Carrie Nation

Carrie Nation
Activist by Anne Adams

 

The future reformer was born into a prosperous but often unstable family in 1846. Her father, George Moore, was a well to do farmer in Garrard County, Kentucky, whose slaves worked the farm and also became Carry’s first playmates and confidantes. Unfortunately, her mother was a distant figure living in her own world. When Carry was quite young Mary Moore announced that she was Queen Victoria, and soon acquired a purple gown, a crystal crown and would only see family members by appointment.After several moves in Kentucky, Mr. Moore finally decided his fortunes lay in the distant town of Belton, Missouri where they moved when Carry was ten, then when the Civil War began several years later George Moore moved again, this time to Texas where he sought safety for his family and his slaves. Their their crops failed and their stock died and Carry, who’d long been a bedfast invalid for some obscure reason, became a strong and confident nurse and provider for her family during these hardships.

They returned to Missouri to find their farm in ruins, raided and ransacked by war parties and passing marauders. Eventually their fortunes improved and when a young man named Charles Gloyd came to the house as a boarder in 1865, he and Carry began to court, despite her parents’ objections, but Carry was in love. Though she didn’t seem to recognize it, the Moores had identified Gloyd’s alcoholism, something Carry had to admit when she saw it for herself. At their wedding Gloyd was drunk.

As Gloyd deteriorated over the next few months, Carry soon became a local fixture, evidently pregnant and trailing after the drunken Gloyd, pleading with him to come home. Eventually she realized the marriage was a mistake and returned to her parents’ home. Gloyd pleaded with her: “If you leave, I’ll be a dead man within six months.” He was right and Carry was soon a young widow with a baby and a sense of driving responsibility but with no means of support, she decided to seek a new husband. She settled on a local newspaper editor/lawyer/minister named David Nation.Though nineteen years her senior and a widower with a small child, Nation was willing. They both realized it was a marriage of convenience since he needed a mother for his child and she needed a provider. When Nation’s Missouri job prospects failed they moved to Texas where eventually Carry purchased a hotel in Richmond where eventually she found time to take more interest in her religious faith. Nation’s involvement in Richmond politics brought personal threats so they moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas where he assumed a church pulpit and Carry’s religious intensity made her a local character.

Attempting to supervise local morals she prowled at night among the parked buggies with a sharpened umbrella, lecturing any young romantic couples she encountered. Still, despite her meddlesome eccentricities, she was also known for her charity in collecting and distributing food and clothes for the needy. Haunted by various family trials, including David’s job loss, Carry spent much of her time in long periods of Bible reading and prayer as she considered her future. Finally she realized that since it was liquor that had been the ruin of her first husband as well as the cause of her daughter’s mental and physical problems that was her real enemy. Then once she had identified her foe she felt she should do what she could to eliminate the local threat – the local liquor industry.

Twenty years before Carry began her crusade Kansas had become officially “dry,” meaning that alcohol could only be legally sold for “medical, scientific and medicinal purposes.” Yet there had developed an open flaunting of the law where “joints” (local parlance for saloon) paid fines to local officials and then reopened until it became time again for the next “fine.” Drunkenness was a major problem for the period on the frontier especially since drinking was so major a part of American life at the time. Fed up with the hypocrisy of open operation of what was officially illegal, Carry set out to close the local joints.

In the summer of 1899 Carry confronted Mort Strong’s joint and a crowd of supporters – and hecklers – had soon gathered. “Men and women of Medicine Lodge, this is a joint!” Carry shouted, then as she charged through the front door and after Mart Strong literally flung her out the door, the town marshal appeared, ready to warn her. However her retort was a challenge and quandary that would plague other Kansas lawmen as they later encountered Carry and considered how to handle her. “You would arrest me when this man has an unlawful business?” She asked him. Then as the growing crowd was beginning to side with Carry, Strong closed his doors for the day, Later Carry’s supporters then held evening parades and singing demonstrations outside the homes of local officials. Finally it was agreed Strong’s establishment would close, as would other local “joints.” What stymied the local officials was that the joints were illegal, they had tolerated then and if Carry were brought to trial these facts would be brought out and publicized widely.

Carry’s next target was Kiowa, a nearby community possessing a large assortment of joints, which closed down due to her influence and the publicity, she brought. Then she moved on to Wichita and there she would meet with not only more publicity but also the first of several
jail terms.

On December 27, 1900 Carry entered the Hotel Carry Annex Bar armed with rocks and bricks in the pockets of her voluminous cape. “Peace on earth, good will to men!” Carry called as she swept through the bar smashing glasses and bottles. Customers and bartenders hustled to hide behind the bar, which Carry severely dented with an iron stave.

When a police detective finally arrived to take her to jail, she taunted him. “Why don’t you arrest the man who runs this hellhole? Don’t you know it’s against the law?”

At first the local authorities were stymied as those before them had been. But finally they charged her with “malicious destruction in a certain part of the Hotel Carey.” She was jailed until her trial on Jan. 5, 1901.

Yet once she was behind bars, the prisoners soon discovered Carry’s personal warmth behind the crusader image. She may have hated liquor and it’s effects but she genuinely liked and accepted everyone. While in the Wichita jail, she used her own money to buy extra fruit and butter for her fellow prisoners to supplement the jail food. She indeed lectured them on religion but also responded to their good-natured jibes. One time when she heard several singing a hymn she called out. “How are you, boys?” They responded, “We’ve been converted!” Carry must have known that not likely, but took it as a gesture of affection.

Eventually Carry was released and on Jan. 21, 1901, and backed by local women supporters, she soon returned to her joint smashing now with a new weapon she’d found in a friend’s basement and which would become her trademark – a hatchet.

While Carry’s crusade began to see results as the anti liquor laws were being enforced, and to resume her crusade she headed for the Kansas capital Topeka where she arrived on Jan. 26, 1901. Then in the next few days she began her “hatchetation” (a word she coined) on Topeka saloons and again was arrested and released on bail. Within a few months Carry began the routine that she would follow for the rest of her life – a few saloon-smashing ventures but mostly speaking to any group where she could get an audience – even eventually
vaudeville.

As the next few years passed Carry still toured but her heavy schedule, physical ailments derived from the years of smashing, and resultant imprisonments began to take their toll. In 1911 as she rose to address a group she gradually become more and more incoherent. She paused, then as friends stepped forward to support her as she collapsed, she whispered. “I have done what I could.” Within six months she was dead.

And what had she done? Though she was described as a fanatic crusader with a penchant for violence, a compassionate activist with a true devotion to destroying a legitimate threat. Yet she could also be called a very human woman who had suffered because of drunkenness and who took action in her own way when others ignored the problem or hesitated to act. Despite her controversial destruction of property, Carry used the technique to destroy what she considered a threat and at the same time bring attention to the hypocrisy of local officials who tolerated what was officially illegal.On a larger scale, Carry’s crusade brought a renewed national interest in the issue of anti-liquor sentiment and it’s legal extension prohibition. Within a decade of her death national prohibition became reality. In modern terms we’d call her an activist – someone who takes action for a cause and while her tactics were controversial, she confronted the human addiction of drunkenness with moral courage while never hating or hurting anyone. As Carry herself said near the end of her life. “I may have made grievous mistakes, but they were of the head and not of the heart.”

~*~

Anne Adams is writer/teacher living in Houston. She is on the staff of a large Methodist church, holds two degrees in history and her book about her retarded daughter “Brittany, Child of Joy” was issued by Broadman Press in 1986.