Pioneer Woman Assists With Caring for a Corpse

Unusual treatment of "sitting up" near the coffin was common practice; just another common occurrence for a pioneer woman.

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In the early part of the century, when a person died, the country undertaker might prepare the corpse in a shed at his residence. And when the body had been made ready for burial, it often looked as well cared for as if it had been embalmed in a city mortuary.

The body of the deceased was brought home for perhaps two nights before the funeral. Usually two or three friends would "sit up" near the coffin after the family retired.

One night my brother and mother were sitting up at a friend's house. While the undertaker was in attendance, he would wring soft cloths taken from a pan of salt water and place them on the dead woman's face, neck and hands. As he left he asked Mother if she would continue the treatment every two hours. "That way, Phoebe's face and hands will not turn so dark," he explained.

With my brother beside her, Mother carried on. This pioneer woman had never done such a task before, but she added it to a long list of unusual jobs she had learned to do since coming from Ohio to Kansas to marry before her nineteenth birthday. 

Thelma Blosser Loucks
Canton, 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.