Gypsies and Joplin

Joplin Police kicking out unwelcomed "tourists."

The Joplin Police kicking out unwelcomed "tourists."

In mid May of 1911, visitors arrived on the outskirts north of Joplin.  Their presence immediately brought about disapproval and a visit from the Joplin police.  The police had been notified of the arrival of a “tribe of Gypsies” at what was called their “usual camping ground.”  Gypsies or Roma, or Romani, as they presently prefer to be called, were not welcome visitors to Joplin.  The Joplin News Herald, captured the feelings of the Joplin police chief, Joe Myers, who claimed that most (but not all) of the gypsies were of the type who would do anything but work for a living.  Chief Myers added, “It is our intention to make life such a burden for them that they will not want to remain here long.”

One reason for the lack of hospitality came from the Joplin police department’s claim that a month long visit by the gypsies the year before had been accompanied by an explosion of “petty robberies, begging and small crimes.”  The new arrivals hardly had time to unhitch their horses before the police arrived to inform them that no license would be granted to them to fortune tell.  The News Herald reporter was told that the police force was expected to “make life miserable for them generally.”

The gypsies eventually packed up and departed Joplin only to face the likelihood of similar treatment in the next town. Their treatment at the hands of the Joplin police was not uncommon; tramps, transients, and migrant workers often faced the same fate upon arriving in town. Loafers, idlers, and hoboes were not welcome in many towns across the country, including Joplin. The gypsies that sauntered into Joplin were fortunate they were not sent to the city’s work house to break rocks like so many tramps and vagrants had before. Instead, these free spirits were encouraged to move on, lest an anticipated crime wave break out.

Source: Joplin News Herald, 1911.

Letters to the Joplin Police Chief

In 1907, the Joplin Police Chief Myers shared some of the letters he received on a daily basis with the Joplin Globe.  The letters offer a glimpse of life in Joplin and the surrounding areas.  Some the letters he received were mundane, such as the following letter:

“Cherryvale, Kan., Oct., 21, 1907.
Joplin City Marshal, Joplin, Mo.

Will you please see and inform me if there are any girls wanted to attend to lunch counters.  If so, I can send an experienced one, and please give me the number and the price of wages.  Let me hear soon.  Respectfully,

S.A.T.”

The Globe jauntily remarked, “The chief of police has not answered the above letter because of the fact that he is not running an employment agency.  In fact, if the chief answered all of the letters of this nature he receives he would have to hire a private secretary.”

Another letter that Chief Myers received read,

“Cassville, Mo.  Oct.  22, 1907.
Chief of Police, Joplin, Mo.

Dear Sir – Will you please inform me by enclosed card if a woman by the name of Ella Hailey is in your city.  She may be working in one of your hotels.  Please phone hotels and see if she is there.  Oblige, A.C.H.”

The Globe noted that the “last letter is somewhat out of the ordinary as he addresses  the chief as ‘dear sir’ and actually says ‘oblige’ in ending his letter.  The majority of the letters simply tell the chief of what they desire him to do and let the matter pass.”

Other letters were in response to an earlier missive from a Joplin man, C.T.  Plimer, who was hunting a wife.  One woman from Platt City, Missouri, declared, “Now please understand I am not a man hunter, for I never gave this subject much thought.  I think that I will fill the bill and the description, except having the several thousand dollars.  I have some nice property here.  I have visited in Joplin and like your city very much.”

The “most amusing letter” that Chief Meyers received, according to the Globe was one from an African American man in Fort Scott, Kansas, who wrote,

City marshal, be on the lookout for a young colored woman by the name of Leatha B—-.  She is a brown skin, good looker, good hair, a pair of earrings with blue sets, and a finger ring with a blue set in it.  She might go by the name of Leatha C.  She wears a long black coat, a black hat turned up on the side with a band with a red stripe in it, a nice black dress, and a changeable silk underskirt.  I just bought them for her.  There is a young brown skin man by the name of Will Julien.  If you catch them arrest them both and lock them up until you hear from Butler or Mr.  George Julien.  If she is there and ain’t working and running the streets, make her leave town.  Yours truly, Andy B.

P.S.  – Make her come home; she ain’t got no business down there.  I have got a good home for her and she don’t want for nothing.  Make her leave town.  She left this afternoon at 3 o’clock.  Telephone back at my expense.” – Andy B.

We’re not sure if Leatha returned to Andy B.  in Fort Scott or not, but it was probably not the last time that Chief Myers received a letter from the hopeful and the lovelorn.

Source: The Joplin Globe