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2013 Vintage ‘Toe Pincher’ Coffin On Display At Chisholm Trail Museum
January 31, 2013

History saw 17 men hanged behind the Johnson County Jail, Johnson County Heritage Foundation Chairman David Murdoch said.
“Of those, five were legal hangings,” Murdoch said. “The rest were vigilante hangings, just pulled out of the jail and strung up.”
Although the old jail is no more, a replica now sits among the array of buildings and exhibits at the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum — which JCHF oversees — off U.S. Highway 67 along Lake Pat Cleburne’s banks.

There are no plans to hang an 18th victim anytime soon. But should the need arise, the museum has a brand new 1800s-style coffin ready for occupancy.
It is a coffin by the way, not a casket, explained Jimmy Wray, director of Crosier-Pearson Cleburne Funeral Home.
“People get that wrong all the time,” Wray said. “A coffin has six sides while a casket has four.”
Wray and his wife, Carol Wray, co-director of Crosier-Pearson, officially donated the coffin to the CTOM on Monday.
“They called them toe pinchers,” Jimmy said, pointing out the narrow bottom section of the coffin.

Few if any companies manufacture coffins anymore, Jimmy said, at least in America, and it’s unlikely anyone has gone to glory in a coffin similar to the one donated by the Wrays, in decades.
“Jimmy and Carol were up here to see the one-room schoolhouse built at CTOM last year and Jimmy offhandedly asked if we’d like to have a coffin for the museum,” Murdoch said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? We’d be delighted to have one.’”
Such coffins not being readily available, the Wrays turned to Cleburne resident Lewis Bundock, who builds furniture — Bundock built the pulpits and several memorial tables for the funeral home, Carol said — and restores historic homes.
“I used old planking wood,” Bundock said while running his hand across the coffin’s side. “The nails are hand cut and treated so they’ll rust. Research took 20 to 30 hours, actual construction about 10 hours. Once it was done I made a pickling solution of vinegar, steel wool and salt water and set the coffin out in the pasture for about two weeks.”
Three rope loops protrude from each side of the coffin, making for easy transport. Fancier coffins of the time eschewed individual smaller sections of rope for full lengths, which looped in and out of the coffin, Bundock said. Such coffins were fairly rare, however, as rope was expensive.

“If you want [old time] authentic, this is about as close as you’re going to get,” Jimmy said, admiring Bundock’s handiwork.
“There were basically three types of coffins,” Bundock said. “A service coffin, which was basically just put someone in and stick them in the ground, a display coffin for laying someone out and a transport coffin, which is what this one is.”
Tapping a builder to construct a coffin, especially one meant to resemble a pre-1900's style, makes perfect sense, Carol said.
“Before funeral homes really got established in the late 1800s, most coffins came from the livery stables, because you had blacksmiths there, or were built in the furniture stores,” Carol said.

Construction appears to be hereditary in the Bundock family. Bundock used his grandfather’s hand tools to construct the coffin.
“My grandfather was an apprentice shipbuilder in England and served in the English-Canadian Air Force during World War I where he did the bracing and wires for the [double wing] biplanes,” Bundock said. Bundock’s grandfather came to America during the war, returned to England after then later homesteaded in Canada.
“My father was actually a Canadian citizen,” Bundock said. “But he came to Fort Worth to start his building business.”
Like father, like son, Bundock now repairs and renovates old homes in Park Hill, Westover Hills and other historic Fort Worth neighborhoods.

“Not long ago I was reconditioning the windows of a house that my dad built in 1921,” Bundock said.
The coffin project offered a fun, if a bit out of the ordinary, change of pace, Bundock said.

Murdoch said he’s thrilled to have the coffin and believes it suitably fits the museum’s mission of portraying the Johnson County of the Old West, pioneer and Chisholm Trail days.
“Originally we hoped for it during [November’s annual] Pioneer Days,” Murdoch said. “But there was no way it could’ve been built and ready by that time.”

Instead, CTOM officials placed a mannequin dressed as a just-hanged Old West bad guy on a board and propped him up against the jail. Don’t be surprised to see the same brought-to-justice outlaw back again next November, only this time resting at peace in the museum’s new coffin.

“That’s historically what they’d do,” Murdoch said. “Put these people hanged in one of these toe-pincher coffins and set it upright with the lid off at an angle and place coins on their eyes. Put them out there for everyone to see that this is what happens if you act up.”
Until then the coffin will remain displayed, Murdoch said, the latest addition to the experience of a day at CTOM. To keep the curious, children or otherwise, from attempting to climb inside, however, Murdoch said he nailed the lid firmly shut.

By Matt Smith/msmith@trcle.com
Chisholm Trail Marker - Buchanan-1856
Buchanan was the 2nd county seat of Johnson County. A tornado in 1858 destroyed most of the town and the water well. This caused an overflow into the cemetery which triggered an epidemic that claimed over 100 fatalities. An exodus.... Read More
Did you know?
Though it was originally applied only to the trail north of the Red River, Texas cowmen soon gave Chisholm's name to the entire trail from the Rio Grande to central Kansas.

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