Old Time Death and Burial Customs of the Ozarks


Customs of the sick room or death bed
In the Ozarks, as it was in most places in the South, those on their death bed, or dead but not yet buried, were never left alone. Neither was a bedridden person to be lifted from one bed to another, nor turned from end to end. It was also cause for misfortune to sweep under an ill person’s bed.

Omens of Death
Any of these things happening were thought to be harbingers of an impending death:
~If dogs bark or a rooster crows unexpectedly near a sick room.
~A turtle dove, or any bird flying into the house.
~Breaking a needle before finishing a quilt.
~Death noises: most commonly bells, unexpected tearing noises, rapping, knocking noises were said to be death bones rattling.
~A clock striking thirteen times.
~When a bedridden person picks at the bedcovers.

Feather Crowns
When a person was bedridden for a time before their death, their bed pillow was opened after they died to look for a feather crown. Some people thought feather crowns were an omen of good fortune in the hereafter. Some believed they were death omens, and the work of evil forces. In actuality, downy feathers hook together over time because of their shape and other characteristics and naturally form a circular pattern. This would be more likely to occur in pillows that were in constant use and not “fluffed”.

Beliefs and Customs concerning Burial
~If a burial party is forced to stop on the way to the burial site, another member of the family may be buried before the year is out.
~Anyone who digs a grave and does not stay to see it covered is marked for an early death.
~To insure retribution for a murder, pawpaw seeds may be thrown into the coffin.
~It’s bad luck to walk on a grave, for the result is said to be the death of a family member. A counter-curse is to jump backwards across it right away.
~It is bad luck to carry anything out of a graveyard.
~Rain at a funeral is a sign that the soul of the dead is at rest, for the old saying goes; happy is the bride that the sun shines on, and blessed are the dead that the rain falls on.

Death and misfortunes come in threes.


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