This is the most interesting image among the Pierce photos I own. For many years it was a puzzle to me. For some time the only thing I was fairly certain about was that the man on right was my grandfather Napoleon Bonaparte "Bonie" Pierce (1880-1964). I believe the other two men are Bonie's older brothers, Cornelius "Neal" Pierce (b. 1874) on the left and Charles Pierce (b. 1876) in the center.
What I couldn't figure out was what kind of uniform Bonie was wearing and why. At first I thought it was a military uniform. The coat has a dark stripe down center and the trousers have a light stripe down the pants legs. The military-style cap also has a light stripe piping. But there was no record that Bonie ever served in any military unit.
To try to place the time of the photo I researched the photo itself, which is a tintype. A tintype is a photo made on a sheet of metal, which is not tin. This one is badly damaged from rust. The above image has been digitally restored.
Tintypes were popular for a long time, from about 1856 to around 1938, but they were especially popular in the 1890s. Bonie is probably around 20 making the date of the photo about 1900 or sometime after.
One thing to keep in mind is that tintype images come out laterally reversed (as you see yourself in a mirror).
I got the clue I needed to identify this picture while going through the Pierce family Bible. I had looked through the Bible before but this time I decided to go through it page by page. Tucked between two of the pages of the large Bible I found a receipt I hadn't seen before.
The Woodmen Circle receipt was written to Julia Pierce on June 1, 1922, for assessment number 5 of $1.02 and Grove dues of 10 cents. Julia paid the money to Post Oak Grove number 95. Olivia Lang, clerk, signed the receipt.
Woodmen drill team uniforms came in hundreds of styles. Each jurisdiction or lodge had its own style.
The one identifying mark of all uniforms is a "WOW" pin on the collar or shoulder. Sometimes the pin was simply a "WOW" other times it had crossed axes or a stump associated with it. This may be the symbol on Bonie's collar.
Drill team members were usually between the ages of 18 and 25. This would fit Bonie's age in the top photo.
The receipt from the Woodmen Circle, a women's auxiliary, to Julia shows that both she and Bonie were active in the Woodmen. The Woodmen Circle worked closely with the fraternal organization, providing insurance for women, and Woodmen members who wanted more than the $3,000 limit.
Circle members received the magazine Tidings. Many Woodmen camps and Circle groves held joint meetings. The groups met once a month. The Circle began selling insurance for children in 1922, which the Woodmen also did. The two organizations also provided programs for youth members.
Groves sponsored drill teams that competed at state and national conventions. These drill teams drew large crowds to watch their polished footwork. The teams carried off precision drills with shiny axes.
It was odd for me to think of my grandfather in a drill team, marching to and fro, and doing a manual of arms with a shiny axe, but the evidence was there.
Have you found photographic or artifact evidence that your ancestor belonged to a fraternal group? What story does the photo or artifact tell you about your ancestor?