Photo Detective: Cowboy Hiram Greene

My Dad’s family made several trips out West, to Arizona and the Dakotas. Sorting out and matching photos with cities has been a constant challenge. A couple of intriguing photos show Dad with a cowboy identified as Hiram Greene. I wondered, was Hiram Greene a famous rodeo rider, a film star or some other celebrity?

My first source of information was the caption on the back of one photo, written by my grandmother, Ruby V. Hanneman. It listed the name “Hiram Greene” and said he was from Billings, Montana. The photo, according to the caption, was taken at Canistota, Minnesota. As it turned out, that caption was problematic in several respects.

Hiram Greene with David D. Hanneman in July 1945.
Hiram Greene with David D. Hanneman on July 14, 1945.

I took a chance by doing a generic search engine query and came up empty. I quickly ruled out the idea that Mr. Greene was a major celebrity. Using databases at Ancestry.com, I was unable to find anyone by that name near Billings, Montana. But I did find what appeared to be a good match right in South Dakota, where the Hanneman family vacationed several times in the 1940s.

Hiram Hoyt Greene was a farmer who lived much of his life around Mitchell, S.D. I ran a quick search and discovered the major tourist attraction in Mitchell is the Mitchell Corn Palace, home to world-famous murals made from corn. That quickly rang a bell with me. I had numerous photos of the Hannemans outside the Corn Palace. This led me to conclude that it was possible that Dad met Hiram Greene on the streets of Mitchell. Especially since there is no Canistota, Minnesota. There is a Canistota, S.D., another city the Hanneman family visited on vacation. Canistota is home to the famous Ortman Chiropractic Clinic. I could find no link between Hiram and Canistota, although it is only 40 miles from Mitchell. I took yet another look through the photo library and found an image of the Ortman Clinic. The building next to it appears to match the brick building that Dad and Mr. Greene are standing near. So it was Canistota after all.

According to the 1940 U.S. Census, Hiram Hoyt Greene was a livestock and grain producer. This made sense. A cattle rancher would certainly dress like a cowboy. Perhaps Dad saw Mr. Greene on the street and wanted to have his photo taken with a real cowboy. I wonder if that had happened to Mr. Greene before? I started out looking for a celebrity, but found a regular, hard-working cattle rancher. It was an even better story, in my opinion.

Hiram Hoyt Greene was born in May 1898. At the time of the World War I draft, he was a farmer in Mitchell, S.D. In May 1920, he married May Luella Moe. The couple had nine children. At various times in his working life, Greene farmed and lived in Mitchell, the Town of Beulah and Mount Vernon, South Dakota. He was hospitalized in November 1958, just a day after celebrating the wedding of one of his sons. He died on November 28, 1958 at age 60.

I learned several key lessons from this photo detective assignment. First, it is always a good idea to write down information on the back of photographs. Or in the case of modern digital images, to embed a caption and keywords in the photo files. But you can’t always trust the information on old photo prints. Sometimes captions are written long after the events shown in the photo. Memories can be jumbled, so it is good to check the information and correct it if necessary.

— This post has been updated with more information.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive

 

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