through the Wild West. For decades the lives of women from Kansas to California had been adversely affected by their husbands’, fathers’, and brothers’ 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, founded in 1874, encouraged wives and mothers concerned about the effects of alcohol to join in the crusade against liquor and the sellers of the vile drink. Beginning in 1899, prior to Carrie’s outbursts, the group had primarily subscribed to peaceful protests. Carrie had been born Carrie Amelia Moore on November 25, 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. Carried married 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 husband 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 the baby boy was born. Not long after this death, Carrie remarried, but David Nation possessed the same love for alcohol. 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 wrecked 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. Drugstores and clubs sold whiskey 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 also scolded those whom 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 fifty-three, she marched into a drugstore 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 Nation passed away on June 9, 1911, after collapsing during a speech at a park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, at age sixty-five. The tombstone over her grave, erected by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1924, reads Faithful To The Cause Of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could.