Funeral Arrangements on a Southern Missouri Homestead

What funeral arrangements on a southern Missouri homestead consisted of during the settling of the Plains States.

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A small colony migrated from Georgia to the Ozark Mountains in extreme southern Missouri in the late 1860s where they took on a Missouri homestead. They were hard-working, loving, God-fearing people. My father was one of them.

Twenty years later he filed on 80 acres farther up in the hills.

The farms were small, and the neighbors were close and plentiful.

In the early hours of an August day, Father, Mother, and I were awakened by a banging on our door and a voice shouting, "Johnny, get up! Walter Stone is dead."

My father drew on his trousers, lighted a lamp, and opened the door to admit our nearest neighbor lady.

In a few words she explained how the son of the Stones had become ill in the night and how the younger children of that family had been sent to her home to ask that her husband ride for the doctor, six or eight miles away. She had accompanied the children back to the Stone home to offer help.

By this time Father had put on his shoes, found his hat, and was ready to leave with the woman for the Stones' house. They detoured by her home where she told her son to ride until he met the doctor and her husband and to tell them Walter had died. After three or four miles on the rough road, the son met his father and the doctor. When the doctor heard the story, he said, "I'm not needed there now. I might as well turn back." And he did.

Riding back to their home, the father instructed his son to stop at all the houses along the way, telling them the sad news. Much help would be needed, for the body could not be kept long in the heat of summer, and all preparations for the burial would be done by the willing hands of neighbors and friends. The news traveled fast, and soon many people were arriving at the Stone home, ready to help.

Mother and I rose at dawn and did our chores before breakfast. We picked green beans and dug new potatoes in the garden, and we gathered the first ripening peaches in the orchard, which Mother would make into a big cobbler.

When the food was cooked and set to cool, we combed and braided our long hair and dressed in our Sunday clothes. I fetched our gentle mare from the meadow, and she was saddled.

Mother mounted the sidesaddle and carefully arranged her long skirts before I handed her the kettle of vegetables and the cobbler. I jumped up behind the saddle and took the kettle from Mother's hand.

When we arrived at the Stones' house, the place was swarming with men, women, and children. The whole community was there-or was coming. Mother joined the other women at the house.

I went to stand near my father who was dipping hot water over a wide walnut plank held on edge above a large butchering pot bubbling with hot water. When the plank was soaked and softened, two men gently bent the wood around a stake driven in the ground. It was nailed to a board which had been shaped for the bottom of the casket. The soaking was repeated on another plank which when properly shaped was nailed in place as the other side of the casket. Ends were fitted in place and a cover was fashioned. The men rested as the wet planks cooled, dried and set, after which all pieces were nailed together.

A bundle of black fabric was brought forth, and the rough outside was covered. The inside was carefully padded with cotton and lined with white cloth. The casket top was entirely covered with the black fabric. Last of all, a drapery of lace was pleated and tacked to the edge. Now the casket was carried into the house.

Earlier in the morning young Walter's grandmother had arrived and had held a mirror over his nose and mouth for several minutes. Finding no moisture on the glass, she had pronounced him dead.

Gentle hands had washed his body and dressed it in Sunday clothes, and now that the casket was completed, the body was laid in it. A flower was pinned to his lapel, and a Bible placed in his hands. We all passed thru the house to view the deceased.

Under the giant oak trees in the yard, a long table, made of boards on sawhorses, was set up, and a potluck dinner was served. After dinner many of the men disappeared to their homes where they washed, shaved, and changed clothes, to reappear shortly, ready for the start to the cemetery.

The casket, carried by six or eight men, was brought out and placed in a wagon containing straw and drawn by a team of horses. People rode in wagons or on horseback or walked to the cemetery three miles away. Father joined other men on the wagon, holding the casket to protect it from jolts as the wagon traveled the rocky road.

At the cemetery a grave had been dug and a rough box placed in it. The casket was carried to graveside and the cover removed. A woman stood at the head of the casket waving a tree branch to keep flies away.

I don't remember much about the service except the singing. The preacher was the only person with a songbook. He would read a line and the congregation would sing it, and then he would read another line until the song was finished.

Everyone filed by for a last look, then the cover was put on and fastened with long screws. The casket was lowered with ropes, two men holding the end of each rope. Then the cover of the outer box was nailed in place and loose dirt was shoveled into the grave, the men tramping the soil down until the grave was filled. The preacher offered a final prayer.

Few people lingered after the close of the service. The sun was already dropping in the west and duties at home were calling us.

The day was never to be forgotten by that eight-year-old country girl. 

Regie L. Vincent
Sharon Springs, Kansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.