Undertaking the Old West Way

Linda pubpixUndertaking on the frontier was a crucial business. After all, life expectancy was only 37 years of age. So lots of folks were dying and they needed someone to take care of the nasty business of death.

Funeral customs usually depended on whether the deceased was a city dweller or one who lived on a farm or ranch. People who lived outside of town handled everything themselves. After a loved one died, the family lovingly washed their bodies and dressed him or her in their best clothes. Sometimes they made their own coffins if they had the tools. If not, they’d buy a coffin from the undertaker in town. They’d lay the person out in their parlor at home and sit beside them. They called this custom a wake. Maybe it was to see if they woke up. (Sometimes they did.) If not, after no more than a day or two, they’d bury the deceased in a plot on their land.

Undertaking Business

(Embalming was unheard of until the early 1900’s and even then it was mostly back East. That’s why they had to hurry and get the dead into the ground. They got pretty ripe after a while.)

If the deceased lived in town, all the needs were seen to by the undertaker who usually had side occupations like furniture or cabinet maker. Hearses were horse-drawn and most of the time ornate with glass windows on each side through which viewers could see the coffin. Some even sported black feathery plumes at each corner. The mourners walked on foot behind the hearse to the cemetery which was generally near the church.


Those who went to Boot Hill didn’t get to ride in a hearse…only a wagon…if he was lucky. He also received no service or words read from the Bible.

Such men were despised.

I read a true story of one outlaw who was buried face down without a coffin. Just laid in the dirt. And another instance where two bank robbers were thrown into the same grave and covered with dirt–no coffins there either.

Several years ago I wrote a story about a woman undertaker in the anthology GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER. The title of that story is UNDERTAKING TEXAS. I had a lot of fun writing that.


Have you read any stories or seen movies about an undertaker? Come on and put in your two cents. I’d love to hear from you.



Undertaking the Old West Way — 4 Comments

  1. I have read Give Me A Texas Ranger and really enjoyed the book. Your post reminded me of Mary Connealy’s book The Husband Tree for some reason. Have you read The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy, its good?

    • Hi Quilt Lady….I’m glad you liked Give Me a Texas Ranger. I had great fun writing those anthologies with Jodi, DeWanna and Phyliss. Yes, I’ve read The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy. I LOVED that story. In fact, I love all of Mary’s stories. They’re all so funny. I’m not surprised though because she’s hilarious. Always makes me laugh.

  2. Not a pleasant job for sure. I can remember as a child visiting relatives that lived in rural Alabama and the deceased loved one was on display in the living room. It really gave me a creepy feeling.

    I read GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER a few years ago, and it was a very entertaining anthology!

    • Hi Cheryl C……I’m glad you too have read this book and that you liked the stories. Those anthologies were so much fun to write. Yes, I agree about having a deceased loved one on display in a home was very creepy. And I still remember the smell too. Horrible, even though they sprayed and had flowers everywhere. I’m glad we’ve abandoned that custom. Absolutely.