Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tramps in Itawamba County

During the Great Depression, tramps were not an uncommon sight in Itawamba County especially along the major roads such as Highway 78, commonly known then as Bankhead Highway. Lots of people were afraid of the "tramps," as the unemployed homeless men were called. My great-grandmother, Thusie Evans Robinson, was among those who feared tramps. She would tell her grandchildren, "Don't you talk to strangers. Tramps will take you off and kidnap you." Thusie and her husband, Gideon, lived just off of Bankhead Highway on land that is now the Willow Road subdivision in Fulton.

Uncle Buddy and Aunt Coleen Robinson lived closer to the highway than Thusie and Gid, his parents, and so they came in contact with tramps quite often. Aunt Coleen recalls that she fed many tramps who stopped by their house. Sometimes she would give them food in a brown paper bag but other times, when Uncle Buddy was there, the homeless person would be invited in to eat. It wasn't always just men either. Aunt Coleen said that she would never forget one cold winter's night when a man and two children stopped by to ask for food. The man's wife had just died, and he was trying to get his children back to his wife's family. Uncle Buddy wound up giving the man his coat in addition to some food for his family.

Uncle Buddy and Aunt Coleen didn't have much themselves - they were just starting out and had two small children - but they were very generous with what they did have.

Most tramps were transient, just passing through, but others were homeless people who lived around the area. Aunt Coleen remembers one such homeless person. She always saved the slop (i.e. food scraps) for Thusie's hogs. One day, as she was taking the bucket of slop out her back door and down the trail to Thusie's house, a tramp raised up out of the bushes and scared her to death. She threw the bucket of slop and ran back to the house. She later found out that the man was a local tramp who traveled and lived around the area. The man was just taking a nap on the Robinson homeplace. Everybody knew him. Aunt Coleen said the tramp would work a little, save his earnings and beg for his food and clothes. When he died in the hospital, he had $600 in cash among his possessions.

I wonder if there are other stories about tramps in Itawamba County during the Great Depression?