The Repository, a newspaper from Canton, OH, took a dazzled and somewhat credulous look at a group of migrant horse traders on August 24, 1913, describing them as Irish Gypsies. Here is how the group is introduced:
The story claims that this clan holds vacant lots in many of the largest cities in the south, kept empty so the clan may camp there when in town, which might amount to as little as two or three weeks per year. In Atlanta, the article insists, they hold whole city blocks downtown, surrounded by high-rise buildings, empty but for water pipes and shower heads to be used when the owners arrive.
The article tells us that the clan numbers 500, scattered throughout the south but governed by one named Thomas Carroll, head of the Atlanta Division. And more than empty lots, the newspaper article informs us that they also own buildings, used as “business houses, mills, factories and residences,” from which they collect sizable rent.
The article describes the group as extremely clannish, forbidding marriage to outsiders while scrupulously obeying the Catholic Church’s laws regarding intermarriage between relatives: no relatives closer than third cousins, according to clan leader Thomas Carroll. He also boasted that they do not drink nor fight — “but,” he tells the reporter, “we let our youngsters have their fill of it, if they want to fight, while they’re young. It’s their nature and it’s good for them. It teaches them not to be afraid of trouble if it comes looking for them.”
Carroll, Riley & Co. do not identify themselves as Gypsies, tinkers, or Travellers in the story, but everything else about it indicates that they are Irish-American Travellers. For instance, the American Roma (Gypsy ), Travellers, & “Others” website has a page for Irish Travellers in America, and lists common surnames. Among these: Carroll, Riley, Sherlock, Gormon. In fact, Thomas Carroll shares his name with the first Irish Traveller known to arrive in America: 27-year-old Thomas Carroll, who identifies himself as a “tinker” on his immigration records.
Thomas Carroll is not mentioned again until April 27, 1932, in the Macon Telegraph. He had died the previous year, and the various nomadic families had developed a custom of coming together twice per year for funerals. Those who can first meet in Atlanta on April 24, and then later those who can meet in Nashville on May 1. The article identifies the groups as “Irish horse traders,” which is useful to know — it offers another search term to find stories about Irish Travellers. This story claims there were then 5,000 in the clan, and describes their lives in this way:
Now the automobile has been put to use in their business. They travel in the automobiles and ship their livestock by train. Their knowledge of horses and mules led the United States government to call on many of them to buy horses during the World War.
In fact, a search for “Irish horse traders” brings several additional stories that are obviously about the same group. An April 2, 1908 story from the Macon Telegraph describes the same biannual funeral practice described above. The article is short, so I will reproduce most of it below:
The traders bury their dead April 1 of each year, and always in Nashville or Atlanta.
A number of stories also appear about a clan called O’Hara, but I will address them separately in their own post. Many of the stories are about this burial custom, which, because it was an annual event, seemed to enjoy annual coverage in the news, and those articles probably also deserve their own post as well, because bit by bit each add a small amount of additional detail to the story of these itinerant horse traders.