Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Prohibition in Isaac's Time

John St. John
The Stafford County seat of St. John, Kansas was named after John St. John.  When the citizens of the new town sought their charter, they anticipated the future quest for the county seat, and with the idea of using the governor's name for their town as a way to gain an advantage over other contenders for the seat, St. John was chosen as the town's name.  There were contenders, but the town of Stafford was the strongest challenger.  Whether the name of St. John proved decisive or the fact of the town's central location was significant to voters, St. John became the county seat.

Stronger than having a county seat named after him was John St. John's reputation for opposing liquor.  His political rallies sometimes seemed a bit like revivals, with all the quoted scripture and prohibition rants.  Motivated by Governor John St. John's leadership, Kansas voters adopted a constitutional amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages.  There were exceptions for medical, scientific, and industrial uses.  Many Kansans found alcohol to be good medicine!  Isaac Werner's journal contains several references to prohibition rallies, but also to public drunkenness.  Ladies who spurned drinking nevertheless utilized various health "remedies" containing alcohol for their ailments.

Carrie Nation, Credit: White Studio
John St. John is not the only Kansan known for opposition to alcohol.  In fact, Carry Nation is probably among the best know opponents.  Unlike the women who worked through the Women's Christian Temperance Union, who were also famous in their day for blaming alcohol as the cause of poverty, unemployment, and other social issues, their efforts are less well known today than the more dramatic exploits of Carry Nation.  Some WCTU ladies joined in Carry's less extreme demonstrations.

Carry used prayer--not quietly doing her praying at home or in church but rather on her knees in front of saloons, alternating prayer with singing and curses at the saloon keepers.  She had her supporters, and saloon keepers often left town rather than confronting not only Carry's antics but also the threat of prayer meetings held in front of their establishments.  Her reputation for violent action is not fiction.  She once borrowed a sledge hammer from a blacksmith and smashed a druggist's keg, rolling it into the street to pour the contents in the gutter and set the alcohol ablaze.  On another occasion she loaded her buggy with stones and attacked the bars in a neighboring town with her rocky projectiles.   

Carry Nation Home, Medicine Lodge. Credit Ammodramus
In Wichita she concealed a rod and cane, along with some large stones, beneath her cape to attack the fancy saloon in the Hotel Carey.  That assault resulted in her arrest and lodging in jail.

However, the weapon for which she is most famous is a hatchet.  When she accused a county attorney of taking bribes from saloon keepers, he sued her for slander and won the case.  Her fine was only $1, but the judgment against her for costs of the suit were $113.65, a significant amount in those times.  She paid the costs by selling souvenir hatchets.

In 1976 the Carry Nation Home in Medicine Lodge, Kansas was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, where the public can tour her house and see items she used during her career battling alcohol. 

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