A Mysterious River Crossing in an Old Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor

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old photo river crossing

Some photos contain layers of puzzling details. You look at them and say, “What?” That’s what Diane Detour did when she found this picture amongst family photos.

First, it’s a mystery about who’s depicted. Second, it’s a challenge to identify what these men are hauling across a river. And third, is this a family photo or one sold as a curiosity?

The truth might be in the metal in the back of the wagon. It looks like the object has rivets and a stack. Could it be from a steamship, a train or something else?


Establishing a place

Diane’s family lived in the Midwest. Her grandfather was born in DeSoto, Iowa, in 1882, then lived in Kansas. His father was born in Iowa in 1853.

Diane’s grandfather on the other side of her family was born in 1846, married in Kansas, and moved to Hawley, Okla.


Real-Photo Postcards

The photo has a postcard back (unfortunately, I don’t have an image of it to show you). The stamp box design has AZO (the name of a paper company) and four right-side-up triangles. According to Playle’s auction site, the four triangles suggest a date of 1904 to 1918.

Diane’s grandfather was a young man at that time. He could be one of the men in this image.


Using Google Image Search

Just in case someone else might have posted a picture like this online, I uploaded it into the Google Images search engine. (Just go to Google Images and drag the image into the middle of the screen.) No matches turned up.


What Were They Hauling?

So we’re back to thinking about the purpose of this picture. The hauling is significant, but why? It could be just the feat of making it across the river with heavy metal scrap, or the object could be something important. It could be a remnant of a salvaged ship, train or boat.

Something like this might make the newspaper too. Early 20th-century newspapers were full of tidbits on local happenings. (You can get newspaper search help in The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide.) Of course, the problem here is that we don’t have much in the way of a place or keywords to use in our search.

Diane needs your help.

Here’s the question: Do you recognize this river? Maps might show the topography of the areas where Diane’s ancestors lived, but it’s likely changed quite a bit in a century.

Comment below the post and let me know.  It might help Diane figure out the significance of this photo.