Last night I watched the first episode of Ken Burns’s most recent PBS documentary, Prohibition, which recounted in brief the history of Carry Nation, one of the more colorful teetotalers of American history.
Here’s Nephi Anderson’s humorous account of meeting Nation on a train. A longer version of it was first published in The Improvement Era in 1911.
A Day With Carry Nation.
By Nephi Anderson, Author of “Added Upon,” “The Castle Builder,” “Daughter of the North,” Etc.
We left Kansas City for the West on the evening of September 17, 1906. The train was belated, and we found ourselves next morning rolling slowly over the rain-soaked plains of Kansas. As the morning advanced there was a general awakening among the passengers, an adjustment of chairs and the making of toilets, in which Elder Delbert Stanger and I took part. We were returning “Mormon” missionaries. Elder Stanger had labored in Australia, and was coming home by way of Europe, thus making a complete tour of the world. We had been companions from Liverpool.
Directly across the aisle from us sat a “striking” looking woman. She was large, both in bone and muscle. Her dress was severely black, and when she had readjusted her toilet for the day she had on a small, Quaker-looking, black bonnet. Her black hair was sprinkled generously with gray. Her nose was rather small and sunken, but she had a prominent lower jaw, and lips that indicated the firmness of a vise. When she talked, which she was not timid in doing, it was in a high, clear voice that could be heard in all parts of the car. She attracted our attention from the first.
Presently every one in the car was startled by the woman standing on her feet, and repeating in a loud voice one of the psalms of David. After the recitation, she spoke for a few minutes by way of praise unto the Lord. Then she said, “Let us pray,” and kneeling by her seat she uttered a prayer that could be heard in every part of the car. Then she arose to her feet again, and by way of explanation to the astonished passengers, she said, “I give my first and best efforts to God.”
As we were still wondering what it all meant, we saw the woman take from her hand-bag a number of papers, go forward to the front of the car, turn to the passengers and thus address them:
“I am Carry Nation. I have copies of my paper, The Hatchet, which I sell for five cents. The newspapers of this country have abused me and misrepresented me, and I am publishing this paper in self-defense. Each paper bears my signature, and you may say you got it from Carry Nation herself. No one seems to know how to spell my name. It is C-a-r-r-y, not C-a-r-r-i-e, as you will see.”
Then she came down the aisle, and readily disposed of her papers.
After a time I began conversation with her across the aisle. I asked her how the work of prohibition was prospering, and we talked pleasantly on kindred subjects for some time. Then I handed her my card, I must say, not without some fear.
“You are a ‘Mormon’ are you?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well,” she said, “there are some good people among the ‘Mormons,’ of course; but polygamy damns you all.”
Just then, to my great relief, a party of four or five young men came in from another car. They had heard that the saloon smasher was on the train, and they came to see. They stopped by Mrs. Nation’s seat and shook hands with her, as if they were acquaintances. Some of them had been drinking already, and it did not take long for Mrs. Nation to discover the fact. Then she denounced them roundly, which the young fellows took good-naturedly enough.
After the crowd had left, she came back at Elder Stanger and me. Perhaps she had to have it out of somebody after that mean trick the young fellow had played on her, and here were two “Mormons” within arm’s reach. She pounced on us vigorously, talking loudly and boldly about the “Mormons” and their “vile practices.” We did not wish to enter into a discussion with her, but she at last forced us to say something in defense. All in the car knew by this time that their stock of curiosities had been augmented by the addition of two “real, live, ‘Mormon’ elders,” so they crowded around us to enjoy the novel spectacle. As Mrs. Nation wildly denounced us, she flourished a large Bible, which she said was the only hatchet she now used. I referred her to a few passages in her Hatchet, and asked her to read them, which she did. But she launched out again in a stream of talk. It was impossible to hold her to a given point until that was disposed of. She would fly from one topic to another with lightning rapidity. And how she did talk! Her words came in a continuous stream, loud and strong. Whenever I could “get in a word edgewise,” which was not often, I spoke in a moderate tone; therefore the people in the farther end of the car came nearer to listen. I gave up trying to say anything. We were literally beaten down by the force of words, and at last, when there was a calm in the storm so that I could be heard, I called the listeners’ attention to the fact that it was not our fault that Mrs. Nation’s statements were not answered. We could not talk against a whirlwind, we said, or against a Kansas tornado.
She quieted a little then, and I talked for a few minutes without interruption, explaining the doctrines and position of the Latter-day Saints on the topics under discussion. The passengers listened attentively, and some of them expressed their approval of what we said. But Mrs. Nation showed her utter contempt for us by her non-attention. Then she became sarcastic, and I fear, I made a mistake by retaliating in kind. However, the “Mormons” tried to take it all good-naturedly. We had taken part in too many such adventures to be very much discomfited at this one. Mrs. Nation had been in Utah, and had been accorded the privilege of speaking in the Tabernacle, but this did not seem to count in the “Mormons”‘ favor. In fact, she was very ignorant of Utah affairs, for she spoke of the women of Utah as slaves. “Why,” she exclaimed, “you ‘Mormons’ deny the rights of the priesthood to your women!”
We tried to explain.
“I should like to see a man try to bring a second wife to me,” she said in no uncertain tones. “I’d fix him!”
“I can well believe it, Mrs. Nation,” said I.
It was afternoon before the storm of discussion quieted. I changed seats with Elder Stanger, and after a time he and Mrs. Nation began talking. He told her of his missionary experiences in Australia, and she listened quietly. He spoke of how the Lord had blessed him and answered his prayers, and how his testimony that God lives had been made strong by the experiences through which he had passed. I had doubted whether there was in this strange, strong woman a particle of that finer feeling which naturally is a part of woman’s nature; but when I listened to the conversation between Elder Stanger and her, I discovered that I was wrong in my doubts. As she listened to my companion, I noticed a softer expression come into the hard face, and as she, too, talked of how the Lord had been good to her, there was a mildness in her voice. Then I thought, “What an incomprehensibly odd mixture human nature is!” And again, “How wonderful it is that the Lord uses every odd mixture for his own good purpose! Here was Mrs. Carry Nation, eccentric, coarse, foolish in her ways, prejudiced, making herself ridiculous in the eyes of mildly-mannered people, and yet a force which set the people of Kansas and surrounding states to thinking in earnest about their condition in letting the saloon and whisky be their master. Was she not doing her work in the world? It may not be the way I or you would do such work, but who shall say that Carry Nation’s way was not the best for the particular time and place?”
It was time for lunch in the car. We got out our meagre bread and butter, and Mrs. Nation opened a package of tempting sandwiches. I don’t know whether she saw our scanty store, or our greedy eyes told on us, but I suppose her mother-heart was touched, and so she offered to share with us.
” ‘If thine enemy hunger,’ ” she quoted, as she handed a sandwich over to us.
“Mrs. Nation,” I replied good-naturedly, “if that applies to me, I shall not take it. I am not your enemy. I wouldn’t object to your smashing every saloon in the land.”
She laughed. “I was joking,” she said.
“Then I accept your kindness with thanks,” I replied.
The sandwiches were delicious.