Skip to main content

The Cambria County Gypsy War of 1901

A gypsy encampment, date unknown


When I was a boy, my grandmother often warned that if I didn't behave, I would be sold to the gypsies. Even though I had no idea what gypsies actually were, I imagined that it would be a pretty fun adventure; traveling from town to town in a horse-drawn wooden wagon alongside swarthy mysterious nomads, telling fortunes and reading palms for a living. In my young and impressionable mind, being a gypsy was the next best thing to being a real-life pirate.

Little do most Pennsylvanians realize that gypsies actually roamed the Keystone State in former times, and in astounding numbers. While gypsies were regarded by some as harmless vagabonds, the common consensus was that gypsies (or "gyps", as they were known to those who abhorred them) were a public nuisance. In fact, in 1909, Pennsylvania Governor Edwin S. Stuart signed into law legislation which required bands of gypsies to pay a fee of $50, to each county through which they traveled, for a license to camp within the state's borders. Since a north-to-south journey through Pennsylvania would require stops in about ten counties, the typical band of gypsies would be forced to fork over $500; approximately the equivalent of $1,852 in today's money. This law, along with the growing popularity of the automobile, helped to put an end to the days of the gypsy wagon caravan.

Tensions between gypsies and the law, however, soured long before Governor Stuart took office. In 1901, a skirmish between gypsies and law enforcement took place in Cambria County and when the smoke of the battle cleared, one person was left dead and several more were left injured.

Here is a newspaper account of the skirmish, as it appeared in the April 13, 1901 edition of the Scranton Tribune:

Fight With Gypsies on the Mountains

Johnstown, Pa., April 12.-- In a fierce fight on the mountains near Lily [sic] last night between a band of gypsies and a posse of officers, one gypsy man was killed outright, a gypsy woman shot through the shoulder. Division Foreman Titler, of Gallitzin, was wounded in the mouth, and Frank Coons, his assistant, was shot through the bowels. The latter is expected to die.


The gypsies had come from Blair county where they are charged with having committed numerous thefts and were followed by a constable who secured assistance when he came close upon them. On the approach of the posses, the gypsies broke their camp near Summit, but seeing that escape was impossible, made a stand and opened fire.


After the fight the gypsies carried the body of their dead companion and the wounded woman to Lilly, where several of the party were arrested and put in jail.

Popular posts from this blog

Mount Carmel's Mysterious Suicide Cell

Tucked away at the head of North Oak Street in Mount Carmel is a quaint shop housed in a tiny historic brick building. The Shop at Oak & Avenue is a must-see destination for visitors, offering an impressive variety of gifts and handmade jewelry. It is a gem in an otherwise drab coal town whose glory days faded away with the demise of the steam locomotive and the trolley.

While this quaint small town gift shop gives off a pleasant appearance, the history of the building-- one of the oldest in the borough-- is tinged with horror and death. For this tiny building, erected in the 1880s, served as Mount Carmel's first city hall and jail, and this jail had a rather dark distinction of being the site of the cursed and mysterious "suicide cell".

History records six suicides taking place in the basement cell, along with scores of other attempted suicides. For a reason that has defied explanation, this tiny jail in this tiny town seems to bring out the darkest demons lurking wi…

The Mob and Marion Heights

To the casual observer, the borough of Marion Heights is a sleepy coal mining town, one of hundreds of similar soot-stained villages dotting the landscape of the Coal Region.  Prior to 1901, this borough of less than a thousand souls didn't even exist, and back then the village went by the name of Kaiser.

I grew up in Kulpmont, just a stone's throw away from Marion Heights, and the tiny village always fascinated me.  Being a descendant of Italian immigrants who toiled in various mines throughout the Coal Region, I used to love the stories my grandfather and other older relatives told me as a child.  Often, these stories revolved around the "gang warfare" which pervaded the region throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These clashes were the result of various ethnic groups who settled in the Coal Region, arriving from places like Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Serbia.  Being strangers in a strange land, they banded together and formed fraternal clu…

The Kulpmont Mob Murders of 1939

When most Pennsylvanians think of coal region history, their minds invariably turn to the Molly Maguires, Yuengling beer, pierogies, and the Pottsville Maroons professional football team. However, there is a side of coal region history that is seldom discussed; a dark, violent side that resembles something out of a Martin Scorsese movie starring Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci.

Many Pennsylvanians would be surprised to learn that, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Northumberland County was a haven of organized crime, a place where gunshots rang out as regularly as church bells, leaving in their wake a blood-smeared trail of terror. Perhaps the most chilling mob murder in the county took place in early 1939, not far from the curve on Brennan's Farm Road in Kulpmont.




A Gruesome Discovery

On the morning of Thursday, March 2, 1939, two brothers from Marion Heights, Paul and Mickey Mall, set out from their Melrose Street home in order to engage in some bootleg mining at Brennan…