On November 2, 1900, Mattie Jackson, wife of James T. Jackson, died at their home on Buffalo Street in Caddo.
Married just six years and left with a grieving toddler, Jim probably wasn’t prepared to build a coffin for his wife as he would have done a decade earlier. Instead, we might imagine that he appealed to J. F. Lamb to help him pick out a suitable casket for her and perhaps even pay it out over time.
Mr. Lamb may have even known Mattie from previous visits to his store on Main Street. Mattie could have purchased a sewing machine or a table from the new store he had opened in October. Or perhaps she simply strolled by the store and admired the pretty Queensware displayed in the window.
Long before Walmart, furniture stores were the ultimate “big box stores” where you could buy a gun to shoot your dinner with, a lovely china plate on which to serve it, a table and chairs where you could sit and enjoy it, a bed to sleep in afterwards, and an actual “big box” in which to be buried if you got food poisoning.
J. F. Lamb & Co. advertised a “complete and up-to-date” undertaking department with coffins, caskets, robes and a hearse. J. W. Coker Furniture hired W. B. Ainsworth from Sherman to take over their embalming and undertaking in 1901. Durant Furniture offered undertaking and embalming services from “crepe to carriage and flowers” in 1906. The store’s manager was G. W. Holmes.
During the earliest years of settlement in Bryan County, families took care of their own burials. Friends and neighbors helped attend to the body, build a coffin and dig a grave, either on the farm or a short walk away at the local church’s small cemetery. A minister rode out from town or walked from the manse to say a few words.
As Caddo and other communities became real towns, carpenters advertised “undertaking” and coffin making. And it usually was a coffin rather than a casket.
Coffins were six-sided boxes, wider at the shoulders than the feet and required less lumber. They also seemed a bit more “finished” than a rectangular box.
In 1879, J. W. Robbins was one of the area coffin makers. Later, as caskets were brought into the furniture stores, the selections became more varied and elaborate. Linings and adornments became more and more common.
Undertaking evolved into a business about funerals and families rather than just containers for the deceased. The women in several communities brought order and beauty to local cemeteries. They developed rules for burials and collected donations for improvements. A couple of families established funeral home businesses that would last for generations. Headstones became permanent carved stones instead of wooden crosses prone to damages from storms and prairie fires.
Just four short years after Mattie’s death, another young wife died in Caddo.
Mollie Moon was laid to rest in an elaborate glass-lidded coffin. She was dressed in her finest attire, including her jewels. Her casket, ordered through the suppliers for her husband’s furniture store, wasn’t buried, but was housed instead in Caddo’s first and only mausoleum.
If Mattie rested in peace, Mollie certainly rested in eternal luxury.
Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.