Pioneer Funerals

by

Todd Burton

Junior High Division

 

December 13, 1918, Lydia Cathrine Beck passed away. Shewas the daughter of Gottlieb and Katie Beck. She lived out in western NorthDakota. Martha Roberts, her oldest sister, has told this story.

Lydia was just a little girl; she was only one year old,her birthday is November 11, 1917. The flu struck in the fall of 1918. Shehad gone with her mother and father to Montana to attend the funeral ofher aunt. While she was there, she caught the flu. After coming home, shebecame ill and after a week's illness, she passed away. As the entire familyof children had whooping cough, this disease added to the flu resultingin little Lydia developing pneumonia. As the disease racked the little body,convulsions developed hastening the end. The doctor was called in. As thiswas before the days of penicillin and sulfa, they couldn't do much for herand she passed from this life at 13 months of age.

Her death was very much a family affair as mother gentlybathed the little body, dressed her in her finest clothes, and laid herto rest in the crib until a coffin could be gotten for her. There was notelephone in those days so, after the chores were done, father took thehorses and drove to Lemmon, S.D. On the way he met a neighbor and told himof her death. Returning home they placed her body in the coffin and putit in the granary until the funeral.

Because there was no organized cemetery in the area, agrave was dug by a couple of neighbors near the edge of a field on a hill.

Because the children all had whooping cough, no women orchildren came to the funeral. A few of the neighboring men, friends, andrelatives came to the house. One of the men spoke a few words about childrenbeing like flowers. A hymn was sung from memory and the tiny coffin wasclosed. After the service, several men picked up the coffin and carriedit across the pasture about a half a mile away. The grave was closed bythe men. This time was sad, as all partings are, but seemed more so as wewatched so intimately the preparations.

Three years later, Lydia's coffin was removed and placedin a new cemetery, where it is today. At this time, there was no specialservice, only the immediate family was present.

This was a typical pioneer funeral. The death certificatesin the County Courthouses tell the grim story of children dying of diseasesthat now are unheard of, of mothers passing on in childbirth, of suicidesby person's own hands as the trials of pioneer life were too great. Thefirst recorded death in Kittson County was in 1881. The families or friendshad to come and see to the preparations of the body and burial of the departedone.

In most towns, coffins were made by local carpenters. Asthe 1900's approached, coffins could be bought in local stores, such asfurniture or hardware stores. In 1910, the first undertaker came to Hallock.He was Mr. Sjholm. Mr. Sjholm had a furniture store, sold coffins and hada hearse for hire.

Mr. Sjholm sold his business in 1933 to Mr. Andy Larson,who built the first mortuary in Hallock. Around this time, the practiceof bringing the body to town and having it prepared for burial began. Therewere families that continued to care for their dead if they lived in outlyingareas.

The word funeral comes from an old Sanskrit word of NorthernIndia which means Smoke. Funeral customs differ with different countriesand people. But since the ancient times, ceremonies or rites of some kindhave been connected with death. The practice is to honor the dead and comfortthe mourning family.

Bibliography

"Funerals", World Book Encyclopedia, p. 482,Book F

Hallock Library, Kittson County Anniversary Edition

Kittson County Court House Death Records

Roberts, Mrs. Martha, Interviewh Records

Roberts, Mrs. Martha, Interview