- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - “I’m a bard and I’m a warrior,” says “Tinker” D’Harra, sitting outside the Pump & Pak Cenex on North Seventh Avenue.

“I’ve got a real unsavory past” adds the self-described “Scotch-Irish-American” in a lilting accent as he smokes a Marlboro.

D’Harra and his group of itinerant travelers, who say they’re in the process of crossing the country, appear to have set an unofficial Bozeman record over the last week. Since Aug. 6, they’ve appeared in the city’s police reports at least 11 times.

It’s the alpaca, mostly. Sometimes the ferret. Or the guns.

Aug. 6, an officer contacted three people walking the alpaca on Main Street at 12:45 a.m., noting they were “polite and cooperative.”

Aug. 9, a caller complained about a “band of gypsies” roving South Church Avenue with guns and knives, describing them as “dirty.”

Aug. 12, another caller was concerned about the group’s treatment of the ferret, which officers determined was in good health.

The list goes on.

When a reporter caught up with him Thursday afternoon, D’Harra and his partner Zarra were lounging on grass outside the Pump & Pak, a block north of I-90. They were drying out after what he described as a wretched, rainy night.

Within arm’s reach was a green bedroll, as well as a bundle containing a pair of long rifles (one, he says, is an 1860 Hawken, a muzzle-loader). Another firearm is strapped to D’Harra’s hip, and a thick paperback - Louis L’Amour’s “To the Far Blue Mountains” - rests nearby.

The white alpaca - named Gomer Pyle, after the “Andy Griffith Show” character - is tied to a tree, chewing on leaves. The ferret and a black Lab puppy (recently acquired in exchange for a pistol, D’Harra says) alternatively play with each other and munch on a pile of kibble on the grass.

Over the course of 45 minutes, D’Harra variously claims to be an Irish Republican Army veteran, to have emigrated to the U.S. on a “Chinese boat” and to have dual citizenship because he was “born in an airplane.” He grew up in a gypsy caravan, he says, and has been traveling since he was a child.

He won’t give his real first name (“due to that I’ve got a real unsavory past”) but proudly points out “D’Harra” means “people of the horse.”

“I had a horse until about three weeks before I got here,” he adds.

He gives a vague answer to a question about where he got the alpaca, saying it was from a fellow veteran who passes along “bad breeding stock.”

“He knows I like animals,” D’Harra says. “Anything exotic.”

“We take animals that nobody wants,” he says, adding it’s a substitute because he and Zarra can’t have kids.

As conversation turns to his interactions with the Bozeman police, D’Harra becomes indignant.

“It’s a bunch of (expletive),” he says about the ferret call. “All our animals are well taken care of.”

“They like to harass us,” he says, saying they’ve given him trouble about his guns and animals and tried to tell him to leave town.

The police are corrupt, he claims, “trying to infringe on our constitutional rights by telling us we can’t have our alpaca.”

“That is not considered an exotic animal,” he says. “You are legally allowed to cross country with your animals as a gypsy.”

For their part, Bozeman police say they’ve largely been responding to calls from the public in their contacts with D’Harra, or backing up property owners who don’t want the band on their premises.

“We’ve been trying to work with him,” said Capt. Jim Veltkamp. “We’ve tried to be patient with him and explain the ramifications of what could happen down the road if we get complaints.”

“The law doesn’t specifically prohibit alpacas,” Veltkamp also noted. “It falls under more of a zoning issue.”

In front of the North Seventh gas station, Zarra D’Harra has her own take on the complaints the group has spurred. “People see what they want to see,” she says.

Pump & Pak, “Tinker” D’Harra complains, is the only establishment in town he hasn’t been kicked out of. “They claim to be Christian, but they don’t act on it,” he says of business owners.

(The owners of the family business seemed to enjoy the D’Harras and their animals, and told the Chronicle they didn’t have a problem with them hanging out on the premises as long as they cleaned up after themselves.)

D’Harra has his beefs with other itinerants, too, he says.

“A lot of these travelers out here, they don’t deserve to be traveling,” he says, adding that many are into drugs and miss the point.

“The rainbows aren’t rainbows any more. The hippies aren’t hippies,” he says. “They’re hipsters and drainbows.”

As D’Harra talks, a woman wearing an Elmo tanktop wanders over from filling up a gas tank to see the animals.

“I’ll sell the Alpaca with an 1860 Hawken rifle for $800,” he tells her.

“I would,” she responds, “but I live in an apartment.”

She should get “service papers,” D’Harra responds, then offers to let her take a picture with the alpaca in exchange for a donation. “You can even hold the puppy and the ferret,” he says.

The woman and her male companion play with the animals for a bit, then happily hand D’Harra a small wad of cash as they get up to leave, without a photo.

He sends Zarra into the convenience store for a pair of energy drinks, then stuffs the remainder of the cash in his pocket. He tells a reporter he ends up spending most of his income at local businesses, as much as $400 to $500 per town stocking up on supplies.

While he’s tried raising money with the Gomer Pyle photos, D’Harra says he makes more money putting out a “bum sign” (the next one he plans: “Obama gave me this job”).

D’Harra says he’s raising money to buy a vehicle and move on from Bozeman with his menagerie. He has a seller for a van lined up if he can raise another $100 by Saturday, he says.

“We’d like to raise, like, 500 bucks so we can register it,” he adds, then wonders aloud if someone in town might have an old RV they’d be interested in giving away or trading.

The group is planning to head to Missoula, he says, then eventually to Florida.

“And,” he says, “hit every little town along the way.”

___

Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com


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