Marlene Wagman-Geller

"As far back as I can remember, it was always on my bucket list, even before the term bucket list was coined,
to be a writer. It was a natural progression to want to go from reading books to writing one."

The Devil's Brew

Jun 07, 2023 by Marlene Wagman-Geller



“I believe in being everlastingly on the warpath.” – Carry A. Nation


Carry A. Nation Home & Museum (opened in 1950)

209 Fowler Ave., Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the United States


            The lyrics to Peter, Paul, and Mary’s folksong was the promise, “If I had a hammer/I’d hammer in the morning/I’d hammer in the evening…” Carry A. Nation’s choice of weapon, as instrument of social justice, was the hatchet.

             The woman who became an avenging angel against alcohol, Carrie (the legal spelling of her name though she went by Carry) Amelia, was born in Garrard County, Kentucky, the eldest of six children. Her father, George Moore, owned a plantation that depended on slave labor; her mother, Mary, was convinced she was Queen Victoria. (Mary ended her days in an insane asylum). A formative influence on Carry was the South’s tent-based evangelists who preached the gospel of hellfire. Although temperance was the cornerstone of the religious revivalists, booze was a constant presence in the Moore’s home. Her grandfather, a deacon in the Baptist Church, and her father were seldom far from a bottle. Falling on hard times, in 1854, the family relocated to Belton, Missouri.

            At age twenty-one, Carr married Dr. Charles Gloyd, who rented a room from the Moores.  Haunted by the horror of battlefield amputations, Charles traded his medical career for one as a teacher. As their Puritan courtship had afforded Carry and Charles little time together, she did not realize her fiancé sought anesthesia in alcohol. The groom was inebriated while taking his vows in front of the bride’s fireplace in the Moores’ Missouri parlor. Married life consisted of her husband spending nights downing drinks at the local masonic hall. In desperation, a pregnant Carry returned to her parents’ home. Charles died of alcohol-related symptoms sixteen months after their wedding, leaving his widow to raise their baby daughter, Charlien, on her own. (Charlien’s future would also entail time in an insane asylum).

            Carr’s second husband, David Nation, was a widower, nineteen-years her senior. After struggling to make ends meet, David accepted a job as a preacher in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and it was where Carry taught Sunday school. Her second marriage also proved joyless, and she took refuge in founding a chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The original organization’s mission statement took its wording from Xenophon, “Moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.” Denied the vote, women stood outside taverns reciting hymns and holding placards with the caption, “The lips that touch alcohol shall never touch mine.”

            Fanatically opposed to liquor, Carry’s habitual greeting to saloon owners was, “Good day, you donkey-faced bedmate of Satan.” Although Kansas was a dry state, the law turned a blind eye to enforcement. She also abhorred tobacco and snatched cigars out of men’s mouths by declaring, “If the Lord had wanted you to smoke, he’d have put a chimney on your head.”  A precursor of feminism, she exhorted women to shun corsets and tight clothing. Another item on her detest list was foreign cuisine.  The social reformer established a shelter for the wives and children of men in the grips of addiction. The crusader never pointed the finger of blame at those in the throes of inebriation; she reserved her fury for those who sold liquid brimstone. 

            In 1900, Carr loaded her buggy with rocks and bricks and set out for Dobson’s saloon in nearby Kiowa. While singing, “Who Hath Sorrow? Who Hath Woe?” the reformer smashed the bottles behind the bar while the cowering Dobson looked on. When her ammunition ran out, Carry utilized billiard balls. She recalled of her baptism of beer that it “flew in every direction, and I was completely saturated.” A future target was the Hotel Carey in Wichita that also stroked her ire for its life-size painting entitled Cleopatra at the Bath. Her rock tore through the canvass and shattered a huge mirror along with several bottles. On this occasion, she carried an iron rod as weapon of destruction because, “I found out in Kiowa that I could use a rock but once.” Her husband joked that next time she should carry a hatchet for maximum effect to which Carrie responded, “That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.” She later called her hatchet-wielding tactic “hatchetations.” To finance her cause, Carr sold pewter hatchet shaped pins with her name inscribed on the handle. Saloons took to sporting signs, “All Nations Welcome But Carrie.” Retaliation often proved grim. In Enterprise, Kansas, a saloon owner’s wife horsewhipped Carr in retaliation for the damage to her husband’s business. Nevertheless, Carr remained indefatigable, “I never saw anything that needed a rebuke or exhortation or warning but that I felt it was my place to meddle with it.”

            Seven years later, Carr left for the capitol where she demanded a meeting with President Roosevelt. After guards barred her entry, undeterred, she made her way to the lawn and  railed against the President for allowing wine in the White House. The press had a field day; the firebrand insisted that photographers only took pictures of her holding her Bible. The police escorted her from the premise and the court fined her $25.00. The temperance titan described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.”

            After thirty-two arrests and national notoriety, David divorced Carry on the grounds of desertion - as he termed her absences when she travelled throughout the country spreading the gospel of abstinence. Carry was grateful to David as his surname had afforded her the slogan that defined her crusade: “Carry A. Nation” to the Promised Land of Prohibition.  (The reason she later tweaked Carrie to Carry was for its publicity appeal). In New York City to campaign against alcohol, an officer warned her, “Some of these days you’ll get into jail and never get out.” Ms. Nation responded, “And some of these days you’ll get into hell and never get out.” The officer’s words almost proved prescient as she narrowly escaped a lynching. At the same juncture, after damaging a Coney Island cigar store, Carry found herself behind bars. For the rest of her life, she terrorized American whiskey drinkers and saloon owners.

            Due to failing health, after her 1910 speaking tour, she purchased a property in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which included a farm she dubbed Hatchet Hall. The following year, while delivering a lecture, the temperance leader collapsed. Her final words, “I have done what I could.” The phrase was from the Book of Mark, wherein Jesus stated that Mary “has done what she could” by washing his feet. The Women’s Temperance Christian Union erected a granite headstone over her gravesite in Belton, where her burial site is adjacent to her mother’s. The monument bears the inscription, “Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could.” Eight years later marked the passage of the 18th Amendment, making Prohibition the law of the land.

            The Women’s Christian Temperance Union purchased Carry’s home, and in 1976, the site became a U.S. National Historical Landmark. Visitors can view artifacts such as her desk, a pump organ, a walnut dresser, an oak bed, suitcase, hat, and hatchet pins. The most memorable souvenir of Carry’s crusade is her actual hatchet, protected under a glass enclosure.  

            While Peter, Paul, and Mary sang of “the hammer of justice,” Carry wielded the hatchet of sobriety in her quest to serve as savior from “the Devil’s Brew.”





The View from Her Window:

When Carry turned her careworn face towards her front yard, her view was of a lawn, devoid of flowers or landscaping. Her hatchet was too bust smashing bottles for its use to hack weeds.  However, if she were transported to her contemporary home-museum, from her porch she would see a sign: Medicine Lodge Stockade. The 1961 structure closely matches the 1874 original edifice. The stockade houses historical artifacts and antiques including the peace pipe used in the signing of the 1876 Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty. Despite being separately owned, one ticket grants the visitor access to both museums.

One of the exhibits behind the stockade’s walls is the Old Steel Jail, a replica of the one that used to be situated in the basement of the 1886 Medicine Lodge Courthouse. The prison housed a total of eighteen murderers in its time, including the one who shot Sheriff McCracken. When the authorities installed running-water, they added a tub. The last prisoner who iused it died the day after taking a bath. The doctor said he had died of pneumonia, but lore held he had passed from shock, as it was the first time he had bathed in an indoor tub.

Nearby Attraction: The Oz Museum

Not surprisingly, Dorothy’s home state of Kansas would have a museum dedicated to their most famous fictional daughter.  The museum has exhibits such as early editions of Frank L.  Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and ruby slippers adorned with 3,5000 Swarovski crystals created to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1939 movie. Original props from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, are original MGM movie production notes, death certificate signed by original Munchkin Coroner, Ray Bolger, and gloves of Munchkin actress, Nita Krebs. Another exhibit has props from the musical Wicked.