Saturday, November 21, 2009

Burial in a Country Cemetery near Whitewright, Texas, about 1895

This wonderful old image is identified on the back, in period handwriting, only as “Whitewright Tex.” Regrettably, there is no further information as to the identity of the deceased or the cemetery. Whitewright is in Grayson County, Texas (due north of Dallas), but very close to the Grayson-Fannin county line, and this cemetery could be in either county. Below is the uncropped image including the mounting board.

There is a sizable crowd, organized in an interesting fashion, gathered to witness the interment of the deceased. Generally speaking, the women and girls are on the left, most wearing white bonnets with streamers, and the men and boys are on the right. In the center, near the casket, are a mix of people, presumably the nearest relatives. There are two black men in the back center of the photo. This is a strikingly artistic image, with lots of vertical correlation between the trees in the background and the brush in the foreground. Below is the cropped image without the mounting board.

A closer crop of the casket area reveals the large mound of dirt from the grave and the casket propped up unevenly over the grave using planks and pieces of wood. Two women dressed in black mourning from head to toe are seated at the head of the casket, which is propped higher than the foot, and a small girl is seated near the other end. Other implements of burial, such as poles, more planks, and what appears to be a white tarp, are scattered around.

This image, taken well before the rise of the modern funeral industry in this part of Texas, effectively conveys the physical labor that was required in those days to bury a person. Death and burial was very much a community event at this time, and the hands-on work of burial was shared by the men of the family and their neighbors. In addition to digging and refilling the grave, the casket had to be lowered by hand using poles, planks, or rope and pulley devices. Old cemeteries are not just places of burial - they are places where our ancestors socialized, shared their grief, and engaged in hard physical labor.

© 2009, copyright Stephen Mills


  1. Good find. This picture really is worth a thousand words. I have so many questions!

  2. Too bad you can not see the names on the existing tombstones. I live in Paris, Lamar co., Texas and my husband's sister now lives in Whitewright, Texas. I could go over there some morning and look at the cemetery and maybe find out who's funeral this might have been just by the location of the existing tombstones.