LC Van Savage
She Chopped ‘Till She Dropped
One of the really neat things about doing this column is that I occasionally research something or someone of great interest to me that I maybe wouldn’t have otherwise, which of course I assume will be of great interest to you, the reader. Yeah, I know. Never assume. So having said all that, I will once again assume that you’ll be interested in the character I’m going to write about today; Carrie Nation.
Life for her began in l846 in Kentucky and was troubling and traumatic for young Carry Amelia Moore Nation (it isn’t known when or why she changed the spelling of her given name to "Carrie,") because her mother fancied she was Queen Victoria, her father was a religious zealot and her aunt was forced to take care of the entire family. Carrie had visions when she was young, and was convinced she was being contacted regularly by Joan of Arc, although it is not known exactly what Ms. Arc wanted of the child.
When she was grown, Carrie briefly taught school in Missouri and married an abusive alcoholic. Finding herself pregnant, she dumped him before two years were up to protect herself and her unborn. But she never forgot or forgave. What she was left with, from that experience, and from her nutsy childhood, is what thousands are left with after suffering the abuses of an alcoholic spouse; wrath. Overwhelming inner rage.
Carrie married again, this time to a teetotaling preacher who supported her in her disdain for imbibers and even preached against the evils of drink and what their definition of sin was. But in time she decided he loved preaching more than he loved her, so Carrie drifted away from him and began her campaign to rid America of the evils of drinking, smoking and yes, uh oh, fornicating, and of course, the worst blight of all, the Masons.
One of the dourest sourpusses in female history, Ms. Nation was a pretty big lady for her time, nearly six feet and weighing in at around 180. All of this avoir du poi helped a lot when she barged into saloons and attempted to trash them to splinters of wood and glass with her trusty hatchet of which she had a large collection. The hatchets had become her trademark, her calling card. ~Carrie carried on most of her anti-salooning crusade across the entire Midwest and in particular the Oklahoma Territory. Determined to do anything she could to stop humans from swilling demon hootch and indulging in all those other naughties, Carrie would enter a saloon with a group of other ladies who shared her beliefs that men, and in particular drinking men, were the root of all the world’s evils and had to be done away with, or at the very least ruined. With Carrie leading the charge, they would begin hatcheting the barrels of whiskey and beer, and if they could manage to trash a mirror or two and a few bar stools, Carrie counted that as a very encouraging day. Marching smugly from the sacked grog shop, she’d turn and shout that she was merely "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn’t like!" Carrie defined the term "self-righteous" and referred to those who opposed her as "rum-soaked, whiskey-swilled, saturn-faced rummies." I think I can pretty much understand most of that tirade except for the "saturn-faced" part. I mean Saturn was the God of Agriculture and it’s also a planet with rings, but whatever.
Carrie even got her own newspaper up and running in a town called Guthrie and named it, what else?, "The Hatchet," where she voiced her views on everything she thought evil and that was pretty much everything.
She bought homes and properties along the way with money from her lectures, and sold them, but life for her wasn’t ever really peaceful because she kept getting herself arrested, in all about thirty times for destroying saloons and she hoped, for punishing men. But she’d had a lot of those hatchets made up for emergencies which she’d then sell to souvenir hunters to help pay her bail.
An important and certainly colorful member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Carrie was able to make herself famous by becoming the country’s most outspoken prohibitionist, even circulating hand-outs called "Smasher’s Mail" as part of her roaring campaigns. Carrie Nation was able to make a living of sorts by forcing her views on everyone, by being violent, by ruining people’s businesses (those poor innocent barkeeps’) and by being an out-and-out annoyance.
Carrie died in l911 at the age of 64. Her tombstone reads "She hath done what she could." Indeed she hath. Sleep well, Carrie. Jesus knows you must be tired.
LC’s book of humorous poetry "LC’s Take – Poetry – I" is at local bookstores.
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Website is www.vansavage.com.