Hidden History: Temperance crusaders attempt to axe the evils of liquor in early Burlingame

A strange twist of fate connected a Burlingame man’s patent to the town’s early temperance movement.

By Wendi Bevitt

Carry Nation, the hatchet bearing opponent of saloons and liquor, made her first raid on an establishment selling liquor in 1894. It was 20 years earlier in Burlingame, Kan., however, that two hatchet-wielding women with the same goal of protecting their homes from the abuses of drink, marched up Santa Fe Avenue and took out their aggressions on the local saloon.

By 1830, the average American over 15 years old consumed seven gallons of pure alcohol a year (three times of what is consumed today). This led to the beginnings of a push on restrictions of intoxicating drink. The momentum was stunted by the Civil War, but resurged afterward.

The town of Burlingame passed an ordinance in 1871 to “restrain dram shops and taverns and to regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors”. There was only one saloon, owned by Samuel H. Schuyler, which was licensed to sell liquor in the city, and for this privilege the city charged $300.

A group of concerned women began meeting in Burlingame in 1873 to bring about the end of liquor sales in the city. This had been spawned by the Women’s Crusade began that same year as an effort to give women, who had no direct political or social power, a chance for direct action with prayer vigils, petition campaigns and demonstrations. The women sought to persuade saloon keepers to destroy their beverages and close their doors and thereby protect their homes from the evils of liquor.

Mr. Schuyler was put on notice for his liquor sales by the ladies of Burlingame in August of 1873. Similar notices had gone out to all the establishments in Topeka which read like this: “Sir, you are hereby notified and warned that unless you desist from your present nefarious and soul-destroying business of selling whiskey, to the ruin of businesses and souls of this community, we shall visit your place of crime in a body … and invoke the aid and blessing of Almighty God to so enlighten your mind that you may be enabled to realize the great sin you are committing and forever abandon your present wicked business.”

Schuyler ignored their pleas, and in March of 1874, after the women’s group held a prayer vigil, two of the women greatly affected by the problem of excessive liquor use by their husbands decided to take action. Kate Wortz and Lizzie Allison, armed with hatchets, headed down Santa Fe Avenue towards Schuyler’s Saloon.

When the women arrived, they proceeded to smash the saloon’s front windows, Schuyler and staff watching the attack in shock from the inside. When the housewives finished their work outside, they continued inside, with Kate Wortz leading the charge. She determinedly headed next to the bar with its decanters and mirrors declaring, “I came down here to show you how my husband acts when he comes home drunk from your whiskey!”

Schuyler regained his composure and subdued the small woman of less than a hundred pounds, grabbing her hatchet-wielding arm. By this time, a crowd had gathered on the street, laughing at the exhibition or voicing opinion mostly in favor of the women. Ida Schuyler, wife of the saloon keeper, also voiced her approval of the women’s actions.

Mrs. Wortz and Mrs. Allison left the saloon, expressing their determination to break down the windows as often as they were repaired. They apparently did not follow through on this threat, but not long after the windows were repaired, both the windows and doors were painted black, once again shaming the establishment.

Conditions in the Wortz household deteriorated considerably. Kate’s husband, Dan, became increasingly abusive at home, but was well respected in his profession as a butcher in the town. In December of 1874, in a drunken rage, Dan showed up at Kate’s oyster house that she operated, and amongst a volley of oaths, aimed a revolver at his wife, vowing to shoot her on the spot. Her patron, N.B. Conner, intervened and then sought out a warrant for Dan Wortz’s arrest.

Officer James Sauders arrived to arrest Mr. Wortz, and having difficulty doing so, sent for Officer Charles Bratton. Mr. Wortz repeatedly tried to escape, waving his revolver at the officers. After that was wrested from him, he pulled a 10-inch butcher’s skinning knife from his boot and slashed and stabbed Officer Bratton, mortally wounding him.

Dan Wortz’s name would become warning against the perils of excessive drink. A decent man when sober – then paying the ultimate penalty for drunkenness. Kate Wortz pursued a divorce from her husband, putting an end to her turmoil.

Lizzie Allison stayed patiently by her husband, Robert Bratton Allison, in their 35 years of marriage. Bratton was an inventor, striving for years to perfect his inventions. Ironically, as a husband to an axe-wielding temperance crusader, his final patent before his death in 1906 was for a shingling hatchet that the family hoped would secure a profitable future for his family.

A shingling hatchet designed by R. Bratton Allison was patented Jan. 23, 1906. Diagram from Google Patents; for more information, visit www.google.com/patents/US810597.


wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She has lived in Osage County for 18 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.



2 Responses to Hidden History: Temperance crusaders attempt to axe the evils of liquor in early Burlingame

  1. Loretta Warren says:

    Great article, Wendi.

  2. Philip Wessel says:

    Very interesting. I’ve lived in Burlingame since 1961, never heard about this.

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