On December 18, 1938 George Louthan Gause died, thus placing himself into the care of the profession that he had pioneered in Fort Worth six decades earlier. Gause was Fort Worth’s first full-service, formally trained undertaker.
Gause began undertaking in 1879, which just happened to be the year that Fort Worth opened its second cemetery: Oakwood Cemetery. Because most of Fort Worth in those days was located south of the Trinity River, Gause and his horse-drawn funeral processions had to cross the river to reach the cemetery. George Gause would cross the river many a time during his long career.
George Gause was born in 1859 in Missouri, son of Colonel William R. Gause, an attorney. The elder Gause moved his family to Fort Worth in 1870, practiced law here, served as a state representative from Tarrant County. Son George “read law” in the firm of future mayor (and bigamist) William S. Pendleton and passed the bar exam but practiced law here only briefly.
During the Civil War the staggering death count had hastened advances in the practice of undertaking, in particular in embalming. Before embalming, ice had been the means of temporary preservation. During the war, as this 1863 Philadelphia newspaper clip shows, embalming was performed by physicians. (Dr. Burr was one of the photographic subjects of Mathew Brady during the war.)
Only after the war did the practice of embalming pass to undertakers. In the early days some undertakers wore more than one hat. Two professions evolved, by virtue of their very nature, into undertaking: furniture makers and livery stable operators. Furniture shops could make coffins; livery stables could supply hearses and carriages for funerals.
Clips from the 1877 and 1878 city directories show that George Gause’s father owned a livery stable in what was called the “Gause block” bounded by Throckmorton, Taylor, Belknap, and Weatherford streets. Presumably George and/or his father owned the Gause block. Son George worked at his father’s livery stable. The Gause family lived nearby at Taylor and 1st streets.
In 1879 George Gause opened a livery stable in the Gause block and named it after the state of his birth: Missouri Wagon Yard. Possibly George simply took over his father’s livery stable. George soon branched out and began to rent the vehicles and drivers necessary for funerals.
These city directory ads, from 1878 and 1885, show that Gause soon had competition: The Fakes furniture store company also sold funeral supplies and then branched out with its own funeral parlor.
Similarly, the Flenner brothers were furniture and cabinet makers who between 1877 and 1887 branched out from building furniture to building coffins and then to undertaking. George Gause partnered briefly with at least one Flenner brother. In 1887 the city gave Flenner & Gause a contract to handle the burial of paupers.
During the 1880s George Gause also partnered with John Wilkes, who had a livery stable as early as 1877. Gause and Wilkes had a livery stable on Rusk Street (now Commerce) and provided hearses and carriages for funerals. Then the two men briefly partnered in an undertaking business in the Gause block.
As the 1883 news clip at bottom shows, not all the horses of Gause and Wilkes had to plod along at a funereal pace. Some had a day at the races and got to kick up their hooves.
George Gause was a member of the Odd Fellows, Improved Order of Red Men, and Knights of Pythias lodges. He also was a member of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, which in 1883 went to Dallas to help fight a fire at a grain elevator. Note that members of the fire brigade included Gause’s partner John Wilkes and Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright.
With the evolution of undertaking, funerals, which had been held in a family or a religious setting—the home of the deceased or a church—began to be held in a business setting: the funeral parlor of an undertaker. Increasingly undertakers provided embalming and the services and supplies that had been provided by livery stables and furniture makers. During the 1880s Gause went to Galveston and back east to study formally the business of undertaking. He became the seventeenth licensed funeral director in Texas.
By 1887 Gause had two businesses in the Gause block: a funeral parlor and a livery stable. (This city directory ad is from 1896.)
This receipt for providing a city-funded pauper’s burial for Lizzie Parsons, age “30 about,” at the “new” cemetery (Oakwood) is from 1888.
(Although the funeral receipt lists the address of Lizzie Parsons as 210 E. 12th, the 1888 city directory lists her address as 1301 Houston Street in Hell’s Half Acre. An 1888 Sanborn map shows 1301 to be the location of a saloon with three “cribs” behind it, labeled euphemistically “female boarding.”)
Hearse of Geroge Gause, “undertaker, embalmer & funeral director” (photo from UTA Libraries Special Collections).
Two blocks east of George Gause’s funeral parlor and livery stable, in 1910 he built the building that later housed Joe Daiches jewelers at 101-107 Houston Street.
Note the “G” in the center panel of the parapet.
By 1922 Gause was well established but had plenty of competition. (He had helped a former employee, Dave Shannon, start North Fort Worth Undertaking Company in 1906. That company evolved into the Shannon family funeral homes.)
Cowtown has had plenty of cattle barons who built mansions. It also had at least one cotton baron. Early in the twentieth century cotton broker Neil P. Anderson built this fine house at Pennsylvania and 5th Avenue on Quality Hill. He died there in 1912 after his chauffeur-driven car hit a streetcar. In 1923 the house became the family home and funeral home of George Gause, who by then had partnered again, this time with J. M. Ware.
As was the practice at the time, funeral homes provided ambulance service. (A lungmotor was a hand pump that forced air and/or oxygen into the lungs.)
George Louthan Gause died on December 18, 1938 in the building that was both his home and his business.
The house burned in 1979.
The company that George Gause founded in 1881 continues today as Brown Owens & Brumley Funeral Directors.
On December 20, 1938 George Louthan Gause again crossed the river. This time he stayed on the far side. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, surrounded by decades of those he had led in their own journey across the river.