A colony of Tramps (a newspaper article circa 1876 from the collection of Tom Smith)
(Correspondence of the Press)
Darby, PA Oct. 20- In a woodland on Darby Road, in one of the most picturesque sections of country in the vicinity of Philadelphia, there is a curious little community or settlement of tramps. During the day they lounge around fires of brushwood made in a little stony hollow, sometimes times singing, sometimes cooking, or mending, or washing, sometimes drinking. Occasionally some of them, spurred by appetite, or tired of idleness, go out into the fields and gather herbs of flowers, and bring them into the city to sell, and with the money received, but whiskey, upon which they all get drunk, and make the woods ring with songs and boisterous laughter or savage cries. The size of this motley gathering varies with the time and the seasons. It hardly ever numbers less than twenty, and has reached to eighty. There are men and women, old and young. Nearly all day long, as I have said, they linger around the fires in the wood, and when the weather is not unpleasantly cold they also sleep out under the trees, but in the winter, and when storms of greatest violence occur, they take refuge in barns in the neighborhood. Upon a beautiful wooded knoll they have set up a little cabin made of logs and the bark of trees. In the stony hollow in the side of a hill, where they pass much of their time they have kettles and pans and other household utensils, and wooden tripod by which to hang a kettle over a fire, and strung from tree to tree, lines upon which to hang their clothes to dry. They fare well. They beg from the farmers in the neighborhood who dare not refuse them, and fear even to murmur at their demands. Any offence to them must result in the burning of the barn or home of the helpless offender. It is no wonder that a man should live in dread with a gang of lawless vagabonds about his door and no protection near him for himself of his door and no protection near him for himself or his wife or daughters. The community seems to be governed by a "master" and "mistress" - the latter an old white haired wretch who has been known in the vicinity for years. They receive the allegiance of all the others. and refuse admittance into the circle to such applicants that do not please their fancy. Of course their authority is not always submitted to, but to a great extent they are the rulers of the colony. The society generally is not inviting and individually it is repulsive. So many low-browed, scowling, savage human beings one seldom with on the same day. If an honest laborer looks contemptuously at them, they scowl in return or mutter threateningly; if a curious stranger go too near their "residence" they warn him off, or if he laugh at their patched garments flapping in the breeze they curse him. If he alludes to them as "bummers" they rise in their majesty and pour fourth their indignation. Now to break up this settlement is a question which has agitated the minds of the farmers about for a long time. Winter does not destroy it. All last winter the trampsould be tracked by their footprints on the snow from the barn where they slept to the hollow in the woods, where they had gathered together an immense mound of leaves and withered brush. No one is willing to order them off. It is not safe. they have been tolerated until patience has given way, and how to get rid of them is a problem which is yet to be solved.