I Remember When . .
| No one seemed to know where they came from.
Or where they went after they left their camp at Horntown. They came down
Highway 75 each fall, traveling south, and came back each spring, moving
north. They seemed to migrate like wild geese. It was known that they
camped in the Wetumka area before moving on down to Horntown. They stayed
in the Horntown area overnight and sometimes for two days before moving on
to their next camp at the South Canadian river near Calvin.
And that's about the sum total of what we know of the band (Family? Clan?) of Gypsy's who traveled by Horntown for many years. There were many rumors about them. Lots of speculation and accusations. It is common for people to fear the unknown, and the Gypsies were a mystery to all of us. So, it was easy to blame them for many things. One lady who lived in the immediate vicinity of Horntown regularly felt that she had lost two of her white leghorn chickens each time they passed through. When asked how many she had, she always replied that she didn't know exactly but it just "looked" like maybe a couple were missing when she viewed them in her yard.
Any tool that was mislaid or lost was always blamed on the Gypsies if they had recently been through. Everyone had dogs in those days. Hunting dogs. Cattle dogs. Family pets. And they all barked most nights. They barked at coyotes, other dogs, prowling cats and they barked at each other. But when the Gypsies were in the area, it was blamed on night prowling Gypsies. But I do not recall any wrong doing ever being
People are most trustworthy when they are being trusted. They are the most friendly when a warm welcome is being extended. And many people feel that if they are going to be accused, they might as well be guilty. Knowing that we influence everyone we meet, for good or bad, is a grave responsibility.
I very much regret that we did not get to know them. I've spent the past fifty years wondering what they were really like. As far as I could learn, no one ever made an effort to get acquainted with them. In an effort to know more about Gypsies in general, my friend Harry Shumard and I tried to do some research on the internet. It was disappointing. There are thousands of sites, but none of them give much insight into who they really were. None of those sites gave anything more than general theory.
It is said that the true Gypsies came from Romania. They were nomadic and were always on the move. Mostly, they worked as Tinkers, men who repaired kitchen ware. In those days, cookware was mostly copper and tin. People used cookware until the wood fires and use wore completely through the bottoms. Tinkers were skillful at repairing such holes in cookware. Worn cookware was never thrown away. It was saved for the Gypsy to repair on his next trip through.
Other nomadic people migrated from Scotland and Ireland. Many of them were sheep and goat herders. They lived in little wagons that were equipped for cooking and living. The little wagons had a roof with a
stove pipe protruding through the top. Because of their nomadic life style, they were also called Gypsies. Several groups of people, all called Gypsies, but speaking different languages, added to the mystery of
My friend Harry is older than me and he reports that the first time he saw them they traveled in a covered wagon. Not the large prairie schooner we see in the movies, but a small, roofed wagon equipped for
living. He said the wagon was pulled by a small pair of mules. Years later, and the only time I ever saw them, they traveled in a large two wheeled cart. The cart contained their personal belongings. The cart had
big wheels and two staves protruding out the front. There was a bar across the front of the two staves. Two of the men walked inside these staves and pushed on the cross bar. Children pushed from behind. The
The Horntown store had general merchandise and it was said the Gypsy women always made the biggest fuss over the buttons and ribbon. They became excited and passed buttons back and forth, enjoying the beauty of the brightly colored buttons.
I'm terribly disappointed that we did not make an effort to get to know them. The mystery will forever burn in my mind. I wonder what would have happened if we had invited them to a cookout in someone's yard. Or an ice cream supper with home made, hand cranked ice cream. It seems such a shame that our paths crossed twice yearly for many years and we did not become acquainted. I wonder if they were happy, what they wanted for their families, what hopes they had for their children. A small gift might have opened doors that would have revealed much about these mysterious people. A jar of canned peaches, a kitten or some garden produce. Sometimes a small gesture of friendship can produce huge rewards. I wish we had made the effort.
Life is full of regrets. I guess the lesson of the Horntown Gypsies is that we should reach out to people while we can. It's easy to put off things, important things, until it is too late. The Gypsies taught me something. It should be an important lesson to all of us. Maybe that is why the Gypsies were there.
Clayton Adair, Class of 1954 (Clayton attended Moss 1942-53 and graduated from Holdenville - 1954)