Pauper-related articles, Dallas County, Texas
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(Updated October 31, 2004)


The County and the City.

     Once in a while there seems to be a clash between the county and the city in the matter of paupers, sick and well. The law is perfectly plain that it is the duty of the county to take care of all the paupers within its limits, and Dallas county has a poor-house and farm for the purpose. Yet, many such a case is palmed off on the city that properly belongs to the county, and per consequence the city hospital to-day is over-crowded with inmates, and, it is very probable, will have to get more hospital space. All paupers living in the city are cared for by the city, either where they live or in the hospital. This morning an old man asked admission to the city hospital, and was denied admission because he did not live in the city, but more properly belonged to the county. He is an old man, looks pale and emaciated, is very feeble, has one eye out, and one leg off, and is truly an object of charity and pity. The county should send him to the poor farm and take care of him, for he claims Dallas county as his home, and says he has been working in the country. He certainly is unable to work now and is penniless. The city has all it can care for. There are certain blatherskites, little cross roads, stem winding, selfcocking politicians who delight in trying to raise hostility among the people in the country against the city, and resort to all the lowflung and pitiful arts of the demagogue and subterfuges of ward pot house bummers to do it, and this very question of the poor farm, and the city hospital is one of their pet schemes. Certainly every man with a thimble-full of brains knows that what is to the interest of the city of Dallas is to the interest of all Dallas county. Dallas secures railroads by subsidies, not a dollar of which the people in the country pay, and Dallas city gives the right-of-way for railroads through her streets. The people in the country are as much, if not more, benefited by these railroads than the city, yet scores and scores of them want double the value of their land for right-of-way for a railroad, every one of which doubles the value of the balance of their land. Scores and scores, aye hundreds and hundreds of them, under the inspiration of these little crossroads orator puffs, complain whenever a pauper is sent to the poor farm, and say the city ought to take care of them.

- November 20, 1886, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. ?
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     The new city ordinances furnish the means of securing reliable death statistics. As information of so much importance, all the safeguards should be used in securing correct death records. The cemeteries are now all within the city limits. The council can now appoint a city sexton, whose duty it should be to keep watch over the burial of the dead and secure a record in every case. It has now become an accepted fact that the death rate is the correct public health measurement.


     The city's poor, you hear of continually, but never of the city's paupers. Several years since County Judge E. G. Bower, on the part of the commissioners, and your present health officer, acting for the city, made an arrangement in regard to the city paupers. The city had accumulated large accounts against the county for taking care of the county sick. These accounts could not be collected. We agreed that the city would take care of the county sick, as it had been doing. The county, in order to remunerate the city for this, would take care of all the city paupers on the county farm, and bury our dead, including those from the city hospital. This arrangement got rid of the city undertaker. This plan has worked well and has proven of mutual benefit.

- April 21, 1890, Dallas Daily Times Herald, pp. 5, 8.
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Commissioner McAdams Says It Was Never
Stipulated That Paupers Were to be
Buried Without Being Washed,
Shaved or Dressed.

     County Judge Nash, to a TIMES-HERALD reporter, to-day, said that after reading the article in this paper yesterday, in regard to the burial of Valentine J. Kirkham, he investigated the kind of contract the county has with Undertaker Linskie to bury paupers. He said:
     I find that in December, 1884, the Commissioners' Court made an order giving Mr. Linskie, over competitors, the contract to bury paupers at the rate of $4.50 each. In 1885, the contract was renewed for two years longer, but since that expired, the county has had no contract with Mr. Linskie, or anybody else, but he has gone on and buried paupers at the same rate.
     "Messrs. McAdams and Orr are the only members of the Commissioners' Court who were in office in 1884 and 1886, and Mr. Orr is not in town. Mr. McAdams says he does not remember that anything was ever said as to the manner in which the burials of paupers should take place, but he is very certain that it was not stipulated that paupers should be buried without being washed, shaved or dressed. He does not believe that anybody in a civilized land would have human beings buried in that way.
     "The first order that I was called upon for on becoming County Judge, I made inquiry about the matter and was told that Mr. Linskie had the contract to bury paupers, and I have ever since given orders to him. I have never heard any complaint against him, and therefore, never paid any attention to this matter.
     "The presumption is that when a person dies, no matter how poor, that his friends or neighbors, in default of relatives, will perform the Christian office of shaving, washing and otherwise preparing him for burial, and the Commissioners' Court, no doubt, took this for granted when they let the contract without specifying that it should be done. The human body is held sacred by even the lowest tribes of savages, and on account of the mystery of the origin and destiny of man, the disposition of the body after death has, in all times and places, been a matter of the most solemn moment.
     "The Commissioners' Court will look into this matter at once."

- June 15, 1894, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 6, col. 5.
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Added March 30, 2004:

     The Commissioners Court, to-day, awarded the contract to bury paupers to Loudermilk & Miller. They are to receive $4.75 for a plain burial, but $2 additional when robe and underclothing are furnished, and $2.50 for a coffin alone.

- February 18, 1895, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 2, col. 5.
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A Visit to the Graves and Measure-
ments Taken of Their


Little Galatea's Grave -- Last Resting Place of
the Friendless, Showing the Variety
of Human Charity.

     A News reporter yesterday visited the county potter's field for the purpose of ascertaining the foundation for the weird reports about shallow graves and terrible stenches emanating therefrom. The potter's field lies to the right of the west entrance to Trinity cemetery, and to reach it, the cemetery gate is passed through and a road turning to the right is taken and followed about fifty yards, where it enters the burial ground of the unfortunate whom death has overtaken in an hour of adversity, or who, like the little waif, Galatea, left at the Woman's Home some days ago, have no known relations. Poor Galatea. Her days on earth were short. Who was responsible for her existence, nobody knows, except the keeper of the great book, in which even the blades of grass are numbered. Galatea's in the newest grave in the potter's field, and beside and all around it, except on the side next [to] the new-made graves, the weeds grow breast high. But weeds are no rarity in the potter's field. With the exception of a narrow strip, where the recent interments have taken place, the whole of those acres where the bodies of the poor are turned to the earth is a jungle of weeds, blackberry vines, Bermuda grass and brambles. These are scattered about, and in places, the rank weeds rival them in height.
     When The News reporter arrived at the cemetery yesterday, he went to the sexton in charge, A. S. Hall and Ted Green, who, when he made his inquiry known, volunteered to assist him any way in making an investigation of the graves. In company with them, the reporter visited the graves, which, it was said, were in bad condition.
     "This grave," said Mr. Hall, pausing at the lot belonging to the King's Daughters and pointing to the grave of Mrs. A. Decker, "this one, that was examined by County Commissioner Barcus yesterday. It had sunk in at the head and needed filling. It may have sunk more than usual, as the grave was dug during one of the cold days of last February and remained open all night and the earth froze. When the earth was thrown on the grave, it was in large clods, and when these settled down, it sank more than usual."


     When the reporter saw the grave, it had been refilled and rounded off on top. Ted Green pushed an iron rod down to the top of the box which inclosed the coffin and it was found to be 2 feet 6 inches deep. No odor could be detected, and Ted Green declared that a body would have "quit smelling," that had been buried that long.
     "The standard depth of a grave is 4 feet 6 inches," said Mr. Green, "and there is a box in this grave with sides twenty inches high, in which the coffin is placed, so that just makes the grave about the standard depth."
     The graves of the paupers were next visited.
     "We dig the graves of the paupers four feet deep, as they are buried in coffins without boxes around them," said Mr. Hall. "Four feet for grown people, and three and a half feet for babies, is the way we dig them."
     Several of the graves were sounded with the rod and found to be 3 feet 3 inches to the top of the coffin. A baby's grave was sounded and found to be 2 feet 4 inches to the top of the coffin. The measurements were from the level of the ground, and not from the top of mound.
     "We are only paid to dig the grave and fill it, and then to visit it again after it sinks in and fill in again," said Mr. Green. "After the second filling, the coffin decays and falls in, which will be four or five years, and then it will sink again. Of course, we can't be expected to come around and fill them again after that time. There are graves over in the old part of this field which have sunk in three feet. Nobody knows whose they are, and there is no way of finding out," said Mr. Hall.
     He and the reporter made an excursion into the jungle to find some of the sunken and forgotten graves.
     "Are you used to chiggers?" asked Hall, gazing at the low-quarter shoes of the reporter. Being informed that chiggers had no terrors for a reporter, he led the way with the comforting remark that there were not many snakes, but his partner, Green, had killed a rattler the day before with six rattles and a button. "All this ground we are walking on is thick with graves," said he, and it was evident from the uneven feeling under foot. It was impossible to see the ground on account of the matted Bermuda grass, which rose waist high. Parting the weeds with his hands and feeling for hollows in the grounds with his feet, he proceeded with the reporter in his wake. "Here's a deep un," he said, as his foot went down a couple of feet and found no bottom. An umbrella was used for a sounder, and it found bottom about three feet. The thick grass was parted and the walls of the grave became visible. It was about four feet long and eighteen inches wide and was evidently a child's grave. A strange dank odor, such as makes the blood chill and the flesh creep, arose from it. Water had recently settled there and had left a green fungi on the walls and bottom. Not very far from this grave was a marble slab with Chinese characters in upright lines upon it -- the grave of some Celestial who had departed this life in a foreign land, but whose friends inscribed upon his tomb his epitaph in his native tongue. Near by, in a place where the weeds had not grown as luxuriantly, was a little mound covered with shells, and in a broken glass plate, was part of a doll's teaset, a little pitcher about an inch high, some little cups and saucers and a little pie plate, which told of happy, careless childish days, more eloquently, here buried in weeds and grass, than any words that could be graven on marble.
     The tramp through the wilderness of weeds was continued, sunken graves being found every few steps. "This grass is burned off every winter," said Mr. Hall. "You see the rats make nests in these sunken graves and the neighbors' dogs get after them and scratch into the graves. There is no one in charge of the potter's field, that is to watch it. We are in charge of Trinity cemetery, and when we bury a corpse, our work is done."
     "If any one wanted to disinter one of these corpses, who would prevent him?"
     "We would do it, if we knew about it, and I don't think any graves could be opened without our finding it out. We have never had a reason to suspect that any of the graves were robbed. Here is a place where graves are about as thick as you ever see them," he said, pointing to a lot of little head-boards, about two feet apart.      "Stillborns, every one of them," he said briefly. The little graves were as thick as cells in a honeycomb.
     The reporter called on Mr. O. E. Farmer, who lives about 100 yards from the potter's field. "Yes, I saw the grave in the King's Daughters' plot," he answered to a query. It was sunken in until there was only about six inches of earth on it. I can show you a grave of a grown man in the potter's field, where it is not two feet to the top of the coffin." The reporter accompanied him to this grave, which was dated Feb. 1, 1895, and it was sounded with an iron rod and the coffin was found at a depth of twenty-two inches. Mr. Farmer said he had not noticed any odor from the grave at his home.
     Wm. Boerns, living next door, said he had not noticed any smell from the graveyard, but that there was an outhouse that "did smell ridiculous sometimes."
     F. L. d'Ablemont, living the same distance away as the others, said he rose at 3 o'clock in the morning, and at that hour, he had detected an odor from the graveyard. He said: "Everybody in this neighborhood has been sick, and I think it is caused by the graveyard. I saw the sunken grave that was filled and there was not more than six inches of dirt on the box."
     The reporter sought Judge Nash and the county commissioners, but none of them were in town.
     In the county contract for burying paupers, it is specified "that the coffin shall be stained and varnished cypress, in coffin shape, neatly lined. The grave is to be dug and filled in carefully and cautiously, in a manner suitable and becoming. The graves to be so as to utilize the ground and in regular rows. The cost of the burial, with the coffin furnished, to be $4.75. When a robe and underclothing are furnished, $2 extra is charged. A coffin alone, to be furnished for $2.50. Headboards to be put up at each grave with name and number of same kept with a record."

- August 8, 1895, The Dallas Morning News, p. 2, col. 6-7.
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     Claiming that under the law they have no authority to pay an undertaker for holding the body of a dead man, the commissioners court in session Monday morning, rejected the bill of $103 of the Weiland Undertaking company for holding the body of the man found dead near the Lancaster Avenue early in November. This action on the part of the court members was taken following the receipt of a ruling from the attorney general in which it was stated that the county was authorized only to pay burial expenses, and that in case where deceased was a pauper.
    Since the body was found, it has been held at the morgue of the Weiland Undertaking company under instructions from Judge Barry Miller's grand jury. The body has never been identified, nor has any indictment in connection with the case been returned. Several arrests, however, were made but in each, the defendants were ordered released.
    Assistant County Attorney Bane, working with Judge Miller's grand jury, expresses the belief that the body should have been buried several days ago. He declared the probers had no clue on which to work and so far he knew there were no means in view for securing an identification.
    The county, it is said, will pay the burial expenses, but the other expenses in holding the body must be paid by the state, if paid at all.

- December 23, 1912, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 5, col. 3.
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     In the future, the city should sell to local undertakers the privilege ot serving as the city morgue rather than pay them to bury paupers, since the morgue contract, now attendant to the pauper burial contract, is what the undertakers seek when they submit bids for burying paupers, City Manager John N. Edy declared Wednesday.
     The morgue contract enables an undertaker to get bodies of all unidentified bodies found by police and bodies of all persons who die at city-county hospitals unattended by friends or relatives. Relatives of these persons usually pay for funeral services and seldom elect to turn the bodies over to other undertakers for burial.  After a conference with a dozen local undertakers Tuesday afternoon, Manager Edy said that this morgue contract might be worth as much as $4,500 annually to an undertaker.
     The manager, as yet, has not decided whether he will recommend that the city let the white paper burial contract, with its attendant morgue privileges, on bids received last Wednesday.
     One undertaker, the Keathly-Foley company, offered to pay the city $500 for the one-year contract. Other undertakers offered to bury paupers at prices ranging from nothing at all to $35 per body. Last year, the city paid $5 per body for the burial of white paupers, $15 for negro adult paupers and $6 for negro children.
     "I am convinced that the business the city contractor receives through its designation as the morgue is legitimate," Edy said.  "The city is bound to have some sort of a morgue, which, of course, must be properly operated. But, it should seek bids on the morgue contract, rather than on the pauper burial contract with the morgue contract attendant."
     Last year, the city paid for the burial of 164 paupers.  The pauper burial contractor paid about $25 to bury each body.  This was considerably more than the $5 to $15 they received from the city.  But, the revenues derived from burying others brought to the morgue, more than offset the loss sustained in burying the paupers.

- November 11, 1931, Dallas Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 1, col. 4.
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More Burial Bids Made.

     After receiving two additional bids for burial of pauper dead Saturday, City Manager John N. Edy indicated that contract might be awarded Monday to one of the three undertakers seeking the work, unless other bids are received. Under the new specifications, undertakers will bid on furnishing a semi-public morgue service, supplemental ambulance service and the burial of pauper dead.

- December 31, 1931, Dallas Morning News, Sec. I, p. 6, col. 1.
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Added June 29, 2004:

     Bids will be advertised for Dallas County's pauper burial contract, Commissioners' Court voted Monday. This two-year contract during the last fiscal period was held by Sparkman-Holtz-Brand, but was canceled due to a misunderstanding. Weever Funeral Home has been burying pauper dead in the county for the last few months without contract.

- July 1, 1937, Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 18, col. 7.
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Added June 29, 2004:
One Cent Burial
For Pauper Dead
Sought by City

     The city government expected Friday to continue burying Dallas paupers for one cent a year.
     At a special meeting Tuesday, the council will advertise for bids for a contract to bury paupers during the next year.
     Most local undertakers seek this contract for the one-cent remuneration because of its attendant privileges. The contractor has the right to claim bodies of accident victims, whose families often order high-priced funerals. He also provides ambulance service for the Emergency Hospital when the city ambulance is not in use.
     The contractor usually buries between 150 and 200 paupers for the one cent.

- July 2, 1937, Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 1, col. 6.
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Added October 30, 2004:

     The city council must award the pauper burial contract at its meeting Friday, City Manager Hal Moseley said Wednesday, because the present arrangement will expire this month.
     Bids were received for this contract several weeks ago. They were virtually the same, in so far as the cost to the city is concerned. But, an argument arose over the matter when certain religious bodies complained that the present contractor has been refusing to bury paupers in private cemeteries.
     The city pays these contractors a nominal sum for interring the indigent dead, but often the bodies are claimed by relatives who are willing to pay funeral expenses. This enables the contractors to realize profit.

- August 4, 1937, Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 1, col. 7.
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Added October 31, 2004:

     The bid of Sparkman-Holtz-Brand, Inc., for the contract to bury the white pauper dead without cost to the city, was accepted Friday afternoon by the city council, on recommendation of City Manager Hal Moseley and Health Directory J. W. Bass. The contract, which is for a period of two years, has been held by the Weever Funeral Home.
     The council instructed the undertaking firm to bury indigent persons in cemeteries maintained by religious bodies, provided space was furnished by the organization. Under the new contract, bodies are to be held for two and one-half hours, instead of one h our, before embalming.
     Contract for the interment of Negro paupers was awarded to the Crawford Undertaking Company. It also extends for a two-year period. The city is to be charged the traditional amount of one cent per burial.
     The city opened bids for razing of the Methodist Publishing House building, which is in the path of the Field Street opening project. It advertised for bids to reconstruct parts of the White Rock-Fair Park sanitary sewer, which has been damaged by quicksand.

- August 7, 1937, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 8, col. 4.
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Added October 31, 2004:

     The Commissioners' Court, Monday, granted two-year contracts for burials of pauper dead to Sparkman-Holtz-Brand and Peoples Undertaking companies.
     Sparkman-Holtz-Brand obtained the burial for whites for no consideration. People's Undertaking Company bid to bury Negroes at a rate of 1 cent per year.
     The contracts stipulated that the county furnish the burial sites "whenever necessary."

- August 9, 1937, Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 10, col. 3.
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