How did Pioneers Preserve Corpses?

Pioneers ask the marshall true west

How did pioneers preserve corpses?
George Townsend — Bella Vista, Arkansas.

Pioneers preserved bodies in winter ice and snow, when available, or soaked them in arsenic or alcohol. Jack Slade’s widow, for instance, reportedly preserved her husband’s body in a tin casket filled with whiskey. Intending to transport his body to his home state of Illinois, she got as far as Salt Lake City, Utah, before giving up and burying Jack.

The development of formaldehyde in 1859 improved the preservation of bodies. It stabilized the bacteria that invaded and decayed flesh, muscle, tissue and organs.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu.

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