Gypsies Part I
By ELLAYNE CONYERS
Gypsies used to stop along the Yellow Medicine River, just north of Hanley Falls, each summer while traveling in the area. As a kid I was fascinated by their non-Norwegian look of slightly darker skin, small stature and the colorful way they dressed. On our way into Hanley Falls we could see them camped by the trees along the river with their camping trailers. If it was in the evening they would have a campfire burning and sometimes they would be dancing and singing around the fire.
They really did not attempt to mingle with the staunch Norwegian Lutherans in town – which would probably have been difficult to start with. But they would often visit the farmsteads on a Sunday morning during church services in town. My dad and I skipped church and stayed on the farm when the Gypsies were around. And sure enough they always came to visit the farm. A couple of men would get out of their vehicle and wander around the farmyard as a woman or two would approach my Dad, smiling and chatting, and give him a friendly embrace. My father kept his hand on his billfold along with the lose change in his pocket. Soon they would leave and drive down to the next farm place. When Monday came around we would hear about farmers who had lost chickens while they were in church.
Who were these Gypsies and where did they come from? As I attempted to research on the Internet I couldn’t find anything much about Gypsies in the United States, but tons of information about their existing in Romania. Finally I found something from the Morrison County Historical Society site. They also had had a hard time finding information and I quote: “The trouble with common knowledge is that it tends to be so common that people forget to write it down, thus, it gets left out of the historical record.” This statement certainly pertains to the Gypsies.
“Of those infrequent articles, a bonanza of two was found in the Transcript on May 27, 1910. One headline read – Fortune Tellers Became Too Bold: Fair Members of Swarthy Band Said to Have Relieved Bachelor of His Money, while the other stated, Wanted to Sell Her Little Girl: Gypsies Offer Six-Year-Old Girl for Sale at Buyers’ Own Price.”
A few more stories were found in the Little Falls Daily Transcript Newspaper in the 1920s. “In August 1922, a local man was separated from $8.00 by the band of gypsies who went through (Little Falls) in five automobiles. The following year, there were several articles about Gypsies moving south through the state, some hading to the American Legion convention being held in Faribault, Minnesota. The police were at the ready. On August 2, 1923, “the police spent two busy hours…. rounding up four automobile loads of gypsies, who came into the city from the direction of Brainerd, and getting them out of town.. In the August 3, 1923 issue, it read – Citizens were told, anyone seeing gypsy bands in the vicinity of Little Falls is urged to notify the police department at once so steps can immediately be taken to keep them moving. That year’s newspaper also saw a couple of general articles on Gypsy culture, including one on the Wild Knife Dance and on Gypsy dances performed in Granada.”
My question remains – who were the Gypsies, where did they come from, where were they traveling – and most importantly, were there any positive stories about these people or were there only negative ones.
(CONTINUED NEXT WEEK)