Family Living Like Barbarians Found in New York Hills
[caption] Miss Genevieve Crispell, Pearl River Teacher, and "Ella" Thompson, as she looks to-day.
Man, Wife, and Four Children, Garbed in Rags and Encrusted with Dirt, Discovered Near Pearl River - Children Without First Names and Man Can Tell Little About Self.
By Margery Rex
In the Ramapo range, barely thirty miles from New York City, dwell the "Hill people."
Not black, nor white, nor yet red, but an admixture of all three are the mountaineers so near to cities, but so far from civilization.
As remote from the amenities of modern life, as though on a plateau in Thibet, these hill folk come to public notice only when one of them crosses the path of a city dweller.
Such an event came to pass when Mrs. William A. Servin, wife of ex-Assemblyman Servin, was taking a walk through the hills near Pearl River, N. Y., with her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Forbes. Climbing up a remote mountainous path they beheld human beings whose like they had never seen previously - four children so wretchedly clad and so encrusted with dirt as to seem scarcely human; a shack that might have housed primitive peoples.
Why Man Hid In Mountains.
The truant officer of Pearl River was notified. He took action. And thus the story came out concerning the strange family called Thompson.
According to the authorities of Pearl River, this group is not to be classed with the "Jackson Whites," those mountaineers of mixed blood. It is claimed for the Thompsons that they are pure white, in this respect different from the clan inhabiting the Ramapos.
Nevertheless they resemble in appearance and mode of life that race whose existence is as weird as an old myth.
Thompson has no first names for his children - if ever they had such he cannot remember them. We may suppose when he wished to speak to one of them he called out "Say" to whichever one happened to be looking at him. He could not recall his own first name and re-collected only that after getting into some trouble in Rockland County he had escaped to shelter in the mountains.
His motive for seeking seclusion on the heights is the same as that of the antecedents of the "Jackson Whites," if stories about their origin are to be believed.
Aristocratic Names Handed Down.
Ancestors of the race were Dutch, Indians and negroes. To Houvenkopf Mountain came the slaves of the early Dutch, a seceding tribe of Indians and negroes who fled from the South in the days before slavery was abolished.
Old aristocratic names such as Van Dunk, De Grote and De Fries - families now extinct - have been handed down by the early settlers of the Ramapos, who established squatter claims upon the land, where they erected cabins and hovels as their feudal halls.
Another tradition has it that sections of the Hessian army fleeing from the Continentals and deserters from the English army in 1774 hid upon these hills and there remained, part forbears of the "Jackson Whites" of to-day.
Some say the expression "Jackson Whites" originally was "blacks and whites"; others claim that Jackson and White were names of negroes who settled there.
No laws and no creeds govern these hill dwellers - either in the Ramapo, or in other isolated spots.
Yet they are said to be a peaceful, gentle and thrifty people; only at great intervals does a feud or murder break the somnolent quiet of their sequestered lives. They are untrained, but not unintelligent, yet among the "Jacksons" there are many phases of mental and physical degeneracy due to continual intermarriage.
But it is doubtful if any enlightening influences ever shone upon the lives of the Thompsons. When found by investigators after the report made by Mrs. Servin, the head of the family came out, a fourteen inch curved knife swinging from a cord attached to his overalls. He has but one eye, the other having been shot out, or, according to rumor, put out by Thompson's father with a hot poker in order to instill into his son respect for parental advice.
The four children of the wild family wore queer garments, of sizes originally designed for their elders. They were rounded up by their father to have pictures taken, upon which the photographers inquired for their Mother. Thompson stoutly declared "she didn't count," but was finally prevailed upon to bring her forth form their cabin lair. A towel was wrapped about her head. She wore a dress six sizes too large for her and carelessly pinned up for convenience. She seemed dull, listless, indifferent to life.
The cabin's interior was filled with pieces of wood and piles of litter. There were no beds visible; only wooden soap boxes for seats, wooden pie plates to substitute for chinaware, and empty tin cans for cups.
Efforts to civilize the Thompsons are being made by the Red Cross and by individual women of the Pearl River region.
Great interest is taken in one of the children, for whom the name of Ella has somehow been discovered, whether through her parents' stimulated memory and speech - they seldom talk - or chosen by a teacher, is not known. She is said to be bright and promising, and is now attending a school near the region where her family was found by Mrs. Servin.
[caption] "Ella" Thompson when found
[caption] Photos by Evening Journal Staff Photographer. Thompson and his wife, Libbie.