Sunday Stories: Gypsies!

Excerpted from: McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890

By Beulah Dutrow Johnson

We saw their covered wagons crawling up our valley and stared in disbelief. Splashes of vivid color and dusky little faces peeking from beneath canvas flaps held we kids in spellbound fascination. "Gypsies!" yelped our mother, remembering horror stories of robbery and kidnapping in Illinois.

"It's too late to run," Dad, Eugene Dutrow told us, and walked forward to greet our strange guests. Mom, Bertha Dutrow, watched in horrified dismay as he pointed out a good camping spot beneath the lakelet and went to fetch grain for their bone-thin horses.
Romani wagon in Germany, 1930s; image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst - Zentralbild (Bild 183)
"All they want is to be treated just like everybody else, he told her that night, but Mom wasn't fooled. At dawn she went to count her fat young chickens and found the coops empty and every trace of her strange guests gone.

"It could have been a lot worse," Dad grinned. "If they had wanted to do us real damage, we couldn't have stopped them." It didn't make Mom feel much better, though. Those were her chickens. The next time we drove to Tryon we saw our gypsy friends again.

A rancher, with pockets filled with cash from selling his cattle in North Platte, had met the gypsies and let them hold his hand while they told his fortune. He galloped into Tryon for the sheriff, yelling that they had picked his pockets. The sheriff herded the whole shebang into his shiny new courthouse where the men filled the jail to overflowing, so he locked the women and children in the courtroom until they returned the rancher's money. The crowd of gypsies was the most colorful event in the town's history and people flocked to the courthouse to stare. Just to keep things lively, the gypsy women and children kept up a constant wailing that would have broken a heart of stone. Whenever a child started to run down its mother would pinch its behind and start the wailing again. Finally the disgusted sheriff shooed away the crowd and locked the doors, forgetting to consider creature comforts of all of his guests.
The next morning was a horrible shock for the sheriff and his custodian who opened the doors to discover their guests had availed themselves of every spot in the huge room, including the judge's big desk. It took days of cleaning up and complete refinishing job for the oak floor before they could hold court again. And the whole county chuckled for days. It was a toss up who had won; the strong arm of the law or the gypsies, who disappeared into the hills and never bothered to drive that way again.

It was Eva David Haddy who the sheriff appointed as deputy to search the women and children. Problems of shaking down women in a dozen skirts ought to be a story too - at least Eva didn't find the money and to this day I don't know if the rancher got his money back.


  1. The term “g*psy” is an exonym created by outsiders for the Romani. The Romani are part of the Indian diaspora abs have inhabited every continent on the planet. There are many Romani subgroups or vitsas as well as dialects. The English words “pal” and “lollipop” came from Romanes. The term “g*psy” is actually a racial slur and should not be used in written or oral for by gadje (non-Romani.) The term has been used since the 1500’s when Romani were forced into a nomadic life by persecution because it was thought we were from Egypt and because we were the lowest in the caste system it meant “slave.” Over 500,000 Romani were exterminated by the Nazis during WWII. We were labels Ziguener or “untouchable.” The g-word conjures up pain and suffering for Romani. The Romani remain one of the single most persecuted races in the world, particularly in Europe. Would love to see some of this education in this article.

    1. My grandfather always told a story of the gypsys coming through and robbing his ranch hands. He was gone and she told them men that if they put their money in a handkerchief and she blessed it the money would triple, if they put it on their drawer and didn’t look at it for three days.
      My grandfather told the men to check their drawers. They had all been robbed. And sure enough their money was gone.


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