Undertaking the Old West

Undertaking 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 depended on whether the deceased was a city dweller or one who lived on a farm or ranch. People who lived outside of town placed the care of their remains in the hands of those who loved them. 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 the coffin. They called this custom a wake. Then, after no more than a day or two, they’d bury the deceased in a plot on their land. Simple and without fanfare.

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

But if the deceased lived in town, all the needs were seen to by the undertaker. Hearses were horse-drawn and most of the time ornate, some with black feathery plumes, and a glass window on each side from which viewers could see the coffin. Mourners walked on foot behind the hearse to the cemetery which was generally near the church.

The heroine in my story called UNDERTAKING TEXAS in the newest anthology “Give Me a Texas Ranger” with Jodi Thomas, Phyliss Miranda and DeWanna Pace is the town’s undertaker, dentist and barber. Texanna Wilder took over the businesses after her husband, Sam, was gunned down. My story takes place a year after she buried her husband. Texanna and her son are having a very difficult time of things. Her disgusting step-brother-in-law is making life miserable by threatening to take her business from her if she doesn’t marry him.

Then in rides Texas Ranger Stoney Burke. Stoney was Texanna’s husband’s best friend. Stoney promised Sam on his wedding day that he’d look after Texanna if anything happened to Sam.

When Texanna and Stoney are thrust together, he’s forced to face his secret feelings for Texanna. On the one hand, he’s mad as all get-out at her for making Sam give up his job on the Texas Rangers. But on the other hand, Stoney has worshipped Texanna from afar all these years. Memories of her and the kisses they shared long ago keep him awake at night.

There’s also the matter of dealing with Texanna’s six year old son who’s developed a bad habit of stealing, a jail break, and a fire that consumes the town.

Locked in a fight to keep Texanna safe, Stoney comes to see that old grudges have no place in the future and that love can survive past secrets if only he gives it a chance.

GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER will be in bookstores on July 1st. I hope you’ll pick up a copy.

But today I’m giving away three copies of Give Me a Texas Ranger to visitors who leave a comment. So, come on and put your two cents in. I’d love to hear from you.


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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

51 thoughts on “Undertaking the Old West”

  1. What a great concept of having your heroin be an undertaker. I must say, I have never understood why the old west hearses had windows…could it be the early ways of “viewing”?

    Many blessings to you all.

    Cindy W.


  2. Reading your description of Texanna, all I could think was, “women…always the multitaskers.” I never could understand why so often those who did the barbering were also the dentists and never heard of undertaking to the mix. She is a woman with her hands full. Any insight into why those jobs were usually combined?

    Peace, Julie

  3. Hi, Linda! Thank you for creating such a wonderful Western heroine as “Texanna”! My favorite era is the American Old West of the mid to late 1800’s. I have always thought that women make better doctors. We are natural nurturers and healers. We also have to deal with menstrual discomforts and childbirth. Many women love cooking and recipes, so we would be quite adept at preparing medicines and herbal remedies. Women of the Old West had a high likelihood of becoming widows, due to natural disasters or disastrously inclined husbands! Undertaking would have come quite naturally to frontier females who became adept at survival.

    I have long admired the strength of pioneer and frontier women. Many of them had to leave their cherished keepsakes along the trail in order for the wagon loads to be lightened. There were also great personal losses along the way, and loved ones were buried where they died. The journey continued for the survivors, and people often had to band together and form new “families” in order to live from day to day. Harsh times called for even harsher measures!

  4. very interesting!
    hmmm..it’d be hard to wash up your dead loved one…but i suppose it was done with love and was part of the process
    funeral customs other than our own are always so interesting
    your book sounds great!
    thank you for the chance at a copy!

  5. I like stories with Texas Ranger heroes and second chances. This book has 4 Ranger stories perfection! The heroine, Texanna sounds like a very strong,resourceful,independent woman. She’s undertaking an amazing slew of jobs. I’ve heard of the barber pulling teeth but buring the dead and conducting wakes really covers it all. Stoney is going have a hard time convincing her that he can help her shoulder the load and to trust him enough to fall in love again with another Texas Ranger.

    This book definitely sounds like one I want to read!

    I’ve enjoyed several of Jodi Thomas’ books over the years. Phyliss Miranda, Dewanna Pace and your books are new to me.

  6. Hi, Linda. I can’t wait for the new anthology to hit the shelves! And Texanna’s story sounds fun and unique. I guess you couldn’t count on enough people dying or needing a tooth pulled to keep up a steady income, so you had to combine jobs to make ends meet. I’m not sure which would be less gross, preparing a dead body or reaching into some whiskey-rotted mouth to extract a tooth. I think I’d stick with the barbering!

  7. Hi Cindy….thanks for dropping by to chat today. I’m not sure why the hearses had and still do have windows. I assume it’s for viewing, giving the loved ones more time with their departed maybe. That’s a good question and I’ve never really thought about it.

    I’ll put your name in the drawing. Have a great day!

  8. Hi Julie….glad you came by to visit with me today. And you ask a very good question. Wearing a lot of different hats in an old west town was extremely common. And it’s because of so few people. The smaller the town, the more jobs had to be combined. In fact, when I was writing this blog, I ran across a comment that undertakers were generally cabinet or furniture makers in addition to taking care of the dead. And most barbers were doctors too.

    I’ve entered you in the drawing. Have a wonderful day!

  9. Hi Virginia C….glad you enjoyed my blog. You’re absolutely right about women’s roles on the frontier. Women were very adept at doing what they had to do to survive. They didn’t shirk from anything. I think Texanna embodies the strong spirit of people in the west. She was a great character. And I like to give my heroines unusual occupations. It makes for a more interesting and entertaining read I think.

    You’re in the drawing. I wish you a day filled with laughter and love!

  10. Hi Linda, great post! I don’t understand why the undertaker took care of the bodies in town but family members took care of them in the country but I know that was the way it was back then. Its kind of sad in a way. Just taking care of a loved one that way just makes me sad!

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this book, I have read the other two Give me A Cowboy and Give Me a Texan were awesome reads so I want this one!

  11. Hi Margaret….glad my story has caught your interest. I hope it won’t disappoint. Texanna and Stoney are just waiting to entertain you. I have to say that I loved “A Lady Like Sarah.” It not everyday that I read about a woman outlaw. Your heroine was so funny and sweet and touching. I’m counting the days to your next book release.

  12. Hi Laurie G….yes, Jodi’s books very special. She’s never disappointed me. I do hope you’ll like this anthology enough to find the rest. We’ve certainly enjoyed bringing them to our readers. Yeah, Stoney really does have quite a time convincing Texanna that she needs taking care of. She’s a very headstrong lady with certain ideas about what she wants and doesn’t want. I just hope this story is one to remember. Stories about Texas Rangers are at the top of my list also. I love ’em.

    And you’re right about barbers also being the dentist. Men and women of the west had to shoulder many different responsibilites because there were so few people. It just came with the territory.

    Your name is in the drawing, my dear.

  13. Anthologies are a favorite. The shorter story format let me read a complete story when I don’t have much time. I often buy them to try out new authors. It is a good way to see if you like their style.
    I can still remember a few wakes that were held in homes. That was about 45 years ago. I don’t think it happens much, if at all, anymore.
    I like the sound of the story. Can’t see many women doing those jobs in that time period. “Inheriting” it from you husband would probably be the main way.
    Best of luck with the release of GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER.

  14. Hi Karen….so glad to see you stop by. Yes, I’m not sure I’d be very good at combining jobs back then either. Barbering would be a lot less yucky. But sometimes people weren’t given much of a preference. They had to step into occupations they didn’t really care about because there were so few people on the frontier. The smaller the town, the more varied jobs each person did. It was out of necessity.

    I’m really glad you’re excited about this new antho. We’re just happy to bring it to you.

  15. I, too, have not ever heard of a female undertaking the occupation of the “undertaker” back in the old
    days. Women have always done a bit of everything
    in home and family care, that we really shouldn’t
    be surprised!

    BTW, Linda, another great cover!!

    Pat Cochran

  16. Great post. I have never heard of a woman undertaker back then. Your story sounds good. I love the cover to the anthology.

  17. Hi Quilt Lady….you’re so sweet. I’m glad our anthologies are just what the reader ordered! I hope you’ll love this one too.

    Country people were much more self-sufficient than their city folk. They just shouldered whatever came and didn’t think twice about it. I don’t know when exactly the caring for the dead became the sole job of the undertaker, sometime after the turn of the century. There were many changes. But I’m sure glad this particular one saw a shift. I wouldn’t be very good at laying out a body and burying the person.

    Hope you’re one of my winners.

  18. When I was young the deceased was always brought home from the funeral parlor and men took turns setting by the coffin during the night and the next day until it was time to take the deceased to church for the funeral. If they thought it was going to be a big funeral it was held in the gym at school.

  19. Hi Patricia B….I’m glad you’re excited about this new release. If you haven’t read ours yet, now’s the time. Yes, anthologies are great because of the shorter story format. They’re great for a people who have little time to sit down and read.

    I’m not sure of exact time when wakes and burials shifted solely to the undertaker but I’m sure glad it did. I wouldn’t want to have to handle that by myself. I can’t imagine.

    I’ve put your name in the drawing. Hope you win a copy.

  20. Hi Pat C….thank you for the compliment on the cover. I hope that entices a lot of readers to buy the book. We’ve been really fortunate with getting great covers.

    And you’re right about women in the west. They were definitely multi-taskers!

    Good luck in winning a copy of TEXAS RANGER!

  21. “They got pretty ripe after a while.”
    To quote Curly from OKLAHOMA: “…but it’s summer, and we’re running outta ice.” [from Poor Jud is Dead}

    Excellent blog, Linda!

  22. I have read and enjoyed GIVE ME A COWBOY and GIVE ME A TEXAN, so I am pleased to hear that there is a new anthology. I have always thought that a Texas Ranger made a perfect hero! I am also intrigued by the heroine being the town undertaker, dentist, and barber!

  23. Hi Goldie….I don’t remember ever seeing a body laid out in a home. But my mother really shielded us. I’m sure it happened some in my day. I’ve read lots of stories about the practice though. It was interesting to say the least.

    Your name is in the drawing. Best of luck!

  24. Hi Tracy….glad you liked my blog. You’re so funny. I didn’t remember that line from Oklahoma. When I decided to make my heroine an undertaker I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I’m relieved there seems to be quite a bit of interest. Hope that translates to sales. 🙂

  25. Hi Cheryl C….I’m so glad you enjoyed the other two anthologies and are looking forward to this one. Seems we’ve made a fan. 🙂

    Texas Ranger heroes are my favorites too. They were such strong, dedicated men. I was thrilled when they asked us to write about Texas Rangers. It’s a subject all four of us know something about.

    I’ve put your name in the drawing. Good luck!

  26. HI, Linda…. your blog was so interesting! Your books are the best! Please enter my name in your drawing.I remember in the 1950’s when someone would die,the men of our little town would take turns staying with the body at the funeral home all night…My Dad did this many nights. I think this was an old custom to keep the rats from getting into the coffin but the custom continued for many years out of respect for the family.

  27. Hi Tretha! Wow, you finally got brave. 🙂 Glad to see you post a comment. Thanks for making me feel good. Glad you enjoyed the blog and like my books. You’re so sweet.

    I didn’t know the real reason why people sat with the coffin all night. My goodness! I didn’t know they had to scare away the rats. But I guess it stands to reason. Rats would’ve been drawn to the body. And I think now days few people spend the night with the coffin. I don’t hear of it much. I don’t remember ever going to a wake when I was a little girl in the 1950’s. I’m sure they had them though. The only thing I remember was my mom sitting up with someone who was really sick.

    Yes, I’ll enter you in the drawing. Be happy to.

  28. Hey Linda, what a terrific idea, an undertaking gal! I love this and can’t wait o read it. I just finished Give me a Cowboy and all of you ladies are such terrific story tellers.

    I remember hearing sometimes they set ice around the body, too. Took pictures sometimes which I thought macabre. I remember seeing a teeny white hearse for babies one time as a child, I think at Knotts Berry Farm, and my heart broke.

    Great blog.

  29. Hi Linda – stopping by to say hello and how great your story sounds. Gotta get me a copy! I’m always amazed when I hear about life expectancy – I guess that’s why girls married very young and had their babies early and often.

  30. My father never got over his father’s death. He died at 42 from appendicitis – actually he died from pneumonia from laying in bed on his back for weeks after the operation. This would have been around 1900. He lived in Mississippi and he was layed out in their home. My father never allowed flowers in our house and it was later that I found out that it was because of the smell of all those flowers in the heat (trying to cover up other smells).

  31. Hi Tanya….thank you for the kind words about GIVE ME A COWBOY! I’m so glad you enjoyed the stories. We had a fun time writing those. I hope you like this new antho even better. 🙂

    Yes, I remember seeing pictures of dead people in coffins. That is very weird. I can’t imagine why anyone would want a picture under those circumstances. So strange. And yes, a child’s hearse would be very sad. Children sometimes didn’t live long back then. Just a fact of the times.

  32. Hi Charlene….glad you enjoyed my blog. The ones about new book releases are my favorites. I’m sure you’re right about why girls married young and had their babies. Most didn’t have long. It was pretty rare for someone to live to their 60’s or 70’s. And life was so hard it tremendously aged a person.

  33. Love your story, Linda. What a different idea, having your heroine be an undertaker. I have a friend whose lost his father in an accident when he was nine. He can remember the casket lying in the living room while people came by (not a good memory).
    The winner of your book will be one lucky reader!

  34. Hi Jeanne S….how sad about your grandfather dying so young. It must’ve really scarred your dad. No wonder he had such a hard time with flowers in your home. I’ll bet those smells were awful. The heat of the South would’ve made it unbearable. I’m glad we’ve abandoned the practice of laying out the deceased in the home.

    I’ve added your name to the drawing for a book. I wish you all the best.

  35. Linda, great book.

    My mother said when her grandmother (who lived with her as a child) died she was laid out at home and buried within 24 hours.

    I kind of like that idea.

    The whole embalming, casket, vault thing seems weird to me. Why are we trying to preserve bodies this way? Gives me the creeps. I’d sorta like to be wrapped up in a blanket and allowed to do that whole dust to dust, ashes to ashes thing. Let my remains fertilize some grass.

    I know a lady who said she’s already given her final wishes to be NOT embalmed and buried right away. If family wants to gather and they can’t in time, they can have a service with her already planted.

  36. Hi Elizabeth, glad my story in TEXAS RANGER sounds like something you’d like. I like to give my heroines unusual occupations when I can. I think it adds depth to a story.

    Yes, I can imagine how scary it would be for a child to have to deal with having a casket in the house. I’ve never seen it and don’t especially want to either. But I think back in the past it was pretty normal. No one thought much of it. Except children of course. Bet that gave your friend nightmares.

  37. Hi Vicki….I’m glad you’re already intrigued with Texanna. That’s a good sign. She is a very strong character. I can’t believe it’s already release time. Wow, where has time gone?

  38. Hi Mary….I’ve heard of a quite a few people who don’t want the embalming, casket and everything so you’re not alone. But, I’m thinking there’s a law against just laying someone in the ground and covering them up. The government has to help out the funeral homes most likely. But folks in the old west had the right idea.

  39. The first thing that hit me in your blog was the average age was 37. My father died 9 months ago yesterday and today he would have been 93! I remember my mother telling me stories about how they would lay their relatives out in the parlor when she was just a little girl. Your book sounds like a winner.

  40. Hi, Linda,

    The story sounds wonderful, and I love the fact your heroine is an undertaker!

    I love westerns, and I can’t wait for GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER. 🙂

  41. When I was a kid I can remember our relatives having the body at their house and having people over for dinner. Someone would sit up with the body and I always used to ask my mom why they did that, it wasn’t going anywhere. To this day I still hate funerals. I know this was all a ritual thing with my mothers family, I just thought it was weird.

  42. Hi Judy An….thanks for dropping by to check out my blog. Yes, the life expectancy for that time period really floored me too. The age of 37 now is just getting started good. Those were really hard times in the 1800’s. Bet they didn’t take many things for granted.

    Bless your heart! I’m so sorry about your dad. It hasn’t been long at all and I’m sure it still seems like yesterday. I wish you long days of peace of comfort.

  43. Hi Karen W….I’ve entered your name in the drawing. Good luck!

    Hi Linda H….it’s so difficult for children to understand about life and death and to have to deal with a deceased person in the house would be extremely trying. No wonder you hate funerals. I’m glad we do things differently now. I’ve entered you in the drawing. Good luck!

  44. What a great new story, Linda–I’m thrilled to hear about your anthology! I loved the previous ones, and can’t wait for this! Life certainly was pretty challenging on many levels in the old West–in many ways I’m thankful to live in the time that I do!

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