Anderson Family History

South Dakota Gypsies

Several times during the thirties, a roving caravan of Gypsies were active in the vicinity of Center, South Dakota. Usually, there were at least six or eight cars and pickups that formed the gypsy procession. Their vehicles were piled high with crates and boxes tied to the roofs and sides as they roamed the countryside, stopping at farms that looked vulnerable to their tactics. They would confront whoever was home at a farmstead and say they wanted to buy eggs, or chickens, or they simply wanted a drink of water from the well. When 20 or 30 gypsy men and women left their vehicles and swarmed all over the farm yard and into buildings, there was little a farm couple could do to defend their property.

The gypsy women had long colorful flowing dresses that could conceal any small items they found, like hand tools, dishes, pots and pans; any thing of value they could steal. The spokesmen made a big show of actually paying for some eggs or chickens they negotiated for, but when they left many other items of much greater value left with them. Calling the authorities had little effect. The gypsies always had purchased something from their victims and a search of all their possessions for stolen goods would take forever.

Whenever they were first spotted on one of the country roads, the telephone lines became very busy with general alarms of “Gypsies coming!” and their location mile by mile. If given enough warning, farmers closed their gates and remained out of sight until after they had passed. The band of gypsies didn’t break into any property, they would just overwhelm anyplace where someone was home.

When word of their coming reached the store, the gas pump was hurriedly locked as was the shed and all the doors to the store and house. Shades were pulled over the store windows and lights turned off so everything looked closed. The gypsies would knock on the door and say loudly they came to buy gas, but after no response from within, they would move on down the road. Whichever direction they traveled was immediately relayed on the party telephone lines to warn whoever was on their route.

By Allan Anderson, 2005.

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