"I Have Done What I Could"

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth there was a temperance crusader and social reformer named Carry Nation. She was famous for engaging in a practice she called "smashing," which involved her and her followers vandalizing saloons, typically with hatchets. She believed she was specially inspired and required by God himself to save America from the evils of alcohol; and toward this end she raised holy hell all over the country.

Except here. For some reason she held a kind of truce with the saloonkeepers of Eureka Springs. She destroyed property and got arrested just about everywhere else, but she toed the legal line pretty closely in her home town. Although she was known to snatch lit cigars, cigaretttes and pipes from the mouths of townsmen on the streets.

As she approached the age of sixty the Kentucky native looked for a place to settle and spend her remaining years. Like so many eccentrics before and since, she fell in love with Eureka Springs and bought several properties there. Pictured here is Hatchet Hall, 35 Steele Street, Eureka Springs. For about a year she kept a sheep farm (bought in 1909) and lived in a rustic cabin in nearby Alpena Pass. When she bought the Steele Street properties, she turned the sheep farm over to relatives.

Right across the street is the Carry Nation Spring. The story goes that Mother Nation had a dream that she would find a spring in the rock across the street. As Moses brought forth water from a rock by striking it with a staff, so Carry struck her boulders with a stick of sorts. One of dynamite. When you see how close the spring is to the front door, you'll wonder what posessed her to set off a bundle of dynamite right there and how much it must have cost her to replace all the glass in the front of the house. But I guess it paid off, because there's a spring there, and she let all her neighbors use the resulting cave as cool storage for perishables.

She named the house Hatchet Hall and it became her residence as well as a boarding house for widows, battered women and college girls. Room and board was $10 a month, a quarter of what other boarding houses charged. Religious instruction an hymn singing was pretty much constant and Carry did much of the cooking herself. In 1910 she founded a school, "National College," in this house. The college was actually a communal K-12 outfit, not what we would today call a college. In addition to taking classes the students were assigned household chores.

Some of the other properties she had in town she donated to religious or charitable organizations. Others she rented. She was not a shrewd real estate investor, and when she passed away it took five years to settle her estate because nobody wanted to buy the properties.

She made a fortune touring the lecture circuit, promoting her religious and social causes, but she also did a lot of spontaneous preaching. At left is a wax statue of Ms. Nation with her habitual getup and famous hatchet. If you'd like a better look, you can find this statue at Josephine Tussauds Wax Museum in Hot Springs.

She suffered a nervous collapse while visiting relatives up north during the Holiday Season of 1910. There were serious family problems that some people blame for her breakdown. For instance, her son in law Alex had just had Carry's daughter Charlien removed from Carry's care and committed to an Assylum in San Antonio even though Carry had made arrangements in her will for Charlien's perpetual care by family members in Alpena. There was a lot of soap opera stuff like that going on in her life. So she had a breakdown and she returned to Eureka Springs to recover.

Just two or three weeks later, in mid January, she felt strong enough to do a little preaching in the park. There was a law against stump speaking in Basin Park, so Carry's habit was to hitch her wagon on the street next to the park and preach from the bed of the wagon. This was the last time she did that because she collapsed as she delivered a feeble harrangue. Her friends rushed to her and she muttered to them, "I have done what I could." A paraphrase of those words is carved on her monument.

She was placed in the care of a nerve specialist in Leavenworth, Kansas. She refused to eat and remained bedridden until her death on 9 June 1911. The attending doctor listed her cause of death as heart failure, but the sensationalist press printed a rumor that she died of pariasis, a complication of syphillis.

Hatchet Hall was for a time a museum, but today it's pretty much a landmark.


Source: Grace, Fran, Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life; Indiana University Press, Bloomingtion, IN; 2001.

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