Costumed Old-Photo Mystery

By Maureen A. Taylor

Costumed ancestors in photographs often cause their descendants to wonder about the significance of that head-to-toe attire. Cheryl Jackson has one such mystery.


She thinks this man is John Hardy Jackson who lived in the Paragould, Green County, area of Arkansas from approximately 1896 to 1942.

He’s part of a group that posed in American Indian attire in front of a sign for a Webster County Fair. According to Google Maps, Paragould, Ark., is about 200 miles from Webster County, Mo.


While the family thinks they have American Indian heritage, I think these men are dressed up for another reason. They could be members of the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM).

I wrote about a similarly attired group of men from Cincinnati back in 2011.

Could Cheryl Jackson’s ancestor have been a member of the IORM? It’s possible. That might be the root of the family lore relating to American Indian ancestry. A DNA test could help establish whether the family in fact has American Indian heritage.

It’s also possible that these men dressed up for another unspecified event at a fair. The poster in the background could place them in Missouri when the photo was taken, or just be an advertisement for a nearby fair.

The man in the center with the white headdress and the crossed sticks is the leader of this group. Next week I’ll examine another photo of Jackson to see if the two men are the same.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album