On the Fly!
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The first anthology of its kind, On the Fly! brings forth the lost voices of Hobohemia. Dozens of stories, poems, songs, stories, and articles produced by hoboes are brought together to create an insider history of the subculture’s rise and fall. Adrenaline-charged tales of train hopping, scams, and political agitation are combined with humorous and satirical songs, razor sharp reportage and unique insights into the lives of the women and men who crisscrossed America in search of survival and adventure.

From iconic figures such as labor martyr Joe Hill and socialist novelist Jack London through to pioneering blues and country musicians, and little-known correspondents for the likes of the Hobo News, the authors and songwriters contained in On the Fly! run the full gamut of Hobohemia’s wide cultural and geographical embrace. With little of the original memoirs, literature, and verse remaining in print, this collection, aided by a glossary of hobo vernacular and numerous illustrations and photos, provides a comprehensive and entertaining guide to the life and times of a uniquely American icon. Read on to enter a world where hoboes, tramps, radicals, and bums gather in jungles, flop houses, and boxcars; where gandy dancers, bindlestiffs, and timber beasts roam the rails once more.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 septembre 2018
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781629635323
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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This book is a tantalizing boxcar ride back through the history of the hobo, all told from the hobo s point of view. What more could anyone ask?
-Paul Garon, coauthor, What s the Use of Walking When There s a Freight Train Going Your Way? Black Hoboes and Their Songs and author, Blues and the Poetic Spirit
On the Fly! gathers and reassembles forgotten fragments of a lost counterculture that was once so vast it practically defined the working-class experience in the United States. Its call was so alluring to young men of all classes that the hobo became the most commonly depicted character in American popular culture between 1900 and 1920. This collection represents the view from within, the stories and perspectives of those who lived the life of The Road, carrying its burdens and glorying in its freedoms. On the Fly! is indispensable for understanding not only the hobo life but also the on-the-ground history of our urban industrial order.
-Todd DePastino, author, Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America
A wonderful and definitive collection of hobo prose, poetry, and song. Iain McIntyre has painstakingly collected a rich array of hobo writing that together speaks to the rich and varied lives these itinerant travelers inhabited along the iron highway.
-John Lennon, author, Boxcar Politics: The Hobo in U.S. Culture and Literature, 1869-1956
On the Fly! is a brilliant introduction to the subject and, more than that, a moving tribute to the creativity of men and women at the margins of society.
-Paul Buhle, coeditor, Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World
On the Fly! is a wide-ranging, fascinating collection of primary sources about homelessness from the era that defined the rise and, in the 1930s, the crisis of industrial society in the U.S. Well-known writers like Jack London, Jim Tully, and Tom Kromer are represented, but what sets this volume apart from many studies is its emphasis on first-person views of the experiences of the homeless themselves. This is social history at its best.
-Kenneth L. Kusmer, professor of history, Temple University and author, Down and Out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History

On the Fly! Hobo Literature and Songs, 1879-1941
Edited by Iain McIntyre
PM Press 2018
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be transmitted by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-518-7
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017964734
Cover by Tom Civil
Interior design by briandesign
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
PM Press
PO Box 23912
Oakland, CA 94623
Printed in the USA by the Employee Owners of Thomson-Shore in Dexter, Michigan.
A Tight Squeeze
William Staats
Only a Tramp
Leaves from a Diary: A Tramp Around the World
Sam Clover
Hobo John
A Watch-Night Service in San Francisco
Morley Roberts
The Dying Hobo / Streams of Whiskey (The Hobo s Last Lament)
Two Thousand Stiffs
Jack London
One Night on the Q
Josiah Flynt
The Wabash Cannonball
In Partnership with a Burglar
Leon Livingston
The Poor Tramp Has to Live
The Camp
William Henry Davies
Railroad Bill
You Can t Win
Jack Black
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Death at My Feet
William Z. Foster
My Wandering Boy
Tramping on Life: An Autobiographical Narrative
Harry Kemp
Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister
Carl Panzram
The Swede from North Dakota
The Journey Overland
Windy Bill (Ben Goodkind)
Hallelujah, Bum Again
Thieves and Vagabonds
Jim Tully
IWW Red Special Overall Brigade
J.H. Walsh
The Gila Monster Route
Glen Norton and L.F. Post
The Little Pittsburg of the West and Its Great Wrong
Edwin Brown
The Bum
Arturo Giovannitti
San Diego Free Speech Fight
Alfred Tucker
The Dishwasher
Jim Seymour
Riding the Rods
Glen H. Mullin
Haralambos Kambouris
Rambling Kid
Charles Ashleigh
Henry Herbert Knibbs
Liver la Carte: A True Story of a Camp Kitchen
T. O Donnell
Joe Hill
The Modern Agricultural Slave
E.W. Latchem
The Harvest Stiff s Tipperary
Pat Brennan
The Susquehanna Flats
William J. Quirke
The Mysteries of a Hobo s Life (The Job I Left Behind Me)
T-Bone Slim
The Main Stem
William Edge
The Bum on the Rods and the Bum on the Plush
W.E. Jones
Siberian Methods in the United States: Schuettler s Spring Drive
The Hobo College Yell
Bert L. Weber
Lady Hoboes
Samuel Milton Elam
The Road Kid s Song
Blood on the Forge
William Attaway
The Timberbeast s Lament
Bottom Dogs
Edward Dahlberg
Hobo Convention Song
George Liebst
Johnson the Gyppo
Ralph Winstead (William Akers)
The Labor Shark (After Coleridge)
Edward Connor
In a Southern Prison Camp
Isaac H. Schwartz
The Great American Bum
A Day in the Jungle
A.W. Dragstedt
The Mulligan Stew
The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man
Nels Anderson
Wild and Reckless Hobo
George Reneau / Traditional
The Passenger Stiff
Henri Tascheraud
Frisco Whistle Blues
Ed Bell
Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha
Ben Reitman
Hobo Blues
Peg Leg Howell
Back Door Guest
James Lennox Kerr
Railroadin Some
Henry Thomas
The Casanovas of Illinois
Barbara Starke
The T P Line
Hungry Men
Tom Kromer
No Room for a Tramp
Roy Harvey
Bumming in California
Eluard Luchel McDaniel
Toledo Slim
The Battle of East St. Louis
W.W. Waters
I.C. Moan Blues
Tampa Red
Heel, Toe, and a One-Two-Three-Four
George Milburn
Jungle Man
Peetie Wheatstraw
I ve Got to Take a Chance
Frank Bunce
Savannah Mama
Blind Willie McTell
The Starvation Army: Part Two
John Karazian
Hobo Jungle Blues
Bumble Bee Slim
Their Tribal Life
Thomas Minehan
Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)
Sleepy John Estes
Why Women Become Hoboes
Walter Reckless and Mrs. Metzger
Loveless CCC
Tom Tracy
Dedicated to my family and the many people who have helped out with books, materials, and encouragement over the years it took to compile this anthology. Particular thanks to the staff at Victoria University, the International Institute of Social History, the British Library, the Library of Congress, and the St. Louis Public Library.

A photograph taken by Dorothea Lange in 1939.
F rom the 1870s until the Second World War, millions of Americans left their homes to board freight trains that would carry them vast distances, sometimes to waiting work, often to points unknown. By 1914, more than 250,000 miles of railroad had been laid, putting both the incentive and means of free, albeit illegal, travel within the reach of many American small towns. Defeating efforts by the rail barons who constructed this immense network to exterminate them, at times literally, hoboes soon became synonymous with the lore and reality of the American railroad.
While the overwhelming majority of those riding the rails were driven there out of economic necessity, poverty was not the only motivating force for illicit travel. Lured by a desire for action and excitement, combined with the call of a passing train, many sought to temporarily escape the boredom of everyday life. Others wished to opt out of the mainstream altogether, as the life of a tramp, despite its hardships and dangers, offered an alternative for working-class Americans otherwise condemned to domestic drudgery and the factory floor. In hopping trains, members of the middle and upper classes could similarly carry out a lifetime of rebellion against bourgeois mores, or at least enjoy a summer s adventure. For gay and bisexual men, it additionally offered a subculture in which their orientation was often accepted.
Regardless of their initial reason for setting out, by the end of the nineteenth century the sheer number of transients crisscrossing the nation had given rise to a unique subculture. Distinct from the traditional craftsmen and vagrants who had wandered the roads of Europe for centuries and given mobility by the modern rail system, the hobo rose to an unprecedented place in American culture. Alternately hailed as romantic figures of fun and reviled as immoral and dangerous parasites, these drifters were set apart from conformist America not only by their transiency but also by a lifestyle possessing its own haunts, vocabulary, and cultural, sexual, and ethical norms.
Prior to the 1880s migrant workers and vagrants had largely been referred to as tramps or bums, but with the emergence of travel by train the term hobo gained usage. The origin of the word remains subject to contention. Some, such as the editors of the Hobo News (a magazine published during the 1910s and 20s), held that it was derived from the Latin Homo bonus, or good man. Others, such as sociologist and sometime tramp Thomas Minehan, claimed it was derived from the salutation Ho, boy! A more likely explanation may come from the widespread designation of farm laborers as hoe boys.
The differences between the categories of bum, tramp, and hobo were also the subject of debate, not least among travelers themselves. While generally interchangeable for the public at large, the anarchist agitator and slum doctor Ben Reitman possibly best summed up the key differences as being that the tramp works, the hobo dreams, and the bum drinks.
Naturally enough, these categories tended to blend into each other and their definitions shifted over time. Although the term bum carried the most negative connotations, it was nevertheless a fact that almost all who took to the road would be forced to go on the bum or beg for their supper at some point. Further subcategories of itinerant travelers could be found in yeggs (criminals who hopped trains in the years before cars became accessible), bindle stiffs (rural workers who carried their bedding and belongings on their backs), and jockers and punks (older hoboes and their younger charges, often, although not always, involved in sexual relationships). There were myriad other labels, many of which are detailed in the glossary within this book.
Whatever the specific label applied, the key distinction dividing all of these was perhaps best identified by historian John C. Schneider as being between those who worked to tramp and those who tramped to work. In the case of the latter, either unemployment or a youthful desire to explore one s options before settling down provided the impetus to travel, while for the former work merely provided the means to maintain a lifestyle free of domestic responsibility and predictability. Some identified as members of the toiling masses, for others those same toilers were just one more hostile and ostracizing force as deserving of being hustled as any other. Although many only tramped early in life or for short periods, others fully adapted to the lifestyle, adopting distinctive monikers and, even if inclined to class solidarity, viewing themselves as superior to the stay-at-home worker or home guard. Regardless of how they wound up on the road, all transients held some basic things in common: penury, intermittent homelessness, and the need to keep moving.
Until the late 1920s and 1930s, when the Great Depression and environmental degradation put tens of thousands of families on the road, the majority of hoboes were single, Caucasian, American-born men aged twenty to forty. Although much of the subculture, in keeping with dominant norms, regarded those not of Northern European descent as others and used racist epithets to describe them, definitions of whiteness and the degree of exclusion varied over time and location. Racial and ethnic divisions, explicitly opposed by radical organizations such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), could be heightened or subsumed by factors such as the attitude of individual transients or the use of hiring policies designed to pit different groups against one another. As a result, while most accounts describe hobo jungles, campsites set up near points at which trains could be caught, as melting pots in which people of all backgrounds and creeds could come together around the campfire, others recount racist brawls and in the South de facto segregation.
Fewer Native Americans and African Americans hit the rails than Caucasians, largely because racism put them in greater danger from authorities and made it harder for them to find employment. This was particularly true for African Americans in the South, where vagrancy laws had long been used to jail those who strayed from subservient farmwork, often allowing private industry to exploit their labor via convict lease schemes. While millions of African Americans did migrate following the Civil War, most traveled on passenger trains to established Northern enclaves. Those who did adopt a transient lifestyle, which depending on the era and region was estimated at up to 10 percent of the hobo population, included blues musicians who hopped boxcars to perform in juke joints and clubs, as well as on street corners.
Immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Southern and Eastern Europe often worked the same seasonal jobs as hoboes from Northern European and African American backgrounds. Attempts by employers to use recent arrivals to undermine prevailing conditions often backfired as the collective response and nature of industrial action by these workers could be more damaging than the tendency of American-born workers to simply walk off the job. Although some immigrants shared boxcars and camps with more established migratory workers, racism, language barriers, and their status as new arrivals (or in the case of Mexicans as returnees) tended to see them travel in groups from job to job and reside in enclaves separate to those of the hobo subculture.
While some writers and sociological researchers refused to believe that women numbered among the ranks, a definite, albeit small, female hobo subculture existed long before the 1930s. Most migratory female workers traveled legally between cities to work in factories, offices, and households, but some, often dressed in male clothes for safety and practicality, challenged convention by hitchhiking and traveling the country in boxcars. With the advent of the Great Depression and the mass unemployment that accompanied it, increasing numbers of women and children, as well as people from differing ethnic groups, found themselves sharing roads, rails, and shanty towns.
The existence of rail-riding transients first leapt into the public consciousness and popular literature during the 1870s. With the end of the Civil War and the closing of the frontier the needs of industrial capitalism necessitated the creation of what Kenneth Allsop described in his landmark study Hard Travellin as the shock trooper of American expansion, the man who freelanced beyond the community redoubts, building the canals and roads, spiking rails, felling timber, drilling oil, digging mines, harvesting wheat and fencing the prairie. In addition to these workers-whose jobs were seasonal, insecure, and short-lived-could be found those who worked in traditional traveling crafts, such as cigar and umbrella making, typesetting, and carpentry. Last, and often interchangeable, were the unemployed men and women defined as surplus labor, who even in the best of times were forced to move from place to place seeking work.
As long as these people and traumatized Civil War veterans who found themselves unable to settle down in peacetime remained relatively small in number or primarily wandered the West, they were ignored by the eastern elites who dominated American literature. But after the economic crash of 1873, which generated at least three million unemployed, the numbers of those traveling in search of work, and their hardening position as a permanent fixture of American society, meant that the amount of writing both about and by hoboes steadily increased.
Having forced themselves onto the front pages of newspapers and into mainstream novels, America s hoboes found themselves the target of both condemnation and pity. Envied for apparently escaping the boredom of regular life, they were contradictorily reviled for their rootlessness and for spurning domestic convention. While the itinerant wanderer was often projected as embodying the individual spirit and mobility central to the American Dream, their poverty was simultaneously condemned as stemming from individual rather than societal failings. Those who admired the hobo s traveling spirit from afar were much less likely to do so when confronted by them in the flesh. Anti-tramp laws were enacted across the United States with the aim of either locking up the weary traveler or sending them elsewhere.
For the rail companies the emergence of the hobo was a most unwelcome development, but one they largely put up with until the end of the nineteenth century. At that point they moved to minimize losses associated with stock theft, litigation, and damage inflicted to locked boxcars by those entering them. Unaffected by such costs, few local authorities were willing to assist the rail barons in their crusade against freeloading. Indeed, law enforcement officers and courts were more concerned with getting travelers out of their town and onto the next freight than in keeping them off them. Beyond this self-interest there was also widespread hostility in rural communities toward rail monopolies that appropriated land, caused injuries to livestock and people, and charged exorbitant rates for haulage. In response the railways employed their own security officers or bulls. Modeled on the example of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, these unsuccessfully attempted to ward off riders via the use of saps, fists, and guns.
Amid such repression and derision, hoboes nevertheless had their supporters. Indeed, few would have been able to survive without the willingness of others to turn a blind eye to their travel, hand over a dime, or provide a meal when approached at the back door. While the mainstream press fulminated to the point of advocating the poisoning of tramps, union and socialist newspapers-comprising over four hundred publications in the late nineteenth century-generally campaigned against repressive laws by pointing to the structural causes of poverty and publishing letters from those forced to hit the road. As the twentieth century dawned the IWW began to organize migratory workers, drawing its backbone from flying delegates who traveled the country to create branches and sign up members, while fanning the flames of discontent via songs, literature, stickers, and soapbox speeches.
Hoboes also found political support in the policies of the Populists, agrarian socialists who drew their support base from the same small mid-western farmers who would find themselves bankrupted and forced to migrate in the 1920s as agribusiness came to dominate the countryside. In 1893, the Populist governor of Kansas, Lorenzo D. Lewelling, issued an executive proclamation, soon to become known as the Tramp Circular, which called on state authorities and the police to use leniency in dealing with the homeless. Citing industrialization as the primary cause of transiency, Lewelling held that the right to go freely from place to place in search of employment, or even in obedience to mere whim, is a part of that personal liberty guaranteed by the constitution of the United States.
Both Populists and unions organized demonstrations opposing the repression of itinerant workers, with one event drawing twenty-five thousand protesters in Pittsburgh in 1882. Later both sections of society could be found providing moral and physical support for a mass march on Washington in 1894, led by the self-styled General Coxey, which demanded an end to unemployment through the funding of public works.
Despite these efforts, vagrancy and other anti-tramp laws remained in force, with the majority of politicians and pundits continuing to condemn the individual traveler as a menace to the nation s moral health. Toward the end of the nineteenth century these critics were joined by academics and charity workers in proposing all manner of solutions to the tramp problem. While most campaigned to set up poorhouses and work camps to isolate and discipline the work shy, others such as eugenicist Charles Davenport, advocated sterilization and a ban on marriage in order to prevent the passing on of the defective genes supposedly at the root of wanderlust or dromomania.
Many journalists and moral campaigners cast tramps as the embodiment of all that was wrong with the modern world. In contrast, cartoonists and comedians primarily depicted them as bumbling fools. Stylized by Norman Rockwell in his iconic covers for the Saturday Evening Post and appearing in comic strip characters such as Happy Hooligan and The Duke, these defanged, dopey creatures posed little danger to anyone other than themselves. Clad in worn-out clothes, a torn-up hat, and carrying a bundle on a stick, such dirty-faced and drunken caricatures came to represent the tramp of modern folklore.
With the advent of film came a further host of untidy, lazy bums. In contrast to the majority of these portrayals, that of the most famous of all Hollywood tramps, the socialist-inclined Charlie Chaplin, saw the subculture humanized. Despite conforming to many existing stereotypes Chaplin s underdog invited the audience to laugh along with him, rather than at him, as he subverted society at large. As the Great Depression hit and left-wing ideologies came into vogue an increasing number of filmmakers created serious treatments of unemployment and homelessness in the form of films such as Millions of Us, White Bondage, and Our Daily Bread.
A more rounded literary image of the hobo first began to emerge at the turn of the century as authors belonging to the subculture, or at least sympathetic to it, saw their work published. Undeniably downtrodden, many hoboes rejected their image as useless bums and criminal vagrants. Instead they strove to highlight their position as workers responsible for the prosperity others enjoyed or as victims of a society whose economic failings had forced them to live in degrading circumstances. Others celebrated their marginal existence, often in the form of parody, hailing their success in escaping the grind of the common worker, while lampooning the attitudes of their enemies.
The most famous of these authors, and the one arguably most responsible for popularizing the subject, was Jack London, an adventure writer who attributed his conversion to socialism as stemming from his experiences as a hobo during the 1890s. Not only did London use a variety of articles and his book The Road to condemn capitalism for creating an American underclass, but he also captured and amplified the adventure and excitement involved in hopping trains. Josiah Flynt and other former tramps had already written successful memoirs, but London s writing eschewed the regretful, confessional, and negative tone of such works. Rather than condemning the lifestyle, with a sly wink to indicate that maybe it hadn t been so bad after all London set a precedent for others to follow in both analyzing the hoboes place in society and celebrating their cleverness in surviving it.
The majority of writers who followed in London s wake primarily sought to capture in print and song the tall tales they had gathered in their travels. Congregating in urban main stems, with their lodging houses, saloons, and employment agencies, and in jungles hastily constructed near rail division points and on the fringes of town, hoboes regularly came together to share food, compare notes, and carouse. The life of a hobo was often lonely, but the trials and trepidations of the road forged a ramshackle community, as reflected in early graffiti that noted where particular individuals had been and were now heading. Out of the communal life fashioned around campfires came an oral and musical tradition that, with the rise of print media and the popular song, could not fail but to appeal to the mainstream. The popularity of such material gave some, including popular author and latter-day Hollywood journalist Jim Tully, a rare opportunity to rise out of the poverty they chronicled.
Added to the increasing body of memoirs and fiction written by current and former hoboes was the work of sociologists, criminologists, and reformers. As the nineteenth and twentieth centuries progressed, hoboes, like so many others at the bottom of the society, found themselves not only the target of Christian charities and legal authorities but also the subject of reports and studies by academics, altruists, and social workers. The majority of these, unlike Chicago sociologist Nels Anderson, came to the migratory world across a class divide, and their writing tells us as much about their elite and middle-class origins and prejudices as it does about hobohemia.
There were also those whose life and writing as hoboes was considered secondary to their role as political activists. Members of groups such as the IWW and the International Brotherhood Welfare Association (IBWA) rode the rails both as a practical measure and with the goal of organizing and educating the most downtrodden of workers. Having pitted themselves against employers and conservative farmers, these radicals found themselves described in the mainstream media as lunatics, foreign agents, and vandals. In contrast, the reports and fiction that emerged from the left milieu itself, and which appeared in union journals or as political autobiographies and proletarian novels, was generally polemical, sardonic, and celebratory in tone.
Music and verse concerning transients dated back to the Europe of centuries past, and some of these traditional works were revised and performed in jungle camps during the 1880s and 1890s alongside new, often satirical commentaries on traveling life. With the emergence of the IWW in 1905, and the publication of its first Little Red Songbook in 1909, hobo songs took a deeply political turn, as humor and music were used to rally comrades and potential recruits on street corners, farms and picket lines.
Commercial artists and songwriters appropriated existing hobo songs but also created original pieces, generally of a cloyingly sentimental or insultingly humorous bent, some of which found their way back to the jungles that had inspired them. Few of these vaudevillians and radio cowboys had any genuine connection to hobohemia, but with the emergence of a myriad of record labels in the 1920s a number of musicians with links as railwaymen, transient musicians, and hoboes began to release material. These 78s, as well as the field recordings and transcriptions gathered by researchers and scholars such as Howard W. Odum, George Milburn, Geoffrey Irwin, and Lawrence Gellert, not only brought the songs and thoughts of hobohemia to the general public but also preserved them for future generations. This was particularly important in the case of African American hoboes, few of whom had access to the printed page.
As car travel became more prevalent in the late 1920s, some declared the age of the hobo over. The Great Depression soon put paid to that. Although some transients, many of them rural families, began to travel in their own vehicles, invariably as shabby and tattered as their other belongings, the sheer number of transients and periodic crackdowns on hitchhiking meant that train hopping experienced a revival. The preference among the hundreds of thousands of youths made homeless by the Depression to band together in groups further encouraged the use of boxcars. Along the Missouri-Pacific line, authorities estimated the number of illegal travelers increased from 13,000 to 200,000 between 1929 and 1931, and Southern Pacific Railroad administrators claimed to have evicted more than 680,000 people from trains in 1932. In response some rail companies took to leaving select carriages on each train empty and unlocked in the hope of preventing break-ins that would otherwise occur.
This was to be the hobo s last hurrah. When the economic boom generated by the Second World War and America s global dominance following it were combined with the individuality of car travel and farm mechanization, the subculture faded as a distinctive force. A small minority of enthusiasts would continue to train-hop and still do, but the days of almost every passing train containing unofficial travelers were over. Increasingly, the homeless became more permanently clustered around skid roads. Hobohemia, with its main stems, employment agencies, and radical meeting places, faded away.
Studies and works dedicated to chronicling and analyzing the history, folklore, and role of hoboes in American culture and society have regularly appeared since the 1950s. While many of these, such as works by Allsop, Todd DePastino, Paul Garon, Gene Tomko, and Roger Bruns, have ably explored and documented the lives of rail riders, very little of the original memoirs, literature, and verse that made the hobo such an American icon remains in print.
This anthology seeks to partially rectify this by collecting together a number of articles and extracts from novels, autobiographies, and studies written by hoboes and the middle- and upper-class researchers and adventurers who joined their ranks for a time. It includes picaresque tales of derring-do, true-crime reportage, confessionals, outlandish anecdotes, sociological reports, and political indictments of the system. While some of these works are by writers whose names will be familiar, the majority have long been forgotten, with their creations remaining only in the hands of collectors and university archives.
Along with songs and poems composed and performed within the subculture, all of the works in this anthology were created during the era in which hobohemia flourished. The articles, stories, and extracts are arranged in rough chronological order according to the period they cover, rather than when they were first written or published. Many of the songs and verse are of unknown origin and exist in many variations. Where no known or singular author exists, they are placed according either to when they first emerged or when a definitive version was created. Appendices include a glossary to help the modern reader navigate the vernacular of hobohemia and a guide to key secondary works and memoirs published since 1945. Occasionally, spelling and punctuation have been edited for consistency and ease of reading, but grammar, expression, and other elements, including occasionally oppressive language and depictions, have been left intact to retain the original flavor of the pieces. Read on to enter a world where hoboes, tramps, and bums congregate in jungles, flophouses, and boxcars; where gandy dancers, passenger stiffs, and timberbeasts roam the rails once more.
Iain McIntyre

A Delaware railway line in the 1930s.

An image from Frank Bellew s 1878 book The Tramp: His Tricks, Tallies and Tell-tales, with All His Signs, Countersigns, Grips, Pass-words and Villainies Exposed.
A Tight Squeeze
William Staats

Although hobo life and lore were to change greatly over the next fifty or sixty years, one thing remained central: the excitement, hardship, and danger involved in hopping a train. By May 1869, the First Intercontinental Railway, linking the San Francisco Bay to the Missouri River, was completed and within four decades an extensive network, including 1,312 separate railroads, would allow travelers, paying or otherwise, to easily cross the country. Over time technological standardization, the increasing length of trains, and the large number of former railway workers forced out of work encouraged and facilitated a culture in which it became physically easier to grab a free ride and acquire the knowledge required to do so.
The ability to travel and find work, as well as build a reputation as a profesh, or master rider, all hinged upon locating a locomotive and then hanging on for dear life while evading railroad police and unsympathetic workers. Little surprise then that almost every memoir and study of any length included one, if not many, tales of train hopping, as well as much philosophizing upon the subject. In this early hobo memoir from 1879 William Staats recounts his tutelage at the hands of the Evangelist in riding the rails and avoiding railroad employees who might remove him or demand payment for continued travel.
T he two travelers boarded a western bound freight train at Brighton. There being no accessible boxcar, they were compelled to content themselves with a seat on the rear steps of the caboose, where they were discovered and incontinently bounced after being carried some twenty miles. Ben thought this ejectment finished their ride on that train, but the Evangelist-whose name was Horton-corrected him. Creeping along in the shadow of the train until it started, they again seated themselves on the steps. This time they made but ten miles before they were discovered, when some strong adjectives were used and some hard names called, and they were warned if caught on the train again they would be dealt with in a most summary manner.
Wait for another train! exclaimed the Evangelist. Certainly not, why we have only been bounced twice!
He instructed Ben to crouch under the cars at the center of the train, and when it started walk with it, so long as he could keep up. When he found the rate of speed getting too much for him, he was to mount a ladder but not put in appearance on the roof until positive that the crew was not around.
The crew of a freight train consists of the fireman and engineer, who remain in the locomotive s cab, a conductor, who, while the train is in motion, generally remains in his caboose, and two brakemen, front and rear, supposed to remain on top, but who, after the train has started, usually betake themselves to the engine-cab and caboose respectively. On the night runs all carry lanterns, and through them their approach is easily discernible by the sly tramp. It will now be understood why Ben was to delay mounting to the top.
Having clung to the ladder for some time he slowly raised his head above the roof and surveyed the situation. Not a light appeared in sight, but on the next car he saw the dark outlines of a man, and heard the Evangelist crooning to himself a revival hymn. He mounted to the roof, and both men sat down immediately over their respective ladders, ready to go down them on the slightest provocation. Much after the fashion of prairie-dogs, sitting at the mouth of their holes, prepared at the faintest disturbance to show a clean pair of heels and faint whisk of a tail. Several times during the ensuing hour the light of the front brakeman appeared as that individual attended to easing the train down grades. And each time our two travelers suddenly disappear; reappearing again when the coast was clear. Having gone about sixteen miles, the train side tracked to allow an eastern-bound express to pass. Ben and his companion crouched under the cars until they again started, when the ladders were resumed and ultimately the roof.
This method of travelling seemed quite pleasant to him and he was beginning to rest more at ease, and recline on his back, when a note of warning from the Evangelist aroused him, and glancing along the train he perceived lights approaching from both directions. The tramps immediately disappeared in the darkness, while the conductor and front brakeman met on the identical car to which our friend Ben was clinging. After some instructions had been given the brakeman, the political disquietudes of the day became a topic of conversation, and so interested did they become, that placing their lanterns on the roof they sat down themselves, to the intense disgust of our friend, who dared not elevate his head.
Unfortunately for him the train was a through freight and had just entered on one of the longest runs of the division. The perch that had been comfortable enough for a short occupancy, soon became quite unendurable with the continued jolting of the car. His feet grew stiff and his hands sore. Besides he had to cling close to the ladder in constant terror lest the timbers of the bridges they frequently crossed should sweep him off. To add to his misery both of the train men were great consumers of tobacco, and facing Ben s ladder they poured upon his devoted head a torrent of tobacco juice. Moments grew to the dignity of hours, minutes to ages. Never had he been so thoroughly disgusted with politics. He wished he belonged to a despotism where the discussion of them was punishable with death. Not only dared he not elevate his head, but he was afraid to turn his face skywards at all, lest he receive in the eyes and mouth a charge of the amber juice that was being so liberally bestowed upon him.
Our hero was certainly in an unenviable position. If he ascended to the roof and gave himself up, the conductor had threatened in case he was again caught on the train to hand him over to the authorities the first stop that was made; a procedure that, under the vagrant laws would insure him ninety days in the work house; enough to totally wreck his expectations. On the other hand if he fell to the ground he was sure to be either killed or badly mangled. In this sad predicament his over-strained feelings found vent in a groan.
Railroad men, as a class, are superstitious. There are spots along each crews route that are vested with supernatural properties. We knew a practical man of good common sense, an engineer, who solemnly avers that on crossing a certain bridge at midnight, a large white dog always springs across the track immediately his engine leaves the bridge. Another man, a brakeman, would have deserted his train sooner than omit changing his lantern three times, from his right hand into his left, the first time he walked the train. Whatever it is in the human fabrication that yearns after the incomprehensible we know not; but that such a force is established there is verified by the scores of different religious beliefs; founded on faith or fancy as you please.
The Administration was receiving a hearty endorsement from the conductor when Ben s groan struck on his ear. A sudden silence ensued. The conductor looked at the brakeman, and the brakeman looked at the conductor. Neither spoke. Another smothered groan came floating from out the surrounding darkness. The conductor was suddenly reminded that his way bills needed overhauling and the brakeman discovered that his presence was needed at the front of the train. Ben was left master of the situation, though unaware of the influence his groans had had in placing him there. He dragged his stiffened limbs to the top of the car, and indulged in a luxurious rub of his bespattered countenance. Presently he was joined by the Evangelist and the two recounted their experiences.
By constant watchfulness and much dodging down the ladders, they retained possession of the train during the night, and the first glimpses of the morning sun found them at Columbus; having made over one hundred and twenty miles on the train Ben had thought it impossible to ride. Stiff, sore, tired and sleepy, but in possession of the satisfaction of having taken a long step on their journey, our friends dismounted and took a look around them. While they still stood by the train the conductor passed. He gave them one look of astonishment, and with the remark, Well, I ll be blowed! went on his way.

Travelers playing cards in a boxcar, circa 1900.

Rhyming Bob, photographed in Snohomish, Washington, 1900.
Only a Tramp

This ballad decrying the maltreatment of tramps was first published in Henry de Marsan s Singers Journal in the 1870s. A number of later variations referring to boxcars, such as that recorded by Grand Ole Opry mainstays Sam and Kirk McGee, can be found in Norm Cohen s collection Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong.
I m a broken-down man, without money or credit,
My clothes are all tattered and torn;
Not a friend have I got in this cold, dreary world-
Oh! I wish I had never been born!
In vain I have searched for employment,
Sleeping out on the ground cold and damp;
I am stared in the face by starvation-
Oh! Pity the fate of a tramp!
They tell me to work for a living,
And not through the country to stamp;
And yet, when I ask for employment,
They say I am only a tramp.
Oh! the rich ones at home by their bright, cheery firesides,
With plenty so temptingly stored,
Have oftimes refused me and sneered with contempt,
When I asked for the crumbs from their board;
And if through the cravings of hunger,
With a loaf I should dare to decamp,
They at once set the dogs loose upon me,
Because I am only a tramp.
But the day will yet come when the rich man and me
Will be laid neath the same mother earth;
His joys and my sorrows will then be forgotten.
When, I hope, better times will have birth;
Yet, my friends, you should sometimes remember
That every poor man s not a scamp,
For there s many a true heart still beating
Beneath the old coat of a tramp.

A hobo jungle, 1895.

Illustration from the San Francisco Call, 1900.
Leaves from a Diary: A Tramp Around the World
Sam Clover

Born in the UK, Sam Clover immigrated to the United States at the age of ten in 1869. Informed eleven years later that he would have to gain more life experience before taking up a position at the Chicago Times, he set off on a major journey, clocking up what he later claimed was forty thousand miles. Having seen the United States by boxcar and sailed as far as Australia and New Zealand, he gained the promised position sixteen months later and continued to work as a journalist for the rest of his life. Two books resulted from his time as a hobo, sailor, and circus hand, 1884 s memoir Leaves from a Diary: A Tramp Around the World, from which this excerpt concerning rail riding and fairground hustles is drawn, and the 1897 semifictional Paul Travers Adventures.
U pon inquiry we found that we had stumbled upon the Salt Lake branch road, so thanking our lucky stars, we kept steadily onward, hoping to reach the Mormon City before night. Here I was fortunate enough to fall in with an old Chicago friend, who treated us like princes during our short stay in that beautiful valley. But Utah was not California, and we were anxious to be moving, so on the third day I said good-bye to my hospitable friend, and with my comrade started back to Ogden.
We arrived just as an emigrant train was about to pull out, and, jumping aboard, I went to the conductor and told him our fix. He agreed to carry us to the end of his division, after a little parley, giving us to understand it was because we had not attempted to steal a ride that made him so lenient. At the end of this section a kind-hearted brakeman took us in charge, and we rode to the end of his division in the tool chest attached to the caboose, it being under his immediate supervision. The next ride we made was between the tender and mail car of a through express, which carried us to Reno, Nevada, before the conductor discovered our presence.
Then, for the first time, we did a little drilling, i.e., walking, but, before night, at a small station, managed to bribe a brakeman on a freight train, with a pocket-knife and pair of suspenders, in consideration of which we were allowed to hang on to an iron ladder, between two cars, all night long. By carefully watching the conductor s movements, we managed to stick to that freight until it reached Sacramento, Cal.
Here Charley felt at home, and it being well toward evening, led the way to one of the river wharves. We found a boat almost ready to steam out for Frisco and by skillfully dodging the gate keeper managed to steal aboard unperceived, when we at once stowed away among a pile of freight on the lower deck forward. A calm sense of rest stole over me as I lay there, snugly hid, and gazed up at the shining moon, shedding her benignant rays upon the surface of the water, as we glided swiftly down the Sacramento river. The last I remember was kicking Charley for snoring so loudly, being afraid he would arouse the deck hands, and then I was in the land of dreams. When I awoke, we were moored to the wharf at San Francisco and the freight was being rapidly unloaded; our long and hard-fought trip was over, at least for the present, the Golden Gate lay right ahead and the city of hills and red-wood dwellings was open to our critical investigation.
Breakfast was naturally our first thought, the second, how to obtain it; neither of us had a cent, nor had we anything available to raise money upon; all desirable articles we possessed at the start, having long since been parted with to help soften the hearts of the various brakesmen we happened across while on the tramp, and into whose good graces we had been anxious to ingratiate ourselves.
My comrade, however, was not long in solving this conundrum, and confidently led the way up Market Street toward the business center of the city. Our road led past the magnificent Palace Hotel, with its hundreds of windows about which I had read not a little, but the hasty glance I gave it did not impress me very deeply as to its pre-eminence, so far as architecture went, over some others I had seen, and I thought of our State Street hostelrie, away back at home, and heartily wished I were inside it. A small, and very dingy-looking store on DuPont Street closely verging on the Chinese quarters, was where my companion finally halted and into which he at once entered. Fifteen minutes later he emerged, and in answer to my look of inquiry, carelessly jingled some silver pieces in his pocket; it was very evident his mission had been successful and we lost no time in getting outside of the first square meal it had been our good fortune to sit down to for weeks. Our hunger appeased, we began to review our position.
Charley s destination was Los Angeles, where his folks resided, and as he had been absent from them two years, he was naturally anxious to get home, and exhausted his best arguments in the vain effort to induce me to accompany him thither. I had other plans, however, and was not to be dissuaded from them, so, seeing I was determined as to my course, he finally gave in, and after generously dividing his stock of borrowed capital we parted.
The next three or four hours I spent in wandering aimlessly about the principal streets of the city and in feasting my eyes upon those prominent places of interest, more or less familiar to me from descriptive accounts gathered from time to time in newspaper articles. About three in the afternoon, as I stood in contemplative mood on the steps of the Post Office building, cogitating as to my next move, I was accosted by a rather dapper-looking, sharp-eyed man who inquired if I were not from Cincinnati. I quickly undeceived him on this point and in the conversation that ensued casually made known my situation, thinking perhaps he might be able to assist me in the furtherance of my scheme, which was to ship before the mast on any of the foreign-bound vessels then lying in port. Vessel business, however, was not in his line as I soon discovered.
Finding I had not dined he took me to dinner, and during the progress of the meal unfolded a little plan of his own to which he required an assistant. The State fair was about to be held at Sacramento and he wanted me to go with him there and tend a stand in a large booth, where I was to preside over the sale of some precious eye-water, my new acquaintance giving me to understand that he was a doctor and the inventor and sole agent on the Pacific coast for the most inestimable liquid treasure for weak eyes ever yet discovered.
He was a beautiful, smooth talker, this Dr. Queechy, and I imagine there were few moves on the world s board that he was not fully posted on. While I felt confident he was a quack and his medicine trash, I thought there could be no harm in accepting his proposition for a few days, especially as he offered me a good percentage on all the eye-water lotion I should sell besides paying my food and lodging while the fair lasted; so I accepted his terms and agreed to go at once to Sacramento, as the fair opened next day.
We had big flaring cards posted around the stand setting forth in large type the virtues of the wonderful and miraculous eye-water, compounded by that prince of philanthropists Dr. Queechy; also, on the stand were distributed a number of small dodgers, purporting to be testimonials from distinguished patients from all parts of the Union who had used the celebrated lotion with the most beneficial results.
Here I stayed all day, giving out hand-bills to the country visitors as they strolled past, and selling them my eye-water at fifty cents per bottle (with full directions for use accompanying each purchase). I took in fifteen dollars the first day, and after locking up the stock in a large box, retired in high glee to a cheap hotel where I enjoyed the luxuries of a good square meal and a bed. Meanwhile I had seen nothing of my employer, but as he had informed me he should be very busy I supposed he would be visible next day.
In the morning, I repaired to the stand and fixed the stock ready for business. What easy victims those Californians were to the doctor s charms; I know now that the famous eye-water was nothing but aqua pura, with (as the doctor tersely put it) the taste taken out; but how it sold! That day I took in nearly twenty dollars and still the professor had not shown up, not that I cared very much but I thought his non-appearance strange.
The fair lasted four days and at the close I was possessed of nearly ninety-five dollars in gold and silver; bottles all gone and my patron still non est. Chancing across a policeman, with whom I was on speaking terms, I described my employer and inquired if he knew him. He did. I then learned for the first time why I was employed and the cause of his disappearance. The eye-water business was a blind, and the pseudo doctor s real profession was that of a gambler. He was a faker, or professional swindler, and in conjunction with an accomplice, had hired a carriage and team, bribed all the policemen on the grounds to wink at his business, and had introduced his latest effort a lottery scheme, on an entirely new system. By the payment of a dollar the victim received a check on which was printed a number supposed to be equivalent to a prize. He was a cunning operator, as his modus operandi, explained by my friend, the policeman, will show. The purchaser pays a dollar and in return gets ticket No. 40. The gentlemanly agent offers him five, ten or fifteen dollars for it. He refuses, thinking it a fifty-dollar prize or perhaps larger. Won t take fifteen for it eh? says the dealer. The answer is in the negative. Round goes the wheel, No. 40 draws a blank. On the contrary, if he accepts three or four dollars for the ticket, he finds that it has drawn twenty, thirty or fifty dollars, as the case may be. This then was his real business, and as the policeman remarked, He drove a slashing trade. But the first day s transactions settled him; he wanted too much. In the evening a burly Californian, one of the victims, discovered the imposition, and quietly gathering a few friends sought out the clever swindlers. They smashed the lottery arrangement into splinters, which, by the way was quite a work of art, and then gave the couple five minutes start. They needed no second hint to leave town for they saw the gentlemen of the glorious climate of California meant business, and they hastily cleared for parts unknown. This of course, explained his not appearing to receive the dividend for the sale of the eye-water, and I remained sole legatee, provided he did not appear to put in a claim later.

William Rovin Bill Aspinwall, likely photographed by Connecticut professor and clergyman John James McCook in the late 1890s.
Hobo John

Originally composed and disseminated around campfires, most hobo songs spawned numerous variations before being standardized via songbooks and popular recordings. This take on the popular ballad Hobo John appeared in George Milburn s 1930 compendium The Hobo s Hornbook, but its reference to railroad baron Jay Gould s daughter dates it back to the 1880s. While these lyrics see Gould s progeny giving voice to the hatred of hoboes by railway owners and authorities, other versions see her imploring her father to be merciful.
The flyer was due when, twenty minutes late,
Around the bend came a hot-shot freight.
On the bumpers was a hobo john;
He s a good old hobo, but he s dead and gone,
Dead and gone, dead and gone,
He s a good old hobo, but he s dead and gone.
The old bo, he said before he died,
They s one more route I d like to ride
Tell me, podner, what can that be?
It s down in Louisiana on the old I.C.
On the old I.C., on the old I.C.
Down in Louisiana on the old I.C.
Jay Gould s daughter said before she died,
Pappy, fix the blinds so as the bums can t ride;
If ride they must, let em ride the rod,
Let em put their trust in the hands of God,
In the hands of God, in the hands of God,
Let em put their trust in the hands of God.

A photograph taken in a Mulberry Bend backyard in New York City s Five Points slum area during the 1890s by social reformer Jacob Riis.
A Watch-Night Service in San Francisco
Morley Roberts

The English essayist, biographer, and poet Morley Roberts traveled extensively in his youth, visiting and working in numerous countries, including Australia, the United States, and South Africa. Drawing on his experiences he produced a number of books, including 1904 s A Tramp s Notebook, from which this excerpt, recalling a period of penury in San Francisco in 1885, is drawn. Blighted by illness, Roberts was forced to turn to religious charity for help and, as with so many before and after him, found that the priorities of the pious were less concerned with providing shelter, food, and genuine companionship than with swelling their own egos in the search for souls.
A merica is a hard place, for it has been made by hard men. People who would not be crushed in the East have gone to the West. The Puritan element has little softness in it, and in some places even now gives rise to phenomena of an excessive and religious brutality which tortures without pity, without sympathy. But not only is the Puritan hard; all other elements in America are hard too. The rougher emigrant, the unconquerable rebel, the natural adventurer, the desperado seeking a lawless realm, men who were iron and men with the fierce courage which carries its vices with its virtues, have made the United States. The rude individualist of Europe who felt the slow pressure of social atoms which precedes their welding, the beginning of socialism, is the father of America. He has little pity, little tolerance, little charity. In what States in America is there any poor law? Only an emigration agent, hungry for steamship percentages, will declare there are no poor there now. The survival of the fit is the survival of the strong; every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost might replace the legend on the silver dollar and the golden eagle, without any American denying it in his heart.
But if America as a whole is the dumping ground and Eldorado combined of the harder extruded elements of Europe, the same law of selection holds good there as well. With every degree of West longitude the fiber of the American grows harder. The Dustman Destiny sifting his cinders has his biggest mesh over the Pacific States. If charity and sympathy be to seek in the East, it is at a greater discount on the Slope. The only poor-house is the House of Correction. Perhaps San Francisco is one of the hardest, if not the hardest city in the world. Speaking from my own experience, and out of the experience gathered from a thousand miserable bedfellows in the streets, I can say I think it is, not even excepting Portland in Oregon. But let it be borne in mind that this is the verdict of the unsuccessful. Had I been lucky it might have seemed different.
I came into the city with a quarter of a dollar, two bits, or one shilling and a halfpenny in my possession. Starvation and sleeping on boards when I was by no means well broke me down and at the same time embittered me. On the third day I saw some of my equal outcasts inspecting a bill on a telegraph pole in Kearny Street, and on reading it I found it a religious advertisement of some services to be held in a street running out of Kearny, I believe in Upper California Street. At the bottom of the bill was a notice that men out of work and starving who attended the meeting would be given a meal. Having been starving only some twenty-four hours I sneered and walked on. My agnosticism was bitter in those days, bitter and polemic.
But I got no work. The streets were full of idle men. They stood in melancholy groups at corners, sheltering from the rain. I knew no one but a few of my equals. I could get no ship; the city was full of sailors. I starved another twenty-four hours, and I went to the service. I said I went for the warmth of the room, for I was ill-clad and wet. I found the place half full of out-o -works, and sat down by the door. The preacher was a man of a type especially disagreeable to me; he looked like a business man who had cultivated an aspect of goodness and benevolence and piety on business principles. Without being able to say he was a hypocrite, he struck me as being one. He was not bad-looking, and about thirty-five; he had a band of adoring girls and women about him. I was desolate and disliked him and went away.
But I returned.
I went up to him and told him brutally that I disbelieved in him and in everything he believed in, explaining that I wanted nothing on false pretenses. My attitude surprised him, but he was kind (still with that insufferable air of being a really first-class good man), and he bade me have something to eat. I took it and went, feeling that I had no place on the earth.
But a little later I met an old friend from British Columbia. He was by way of being a religious man, and he had a hankering to convert me. Failing personally, he cast about for some other means, and selected this very preacher as his instrument. Having asked me to eat with him at a ten-cent hash house, he inveigled me to an evening service, and for the warmth I went with him. I became curious about these religious types, and attended a series of services. I was interested half in a morbid way, half psychologically. Scott, my friend, found me hard, but my interest made him hope. He took me, not at all unwilling, to hear a well-known revivalist who combined religion with anecdotes. He told stories well, and filled a church every night for ten days. During these days I heard him attentively, as I might have listened to any well-told lecture on any pseudo-science. But my intellect was unconvinced, my conscience untouched, and Scott gave me up. I attended a number of services by myself; I was lonely, poor, hopeless, living an inward life. The subjective became real at times, the objective faded. I had a little occasional work, and expected some money to reach me early in the year. But I had no energy, I divided my time between the Free Library and churches. And it drew on to Christmas.
It was a miserable time of rain, and Christmas Day found me hopeless of a meal. But by chance I came across a man whom I had fed, and he returned my hospitality by dining me for fifteen cents at the What Cheer House, a well-known poor restaurant in San Francisco. Then followed some days of more than semi-starvation, and I grew rather light-headed. The last day of the year dawned and I spent it foodless, friendless, solitary. But after a long evening s aimless wandering about the city I came back to California Street, and at ten o clock went to the Watch-Night Service in the room of the first preacher I had heard.
The hall was a big square one, capable of seating some three hundred people. There was a raised platform at the end; a broad passageway all round the room had seats on both sides of it, and made a small square of seats in the center. I sat down in the middle of this middle square, and the room was soon nearly full. The service began with a hymn. I neither sang nor rose, and I noticed numbers who did not. In peculiar isolation of mind my heart warmed to these, and I was conscious of rising hostility for the creatures of praise. There was one strong young fellow about three places from me who remained seated. Glancing behind the backs of those who were standing between us I caught his eye, which met mine casually and perhaps lightened a little. He had a rather fine face, intelligent, possibly at better times humorous. I was not so solitary.
A man singing on my left offered me a share of his hymn-book. I declined courteously. The woman on my right asked me to share hers. That I declined too. Some asked the young fellow to rise, but he refused quietly. Yet I noticed some of those who had remained seated gave in to solicitations or to the sound or to some memory, and rose. Yet many still remained. They were all men, and most of them young.
After the hymn followed prayer by the minister, who was surrounded on the dais by some dozen girls. I noticed that few were very good-looking; but in their faces was religious fervor. Yet they kept their eyes on the man. The prayer was long, intolerably and trickily eloquent and rhetorical, very self-conscious. The man posed before the throne. But I listened to every word, half absorbed though I was in myself. He was followed in prayer by ambitious and emotional people in the seats. One woman prayed for those who would not bow the knee. Once more a hymn followed, Bringing Home the Sheaves.
The air is not without merit, and has a good lilt and swing. I noted it tempted me to sing it, for I knew the tune well, and in the volume of voices was an emotional attraction. I repressed the inclination even to move my lips. But some others rose and joined in. My fellow on the left did not. The sermon followed, and I felt as if I had escaped a humiliation.
What the preacher said I cannot remember, nor is it of any importance. He was not an intellectual man, nor had he many gifts beyond his rather sleek manner and a soft manageable voice. He was obviously proud of that, and reckoned it an instrument of success. It became as monotonous to me as the slow oily swell of a tropic sea in calm. I would have preferred a Boanerges, a bitter John Knox. The intent of his sermon was the usual one at such periods; this was the end of the year, the beginning was at hand. Naturally he addressed himself to those who were not of his flock; it seemed to me, as it doubtless seemed to others, that he spoke to me directly.
The custom of mankind to divide time into years has had an effect on us, and we cannot help feeling it. Childhood does not understand how artificial the portioning of time is; the New Year affects us even when we recognize the fact. It required no florid eloquence of the preacher to convince me of past folly and weakness; but it was that weakness that made me weak now in my allowing his insistence on the New Year to affect me. I was weak, lonely, foolish. Oh, I acknowledged I wanted help! But could I get help here?
It was past eleven when they rose to sing another hymn. Many who had not sung before sang now. Some of the girls from the platform came down and offered us hymn-books. A few took them half-shamefacedly; some declined with thanks; some ignored the extended book. And after two hymns were sung and some more prayers said, it was half-past eleven. They announced five minutes for silent meditation. Looking round, I saw my friend on the left sitting with folded arms. He was obviously in no need of five minutes.
In the Free Library I had renewed much of my ancient scientific reading, and I used it now to control some slight emotional weakness, and to explain it to myself. Half-starved, nay more than half-starved, as I was, such weakness was likely; I was amenable to suggestion. I asked myself a dozen crucial questions, and was bitterly amused to know how the preacher would evade answering them if put to him. Such a creature could not succeed, as all great teachers have done, in subduing the intellect by the force of his own personality. But all the same the hour, the time, and the song followed by silence, and the silence by song, affected me and affected many. What had I to look forward to when I went out into the street? And if I yielded they might, nay would, help me to work. I laughed a little at myself, and was scornful of my thoughts. They were singing again.
This time the band of women left the dais and in a body went slowly round and round the aisle isolating the center seats from the platform and the sides. From the platform the preacher called on the others to rise and join them, for it was nearly twelve o clock, the New Year was at hand. Most of the congregation obeyed him, I counted but fifteen or twenty who refused.
The volume of the singing increased as the seats emptied, in it there was religious fervor; it appealed strongly even to me. I saw some young fellows rise and join the procession; perhaps three or four. There were now less than twelve seated. The preacher spoke to us personally; he insisted on the passing minutes of the dying year. And still the singers passed us. Some leant over and called to us. Our bitter band lessened one by one.
Then from the procession came these girl acolytes, and, dividing themselves, they appealed to us and prayed. They were not beautiful perhaps, but they were women. We outcasts of the prairie and the camp fire and the streets had been greatly divorced from feminine sweet influences, and these succeeded where speech and prayer and song had failed. As one spoke to me I saw hard resolution wither in many. What woman had spoken kindly to them in this hard land since they left their eastern homes? Why should they pain them? And as they joined the singing band of believers the girls came to those of us who still stayed, and doubled and redoubled their entreaties. That it was not what they said, but those who said it, massing influences and suggestion, showed itself when he who had been stubborn to one yielded with moist eyes to two. And three overcame him who had mutely resisted less.
They knew their strength, and spoke softly with the voice of loving women. And not a soul had spoken to me so in my far and weary songless passage from the Atlantic States to the Pacific Coast. Long-repressed emotions rose in me as the hair of one brushed my cheek, as the hand of another lay upon my shoulder and mutely bade me rise; as another called me, as another beckoned. I looked round like a half-fascinated beast, and I caught the eye again of the man on my left. He and I were the only ones left sitting there. All the rest had risen and were singing with the singers.
In his eye, I doubt not, I saw what he saw in mine. A look of encouragement, a demand for it, doubt, an emotional struggle, and deeper than all a queer bitter amusement, that said plainly, If you fail me, I fall, but I would rather not play the hypocrite in these hard times. We nodded rather mentally than actually, and were encouraged, I knew if I yielded I was yielding to something founded essentially on sex, and for my honesty s sake I would not fail.
My child, it is no use, I said to her who spoke to me, and, struggling with myself, I put her hand from me. But still they moved past and sang, and the girls would not leave me till the first stroke of midnight sounded from the clock upon the wall. They then went one by one and joined the band. I turned again to my man, and conscious of my own hard fight, I knew what his had been. We looked at each other, and being men, were half ashamed that another should know we had acted rightly according to our code, and had won a victory over ourselves.
And now we were truly outcasts, for no one spoke to us again. The preacher prayed and we still sat there. But he cast us no word, and the urgent women were good only to their conquered. Perhaps in their souls was some sense of personal defeat; they had been rejected as women and as angels of the Lord. We two at any rate sat beyond the reach of their graciousness; their eyes were averted or lifted up; we lay in outer darkness.
As they began to sing once more we both rose and with a friendly look at each other went out into the streets of the hostile city. It is easy to understand why we did not speak.
I never saw him again.

Boxcars in Pennsylvania, 1863.

Two hoboes who had been removed from a train, circa 1900.
The Dying Hobo / Streams of Whiskey (The Hobo s Last Lament)

The poem and song Bingen on the Rhine was parodied by everyone from convicts to cowboys during the nineteenth century, with a hobo flavored take first emerging in the 1880s. This particular version was published in the International Brotherhood Welfare Association s Hobo News magazine in June 1917, taking its place amid the issue s other reports, manifestoes, and rhetorical broadsides. As with many other hobo songs some of the lyrics are shared with other songs, in this case the second stanza s comic refrains with the more famous Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Beside a western water tank
One cold November day,
Inside an empty boxcar
A dying hobo lay;
His old pal stood beside him
With low and drooping head,
Listening to the last words
As the dying hobo said:
I am going to a better land,
Where everything is bright;
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night.
And you do not have to work at all,
And never change your socks,
And streams of goodly whiskey
Come trickling down the rocks.
Tell the bunch around Market Street,
That my face, no more, they ll view,
Tell them I ve caught a fast freight,
And that I m going straight on through.
Tell them not to weep for me,
No tears in their eyes must lurk,
For I m going to a better land,
Where they hate that word called work.
Hark! I hear her whistling,
I must catch her on the fly;
I would like one scoop of beer
Once more before I die.
The Hobo stooped, his head fell back,
He d sung his last refrain;
His old pal stole his coat and hat
And caught an East-bound train.

Lodgers photographed by Jacob Riis while waiting to leave New York s Mulberry St. police station in the 1890s.

Jack London portrait taken for the Bain News Service, 1911.
Two Thousand Stiffs
Jack London

Socialist, celebrity, and adventurer, Jack London was a prolific writer who produced twenty-three novels-among them the classics The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Iron Heel-as well as dozens of essays and short stories during his forty years of life. Escaping labor in a cannery at the age of thirteen, he worked at sea before becoming a hobo four years later. Later crediting his radicalism to the arrest and mistreatment he suffered during this time, he documented his experiences in various stories, as well as in the 1907 memoir The Road.
The following excerpt from that book recounts his experiences during the 1893 Coxey s Army protest. Initiated by Populist businessman Jacob Coxey, this event saw thousands of unemployed people travel from different points of the country to Washington, DC. There they set up camp but found that their demands, principally that the government fund public works schemes to alleviate the nation s economic depression, fell on deaf ears. Taking part in the western leg of the journey, led by General Charles T. Kelly, London later recalled the campaign s battles with rail authorities, as well as his own hustles and eventual abandonment of the cause.
A stiff is a tramp. It was once my fortune to travel a few weeks with a push that numbered two thousand. This was known as Kelly s Army. Across the wild and woolly West, clear from California, General Kelly and his heroes had captured trains; but they fell down when they crossed the Missouri and went up against the effete East. The East hadn t the slightest intention of giving free transportation to two thousand hoboes. Kelly s Army lay helplessly for some time at Council Bluffs. The day I joined it, made desperate by delay, it marched out to capture a train.
It was quite an imposing sight. General Kelly sat a magnificent black charger, and with waving banners, to the martial music of fife and drum corps, company by company, in two divisions, his two thousand stiffs countermarched before him and hit the wagon-road to the little burg of Weston, seven miles away. Being the latest recruit, I was in the last company, of the last regiment, of the Second Division, and, furthermore, in the last rank of the rear-guard. The army went into camp at Weston beside the railroad track-beside the tracks, rather, for two roads went through: the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul, and the Rock Island.
Our intention was to take the first train out, but the railroad officials coppered our play-and won. There was no first train. They tied up the two lines and stopped running trains. In the meantime, while we lay by the dead tracks, the good people of Omaha and Council Bluffs were bestirring themselves. Preparations were making to form a mob, capture a train in Council Bluffs, run it down to us, and make us a present of it. The railroad officials coppered that play, too. They didn t wait for the mob. Early in the morning of the second day, an engine, with a single private car attached, arrived at the station and side-tracked. At this sign that life had renewed in the dead roads, the whole army lined up beside the track.
But never did life renew so monstrously on a dead railroad as it did on those two roads. From the west came the whistle of a locomotive. It was coming in our direction, bound east. We were bound east. A stir of preparation ran down our ranks. The whistle tooted fast and furiously, and the train thundered at top speed. The hobo didn t live that could have boarded it. Another locomotive whistled, and another train came through at top speed, and another, and another, train after train, train after train, till toward the last the trains were composed of passenger coaches, box-cars, flat-cars, dead engines, cabooses, mail-cars, wrecking appliances, and all the riff-raff of worn-out and abandoned rolling-stock that collects in the yards of great railways. When the yards at Council Bluffs had been completely cleaned, the private car and engine went east, and the tracks died for keeps.
That day went by, and the next, and nothing moved, and in the meantime, pelted by sleet, and rain, and hail, the two thousand hoboes lay beside the track. But that night the good people of Council Bluffs went the railroad officials one better. A mob formed in Council Bluffs, crossed the river to Omaha, and there joined with another mob in a raid on the Union Pacific yards. First they captured an engine, next they knocked a train together, and then the united mobs piled aboard, crossed the Missouri, and ran down the Rock Island right of way to turn the train over to us. The railway officials tried to copper this play, but fell down, to the mortal terror of the section boss and one member of the section gang at Weston. This pair, under secret telegraphic orders, tried to wreck our train-load of sympathizers by tearing up the track. It happened that we were suspicious and had our patrols out. Caught red-handed at train-wrecking, and surrounded by twenty hundred infuriated hoboes, that section-gang boss and assistant prepared to meet death. I don t remember what saved them, unless it was the arrival of the train.
It was our turn to fall down, and we did, hard. In their haste, the two mobs had neglected to make up a sufficiently long train. There wasn t room for two thousand hoboes to ride. So the mobs and the hoboes had a talkfest, fraternized, sang songs, and parted, the mobs going back on their captured train to Omaha, the hoboes pulling out next morning on a hundred-and-forty-mile march to Des Moines. It was not until Kelly s Army crossed the Missouri that it began to walk, and after that it never rode again. It cost the railroads slathers of money, but they were acting on principle, and they won.
Underwood, Leola, Menden, Avoca, Walnut, Marno, Atlantic, Wyoto, Anita, Adair, Adam, Casey, Stuart, Dexter, Carlham, De Soto, Van Meter, Booneville, Commerce, Valley Junction-how the names of the towns come back to me as I con the map and trace our route through the fat Iowa country! And the hospitable Iowa farmer-folk! They turned out with their wagons and carried our baggage; gave us hot lunches at noon by the wayside; mayors of comfortable little towns made speeches of welcome and hastened us on our way; deputations of little girls and maidens came out to meet us, and the good citizens turned out by hundreds, locked arms, and marched with us down their main streets. It was circus day when we came to town, and every day was circus day, for there were many towns.
In the evenings our camps were invaded by whole populations. Every company had its campfire, and around each fire something was doing. The cooks in my company, Company L, were song-and-dance artists and contributed most of our entertainment. In another part of the encampment the glee club would be singing-one of its star voices was the Dentist, drawn from Company L, and we were mighty proud of him. Also, he pulled teeth for the whole army, and, since the extractions usually occurred at meal-time, our digestions were stimulated by variety of incident. The Dentist had no anesthetics, but two or three of us were always on tap to volunteer to hold down the patient. In addition to the stunts of the companies and the glee club, church services were usually held, local preachers officiating, and always there was a great making of political speeches. All these things ran neck and neck; it was a full-blown Midway. A lot of talent can be dug out of two thousand hoboes. I remember we had a picked baseball nine, and on Sundays we made a practice of putting it all over the local nines. Sometimes we did it twice on Sundays.
Last year, while on a lecturing trip, I rode into Des Moines in a Pullman-I don t mean a side-door Pullman, but the real thing. On the outskirts of the city I saw the old stove-works, and my heart leaped. It was there, at the stove-works, a dozen years before, that the Army lay down and swore a mighty oath that its feet were sore and that it would walk no more. We took possession of the stove-works and told Des Moines that we had come to stay-that we d walked in, but we d be blessed if we d walk out. Des Moines was hospitable, but this was too much of a good thing. Do a little mental arithmetic, gentle reader. Two thousand hoboes, eating three square meals, make six thousand meals per day, forty-two thousand meals per week, or one hundred and sixty-eight thousand meals per shortest month in the calendar. That s going some. We had no money. It was up to Des Moines.
Des Moines was desperate. We lay in camp, made political speeches, held sacred concerts, pulled teeth, played baseball and seven-up, and ate our six thousand meals per day, and Des Moines paid for it. Des Moines pleaded with the railroads, but they were obdurate; they had said we shouldn t ride, and that settled it. To permit us to ride would be to establish a precedent, and there weren t going to be any precedents. And still we went on eating. That was the terrifying factor in the situation. We were bound for Washington, and Des Moines would have had to float municipal bonds to pay all our railroad fares, even at special rates, and if we remained much longer, she d have to float bonds anyway to feed us.
Then some local genius solved the problem. We wouldn t walk. Very good. We should ride. From Des Moines to Keokuk on the Mississippi flowed the Des Moines River. This particular stretch of river was three hundred miles long. We could ride on it, said the local genius; and, once equipped with floating stock, we could ride on down the Mississippi to the Ohio, and thence up the Ohio, winding up with a short portage over the mountains to Washington.
Des Moines took up a subscription. Public-spirited citizens contributed several thousand dollars. Lumber, rope, nails, and cotton for calking were bought in large quantities, and on the banks of the Des Moines was inaugurated a tremendous era of shipbuilding. Now the Des Moines is a picayune stream, unduly dignified by the appellation of river. In our spacious western land it would be called a creek. The oldest inhabitants shook their heads and said we couldn t make it, that there wasn t enough water to float us. Des Moines didn t care, so long as it got rid of us, and we were such well-fed optimists that we didn t care either.
On Wednesday, May 9, 1894, we got under way and started on our colossal picnic. Des Moines had got off pretty easily, and she certainly owes a statue in bronze to the local genius who got her out of her difficulty. True, Des Moines had to pay for our boats; we had eaten sixty-six thousand meals at the stove-works; and we took twelve thousand additional meals along with us in our commissary-as a precaution against famine in the wilds; but then, think what it would have meant if we had remained at Des Moines eleven months instead of eleven days. Also, when we departed, we promised Des Moines we d come back if the river failed to float us.
It was all very well having twelve thousand meals in the commissary, and no doubt the commissary ducks enjoyed them; for the commissary promptly got lost, and my boat, for one, never saw it again. The company formation was hopelessly broken up during the river-trip. In any camp of men there will always be found a certain percentage of shirks, of helpless, of just ordinary, and of hustlers. There were ten men in my boat, and they were the cream of Company L. Every man was a hustler. For two reasons I was included in the ten. First, I was as good a hustler as ever threw his feet, and next, I was Sailor Jack. I understood boats and boating. The ten of us forgot the remaining forty men of Company L, and by the time we had missed one meal we promptly forgot the commissary. We were independent. We went down the river on our own, hustling our chewin s, beating every boat in the fleet, and, alas that I must say it, sometimes taking possession of the stores the farmer-folk had collected for the Army.
For a good part of the three hundred miles we were from half a day to a day or so in advance of the Army. We had managed to get hold of several American flags. When we approached a small town, or when we saw a group of farmers gathered on the bank, we ran up our flags, called ourselves the advance boat, and demanded to know what provisions had been collected for the Army. We represented the Army, of course, and the provisions were turned over to us. But there wasn t anything small about us. We never took more than we could get away with. But we did take the cream of everything. For instance, if some philanthropic farmer had donated several dollars worth of tobacco, we took it. So, also, we took butter and sugar, coffee and canned goods; but when the stores consisted of sacks of beans and flour, or two or three slaughtered steers, we resolutely refrained and went our way, leaving orders to turn such provisions over to the commissary boats whose business was to follow behind us.
My, but the ten of us did live on the fat of the land! For a long time General Kelly vainly tried to head us off. He sent two rowers, in a light, round-bottomed boat, to overtake us and put a stop to our piratical careers. They overtook us all right, but they were two and we were ten. They were empowered by General Kelly to make us prisoners, and they told us so. When we expressed disinclination to become prisoners, they hurried ahead to the next town to invoke the aid of the authorities. We went ashore immediately and cooked an early supper; and under the cloak of darkness we ran by the town and its authorities.
I kept a diary on part of the trip, and as I read it over now I note one persistently recurring phrase, namely, Living fine. We did live fine. We even disdained to use coffee boiled in water. We made our coffee out of milk, calling the wonderful beverage, if I remember rightly, pale Vienna.
While we were ahead, skimming the cream, and while the commissary was lost far behind, the main Army, coming along in the middle, starved. This was hard on the Army, I ll allow; but then, the ten of us were individualists. We had initiative and enterprise. We ardently believed that the grub was to the man who got there first, the pale Vienna to the strong. On one stretch the Army went forty-eight hours without grub; and then it arrived at a small village of some three hundred inhabitants, the name of which I do not remember, though I think it was Red Rock. This town, following the practice of all towns through which the Army passed, had appointed a committee of safety. Counting five to a family, Red Rock consisted of sixty households. Her committee of safety was scared stiff by the eruption of two thousand hungry hoboes who lined their boats two and three deep along the river bank. General Kelly was a fair man. He had no intention of working a hardship on the village. He did not expect sixty households to furnish two thousand meals. Besides, the Army had its treasure-chest.
But the committee of safety lost its head. No encouragement to the invader was its program, and when General Kelly wanted to buy food, the committee turned him down. It had nothing to sell; General Kelly s money was no good in their burg. And then General Kelly went into action. The bugles blew. The Army left the boats and on top of the bank formed in battle array. The committee was there to see. General Kelly s speech was brief.
Boys, he said, when did you eat last?
Day before yesterday, they shouted.
Are you hungry?
A mighty affirmation from two thousand throats shook the atmosphere. Then General Kelly turned to the committee of safety:
You see, gentlemen, the situation. My men have eaten nothing in forty-eight hours. If I turn them loose upon your town, I ll not be responsible for what happens. They are desperate. I offered to buy food for them, but you refused to sell. I now withdraw my offer. Instead, I shall demand. I give you five minutes to decide. Either kill me six steers and give me four thousand rations, or I turn the men loose. Five minutes, gentlemen.
The terrified committee of safety looked at the two thousand hungry hoboes and collapsed. It didn t wait the five minutes. It wasn t going to take any chances. The killing of the steers and the collecting of the requisition began forthwith, and the Army dined.
And still the ten graceless individualists soared along ahead and gathered in everything in sight. But General Kelly fixed us. He sent horsemen down each bank, warning farmers and townspeople against us. They did their work thoroughly, all right. The erstwhile hospitable farmers met us with the icy mitt. Also, they summoned the constables when we tied up to the bank, and loosed the dogs. I know. Two of the latter caught me with a barbed-wire fence between me and the river. I was carrying two buckets of milk for the pale Vienna. I didn t damage the fence any; but we drank plebian coffee boiled with vulgar water, and it was up to me to throw my feet for another pair of trousers. I wonder, gentle reader, if you ever essayed hastily to climb a barbed-wire fence with a bucket of milk in each hand. Ever since that day I have had a prejudice against barbed wire, and I have gathered statistics on the subject.
Unable to make an honest living so long as General Kelly kept his two horsemen ahead of us, we returned to the Army and raised a revolution. It was a small affair, but it devastated Company L of the Second Division. The captain of Company L refused to recognize us; said we were deserters, and traitors, and scalawags; and when he drew rations for Company L from the commissary, he wouldn t give us any. That captain didn t appreciate us, or he wouldn t have refused us grub. Promptly we intrigued with the first lieutenant. He joined us with the ten men in his boat, and in return we elected him captain of Company M. The captain of Company L raised a roar. Down upon us came General Kelly, Colonel Speed, and Colonel Baker. The twenty of us stood firm, and our revolution was ratified.
But we never bothered with the commissary. Our hustlers drew better rations from the farmers. Our new captain, however, doubted us. He never knew when he d see the ten of us again, once we got under way in the morning, so he called in a blacksmith to clinch his captaincy. In the stern of our boat, one on each side, were driven two heavy eye-bolts of iron. Correspondingly, on the bow of his boat, were fastened two huge iron hooks. The boats were brought together, end on, the hooks dropped into the eye-bolts, and there we were, hard and fast. We couldn t lose that captain. But we were irrepressible. Out of our very manacles we wrought an invincible device that enabled us to put it all over every other boat in the fleet.
Like all great inventions, this one of ours was accidental. We discovered it the first time we ran on a snag in a bit of a rapid. The head-boat hung up and anchored, and the tail-boat swung around in the current, pivoting the head-boat on the snag. I was at the stern of the tail-boat, steering. In vain we tried to shove off. Then I ordered the men from the head-boat into the tail-boat. Immediately the head-boat floated clear, and its men returned into it. After that, snags, reefs, shoals, and bars had no terrors for us. The instant the head-boat struck, the men in it leaped into the tail-boat. Of course, the head-boat floated over the obstruction and the tail-boat then struck. Like automatons, the twenty men now in the tail-boat leaped into the head-boat, and the tail-boat floated past.
The boats used by the Army were all alike, made by the mile and sawed off. They were flat-boats, and their lines were rectangles. Each boat was six feet wide, ten feet long, and a foot and a half deep. Thus, when our two boats were hooked together, I sat at the stern steering a craft twenty feet long, containing twenty husky hoboes who spelled each other at the oars and paddles, and loaded with blankets, cooking outfit, and our own private commissary.
Still we caused General Kelly trouble. He had called in his horsemen, and substituted three police-boats that travelled in the van and allowed no boats to pass them. The craft containing Company M crowded the police-boats hard. We could have passed them easily, but it was against the rules. So we kept a respectful distance astern and waited. Ahead we knew was virgin farming country, unbegged and generous; but we waited. White water was all we needed, and when we rounded a bend and a rapid showed up we knew what would happen. Smash! Police-boat number one goes on a boulder and hangs up. Bang! Police-boat number two follows suit. Whop! Police-boat number three encounters the common fate of all. Of course our boat does the same things; but one, two, the men are out of the head-boat and into the tail-boat; one, two, they are out of the tail-boat and into the head-boat; and one, two, the men who belong in the tail-boat are back in it and we are dashing on. Stop! you blankety-blank-blanks! shriek the police-boats. How can we?-blank the blankety-blank river, anyway! we wail plaintively as we surge past, caught in that remorseless current that sweeps us on out of sight and into the hospitable farmer-country that replenishes our private commissary with the cream of its contributions. Again we drink pale Vienna and realize that the grub is to the man who gets there.
Poor General Kelly! He devised another scheme. The whole fleet started ahead of us. Company M of the Second Division started in its proper place in the line, which was last. And it took us only one day to put the kibosh on that particular scheme. Twenty-five miles of bad water lay before us-all rapids, shoals, bars, and boulders. It was over that stretch of water that the oldest inhabitants of Des Moines had shaken their heads. Nearly two hundred boats entered the bad water ahead of us, and they piled up in the most astounding manner. We went through that stranded fleet like hemlock through the fire. There was no avoiding the boulders, bars, and snags except by getting out on the bank. We didn t avoid them. We went right over them, one, two, one, two, head-boat, tail-boat, head-boat, tail-boat, all hands back and forth and back again. We camped that night alone, and loafed in camp all of next day while the Army patched and repaired its wrecked boats and straggled up to us.
There was no stopping our cussedness. We rigged up a mast, piled on the canvas (blankets), and travelled short hours while the Army worked over-time to keep us in sight. Then General Kelly had recourse to diplomacy. No boat could touch us in the straight-away. Without discussion, we were the hottest bunch that ever came down the Des Moines. The ban of the police-boats was lifted. Colonel Speed was put aboard, and with this distinguished officer we had the honor of arriving first at Keokuk on the Mississippi. And right here I want to say to General Kelly and Colonel Speed that here s my hand. You were heroes, both of you, and you were men. And I m sorry for at least ten per cent of the trouble that was given you by the head-boat of Company M.
At Keokuk the whole fleet was lashed together in a huge raft, and, after being wind-bound a day, a steamboat took us in tow down the Mississippi to Quincy, Illinois, where we camped across the river on Goose Island. Here the raft idea was abandoned, the boats being joined together in groups of four and decked over. Somebody told me that Quincy was the richest town of its size in the United States. When I heard this, I was immediately overcome by an irresistible impulse to throw my feet. No blowed-in-the-glass profesh could possibly pass up such a promising burg. I crossed the river to Quincy in a small dugout; but I came back in a large riverboat, down to the gunwales with the results of my thrown feet. Of course I kept all the money I had collected, though I paid the boat-hire; also I took my pick of the underwear, socks, cast-off clothes, shirts, kicks, and sky-pieces ; and when Company M had taken all it wanted there was still a respectable heap that was turned over to Company L. Alas, I was young and prodigal in those days! I told a thousand stories to the good people of Quincy, and every story was good ; but since I have come to write for the magazines I have often regretted the wealth of story, the fecundity of fiction, I lavished that day in Quincy, Illinois.
It was at Hannibal, Missouri, that the ten invincibles went to pieces. It was not planned. We just naturally flew apart. The Boiler-Maker and I deserted secretly. On the same day Scotty and Davy made a swift sneak for the Illinois shore; also McAvoy and Fish achieved their get-away. This accounts for six of the ten; what became of the remaining four I do not know.

Detail from a theater poster, 1890.

American Railway Union handbill, 1894.

A major rail strike began in May 1894, after workers building railcars for the Pullman Company, in a model suburb of Chicago built in the company s name, walked off the job in response to wage cuts. Harnessing widespread enmity toward the company and the railway conglomerates it supplied, industrial action spread rapidly. This culminated in a shutdown of traffic involving Pullman carriages by the American Railway Union (ARU), which tied up a quarter of a million workers in twenty-seven states. ARU leaders, including future Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs, were imprisoned and at least thirty strikers killed, with many more injured, after the Democratic administration mobilized soldiers and federal marshals against them. Opposed by conservative unions, the strike collapsed in early August. In its aftermath many former members of the ARU found themselves blacklisted. With few job options available, a number became drifters, as reflected in this verse written during the period and later published in the American Songbag collection, compiled by former hobo Carl Sandburg, in 1927.
Been on the hummer since ninety-four,
Last job I had was on the Lake Shore,
Lost my office in the ARU,
And I won t get it back till nineteen-two,
And I m still on the hog train flagging my meals,
Ridin the brake beams close to the wheels.

Josiah Flynt photographed in St. Petersburg, Russia, 1897.
One Night on the Q
Josiah Flynt

Born into a wealthy family, Josiah Flynt began his wandering life as a tyke before graduating to horse thievery and full-blown tramping by the age of seventeen. He hoboed his way around the United States, UK, Russia, and western and southern Europe during the 1880s and 1890s, parlaying his knowledge into a PhD in Berlin, and then a career as a sociologist, journalist, and storyteller. A member of New York s hard-partying Griffou Push, he died in a Chicago luxury hotel aged thirty-eight from pneumonia, most likely related to his long-term addictions to alcohol and cocaine.
Although he largely built his reputation and career on his experiences among the lower orders, Flynt frequently expressed contempt for those he had spent years traveling with. In keeping with and shaping the dominant thinking of the time, Flynt ignored social and economic factors, laying the blame for transiency squarely on individual failings and the dreaded curse of railroad fever, a supposedly incurable form of wanderlust. Working for rail companies, he advised them on how to counter train hopping and advocated jail and the workhouse for beggars and the homeless. Despite his disdain, Flynt s success rested on his ability to relay his hobo adventures in an appealing and exciting manner, as displayed in this excerpt from his hugely popular picaresque Tramping with Tramps, published in 1899.
I f there is any one thing that the hobo prizes more than another it is his privilege to ride on the railroads free of charge. He is as proud of it as the American is of his country, and brags about it from morning to night. Even the blanket-stiff in the far West, who almost never sees the inside of a railroad-car, will wax patriotic when on this subject. And well he may, for no other country in the world provides such means of travel for its vagabonds. From Maine to Frisco the railroads are at the tramp s disposal, if he knows how to use them, and seldom does he take to the turnpike from any necessity.
There are, however, some difficulties and trials even in his railroad life. When he rides a passenger, for instance, either on top or between the wheels, he encounters numerous dangers and hardships, and it is months before he knows how to meet them heroically. Even on freight trains his task is not so easy as some people think. A man must train for such work, just as a pugilist trains for a fight, and it is only when he is a real artist that he can enjoy it. The main difficulty in riding freight-trains is with the brakeman. No matter where the hobo goes, he runs the risk of meeting this ubiquitous official. If he is on the bumpers, the brakeman is usually guying him from the top of a car; and if he goes inside, so too does the brakeman. Even at night the brakey and his free passenger are continually running up against each other. Sometimes they become fast friends. The tramp will help put on the brakes, and the brakeman will help conceal the tramp. But there are other times when things are different. The brakeman tries to ditch the tramp, and the latter tries to beat the brakeman. On such occasions something happens. Usually the brakeman gets left. The hobo is too clever, and beats him at his own game. But now and then even the hobo falls into a trap. Of course he gets out sooner or later, but while in it he is an interesting study. When free again, he usually tells his cronies all about it, and they pity or applaud him, as the case may be. But once in a long while the trap he falls into turns out such a joke that he says nothing about it, out of respect for the profession. He hates to be laughed at just as much as other, people, and no matter how good the joke is, he keeps it to himself if it will tell against him.
I happen to know of just such a joke. It has been kept quiet now for a number of years, but I think that it can do no harm to tell it, since I was one of the sufferers.
One night I chanced to be in Galesburg, Illinois, situated on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. I was with a hobo called Elmira Fatty and we were on our way to Chi, or Chicago, as polite people call it. We had just come in from the West, where we had spent some time with the blanket-stiffs, and as far as Galesburg we had had no misfortune or bad luck to report. In fact, from Salt Lake City on everything had gone just as we had planned, and we were hoping that night that nothing might interfere to prevent us from arriving in Chi the next morning. We expected to travel on a freight-train that was due in Galesburg about nine o clock. It was a mean night for traveling, for the rain came down in torrents and the wind blew most exasperatingly. Nevertheless, we wanted to push on if practicable, and about half-past eight went over to the railroad yards to wait for the freight. It came in on time, and Fatty and I immediately took different sections of it in search of an empty. He looked over the forward part, and I inspected the cars near the caboose. We, met again in a few minutes, and reported that, There wasn t an empty in the whole line.
Why, said Fatty, it s nothin but a--ole steer-train! Ev ry blasted car is full of em.
I suggested that we wait for another, but he would not listen to me.
No, sir. If we break our necks, we ll ride that train.
But where are you going to ride? I queried.
On top, o course.
I knew that it was useless to argue with him, and followed him up the ladder. We sat down on the top of a car, with the rain simply pouring down upon us. Pretty soon the whistle tooted and the train started. As we pulled out of the yards the brakeman came over the train, and espied me instantly.
Hello, Shorty, he said, in a jovial way. Where you goin ?
Oh, just up the road a bit. No objections, have you?
No, I guess I ain t got no objections. But say, you lads are big fools.
Here, here! said Fatty, angrily. Who you callin fools?
I in callin you fools, n y are, too.
See here, continued Fatty; if you call me a fool agin I ll put yer face in-I will, by gosh! and he stood up to make good his threat.
Don t get uffy, don t get uffy, said the brakey, soothingly. Lemme tell you somethin . See them hay-boxes over there on the corner o the cart?
Hay-boxes! exclaimed Fatty, and he looked at me in surprise.
Come over n look at em.
We followed him to the end of the car, and there, true enough, after he had lifted the lid, was a most comfortable hay-box, nearly full of nice soft hay.
Fatty was almost wild with delight, and patting me on the back, said, Cig, this is a perfect palace-car, ain t it?
The brakeman held his lantern while I got into the box. The opening was not very large, hardly more than a foot wide-plenty large enough for me, it is true, but I was much smaller than Fatty. When he tried to get in there was some trouble. His head and shoulders went through all right, but then he stopped, for his paunch was the broadest part of him, and he complained that it pinched ter bly. Exactly what to do was a poser, but finally he nerved himself for another squeeze. He twisted, slipped, and grunted, and at last had to beg me to hold his head and steer him, so helpless had his exertions made him. I guided him as best I could, and pretty soon he came kaplunk, as he called it, on the hay. The brakey closed the lid and left.
Fatty had hardly settled himself before he began to wonder how he would get out in the morning.
By gosh! he said, p r aps I ll jus have to stay here, n they ll carry me right over to the stock-yards. Wouldn t I be a great steer, eh?
But I was too tired to speculate, and in a few minutes was asleep. What Fatty did for the next fifty miles I can t say, but in about two hours he cruelly awakened me and asked for a match.
Why, you re not going to smoke here? I said. Cert, he crisply replied. Why not?
You ll set the place afire, with all this loose hay about.
Set yer gran mother afire! Gimme a lucifer.
I told him I had none, and then he wanted me to get out and ask the brakey for one. I did not want to do it, but I felt sure that he would trouble me all night unless I did, so I consented to go. But, lo and behold! When I tried to lift the lid it would not lift.
Fatty, I said, we re ditched.
Ditched yer gran mother! What s the matter?
This lid won t move.
Lemme get at it.
Fatty weighed two hundred and fifty pounds- punds, he called them-and he put everyone against that lid. It squeaked a little, but still would not lift.
Fatty, I repeated, we re ditched.
But he was determined not to give in, and lay on his back to kick the lid. He reasoned that that ought to mean fifty pounds more, and if three hundred punds couldn t budge the thing, then something was going to happen. He kicked and kicked. The lid squeaked a good deal, but was as stubborn as ever. Then you should have heard Fatty scold. He scolded everybody, from the president of the road down to the humblest switchman, and then, as if he had not done enough, said: By gosh, Cig, we ll prosecute em! This is simply scandalous! Tramps can t ride this way, and they ought to know it. Yes, sir, we ll prosecute em.
Then he began to swear, and never in my life have I heard such maledictions hurled at poor erring railroad officials. Soon even cursing tired him, and he tumbled back on the hay exhausted. After he had rested a bit, a new phase of the situation presented itself to him, and he felt around in the box to see how much hay there was between us and the steers.
There ain t much, Cig, he whined; -little; an here we are locked in! By the hokey-pokey, I d like to git hold o that brakey s throat! I d squeeze it, take my tip for that. An , by gosh, if them steers kill us, he ll croak for it, an don cher forget it!
Steers, I exclaimed. What do you mean, Fatty?
Why, don cher know them steers is right under us?
Well, what of that?
Why, they ve got horns-big ones, too.
Well, what of that, Fatty?
Why, you fool, we ain t got any.
But, Fatty, what does that matter?
Matter! Matter! Ain cher got no sense? Don cher know nothin ? Ain cher ever heard of those steers hookin a bloke before? You must be a tenderfoot.
Then I grasped the situation. We were at the mercy of those Texan steers! Soon I heard Fatty, saying in a most pitiful voice: Cig, I guess we d better say our little prayers right now, cause if we get to sleep we ll forget all about it. So you begin, n while yer chewin the rag I ll watch the hay.
He wanted me to pray, and actually thought that that was the only thing that would save us. He always was a religious fellow in great emergencies, and his scheme did not much surprise me; but as I knew of no prayer fitted for such an occasion, I told him so, and added that even if I did know one I should prefer to leave it unsaid, considering the circumstances.
We had no business letting the brakey lock us in here, and you know it, too. So we ll have to get out the best way we can.
This bravery was a little faked, but I thought it best to keep as cool as possible, for Fatty was continually fuming and scolding. And every few minutes he would feel around in the hay, and then say, most forlornly: Cig, them pokers is gettin nearer. Prepare to die.
Once I thought he was joking, and told him to stop if he thought he was scaring me.
I ain t tryin to scare you, he whined; I m simply tellin you the truth.
This was certainly alarming, and I almost confessed my fear. But I managed to control myself, and persevered in my artificial boldness.
Well, Fatty, let s die game, anyhow. If the horns come up here we can kick at them, and perhaps the steers will be frightened. Can t tell, you know.
No, that won t work, he replied hopelessly, and he measured the hay once more. This time his hand struck the thin and widely separated slats, the only barriers between us and the steers. We both knew that if the horns ever came through them, we would be done for.
We re gone, Cig, Fatty continued; no doubt of it. But, jus the samey, I m goin to pound my ear, anyhow. I d rather die asleep than awake. So, so long, Cig; if you croak first, I ll pray for you.
Then, much to my surprise and indignation, he curled into a big ball and pounded his ear. I remained awake for a while longer, listening to the steers chewing away at the hay. But, in spite of the nearing danger, I became sleepy, too, and was soon lying beside Fatty. In the morning, about half-past five, we awoke simultaneously. I felt around in the box, and the hay seemed almost gone.
I wish that I d died in the night, said Fatty, angrily. Now I ve got to go when I m awake. The train began to slow up-perhaps we were to be saved, after all. It came to a full stop, and we could hear footsteps. Someone was walking along the path near the track.
Shall I holler? asked Fatty.
Perhaps it s a policeman, I returned, and that means thirty days in the Bridewell. Wouldn t you rather die?
But p r aps t ain t! And he called through one of the cracks, Hobo! Hobo!
Luckily it was a hobo.
Come up here, cried Fatty, n unjail us, for heaven s sake. We re locked in the hay-boxes; climb on top n loose the cover.
We heard him quickly obeying the call. He climbed up the ladder, loosened the latch, and seemed to wonder at our eagerness to leave such a nest of comfort. Fatty was helped out immediately, although we were still six miles from Chi ; but I made him wait while I looked to see just what danger we had escaped. There is so much compensating consolation in a view of perils safely passed. There was still a fair amount of hay in the box. I rooted down to the slats for a last look at our tormentors, and there, right before me, stood those awful beasts, wild and fresh from the fields of the Lone Star State. There were nearly twenty of them, I should say, but not a, single one had a horn!
Fatty sneaked off to the watering-tank, and I waved adieu to him from the top of the ear. His face wore the grimmest of grins, and his last words were, If you ever tell this joke at the hang-out, Cig-. And I never have.

An illustration from Railroad Man s Magazine.

Hoboes riding on the pilot or cowcatcher of a train in the 1890s.
The Wabash Cannonball

As a hobo favorite that became a country standard, via Roy Acuff s multimillion-selling 1936 release, it comes as little surprise that dozens of versions of this song exist with various railroad detectives, judges, and other villains toasted in its final stanza. The song first emerged in the 1880s or 1890s, and its title is drawn from the railway connecting Chicago to St. Louis and Detroit to Kansas City. With typical hyperbole the lyrics lift that line s reach and speed-which saw freight trains regularly travel at up to sixty miles per hour, double that of other lines-to mythical proportions. This version is drawn from George Milburn s 1930 collection The Hobo s Hornbook.
From the waves of the Atlantic
To the wild Pacific shore;
From the coast of California
To ice-bound Labrador
There s a train of doozy layout
That s well-known to us all-
It s the boes accommodation
Called the Wabash Cannonball.
Great cities of importance
We reach upon our way,
Chicago and St. Louis,
Rock Island-so they say-
Then Springfield and Decatur,
Peoria-above all-
We reach them by no other
But the Wabash Cannonball.
This train she runs to Quincy,
Monroe and Mexico,
She runs to Kansas City,
And she s never running slow;
She runs right into Denver
And she makes an awful squall;
They all know by that whistle
It s the Wabash Cannonball.
There are other cities, pardner,
That you can go to see;
St. Paul and Minneapolis,
Ashtabula, Kankakee;
The lakes of Minnehaha,
Where the laughing waters fall,
We reach them by no other
But the Wabash Cannonball.
Now listen to her ramble,
Now listen to her roar,
As she echoes down the valley
And tears along the shore,
Now hear the engine s whistle
And her mighty hoboes call
As we ride the rods and brake beams
On the Wabash Cannonball.
Now here s to Long Slim Perkins,
May his name forever stand;
He ll be honored and respected
By the boes throughout the land,
And when his days are over
And the curtains round him fall
We ll ship him off to hell and
On the Wabash Cannonball.

Illustration from Josiah Flynt s Tramping with Tramps.

Frontispiece from Leon Livingston s final book, Here and There with A-No. 1.
In Partnership with a Burglar
Leon Livingston

Between 1910 and 1921 prolific author Leon Livingston, aka A-No. 1 and The Rambler, produced ten books based on his experiences as a hobo during the 1880s and 1890s, one of which, From Coast to Coast with Jack London, became the basis of the feature film Emperor of the North Pole, starring Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, in 1973. Containing a promise of No stale jokes and no love affairs, the books featured longwinded disclaimers warning the nation s youth not to follow in the author s footsteps. Naturally the vagabond s books did precisely the opposite, with their tales of adventure serving as a basic, if at times unlikely, guide to the tramp s profession.
An early graffiti icon, the self-boosting and straitlaced Livingston, in keeping with general hobo practice, began tagging his moniker on trains and water tanks at the age of eleven. Due to his fame, he later chose to differentiate himself from imitators by carrying a scrapbook featuring presidential autographs and notes as well as copies of his books and two newly minted 50 bills. The following excerpt from his 1910 debut Life and Adventures of A-No. 1, America s Most Celebrated Tramp recalls an early meeting with a Yegg who unexpectedly placed the author on a lifelong path of clean living and sobriety.
I n my wanderings I had encountered many tramps, but never made friends with any of them, and none of them paid any attention to me, as I was so very small. At Lathrop, however, I had a new experience. While waiting for a train, I met a tramp and for want of something better to do, I suppose, he visited with me. He had just come from San Francisco, and was en route to New Orleans and Florida points. I was very much interested in his stories of adventure, and he soon persuaded me to join fortunes and tramp with him to Florida-the more he told me that there were plenty of lemonade springs, rock-candy-mountains and cigarette groves there. That afternoon we walked twenty miles towards the south, just that many miles away from my own parents and home. We had only covered a small part of the distance, when I unburdened my heart to my new-found friend, telling him the story of my past experience. He listened very attentively, then he began unfolding the story of his own life.
First of all, he told me, never to call him anything but Frenchy, as he was of that nationality, although born in New Orleans. His age was twenty-seven years and two days previous to our meeting he had been discharged from the State penitentiary at San Quentin, California, after doing a five years term for the crime of holding up a stage, or, to be more exact, for highway robbery. He spun the tale so earnestly and so quietly that I never dreamed him to be anything but a genuine hero (according to my ideas of a hero at that time). It was twenty miles before we reached a tank where all trains would stop for water. Arriving there we found around a camp-fire a short distance away, six big fellows, each resting on a big roll of blankets. They seemed to be very neat in general appearances, and were apparently laborers out of employment. When they spied Frenchy, one of them came up and asked him for a match.
Chase yourself, you gaycat! Go and work for your matches, was the reply he received, and a look showing how disgusted Frenchy was even to talk to the man.
Frenchy took me on the other side of the tank and said: Kid, I don t want you to mix with these gaycats.
I inquired what he meant by gaycats, and he commenced to laugh. You have been traveling the pike for a solid year, and don t know what a gaycat is? Get out, Kid, you are joshing.
I told him I did not know, and then he explained to me: A gaycat, said he, is a loafing laborer, who works maybe a week, gets his wages and vagabonds about, hunting for another pick and shovel job. Do you want to know where they got their monica (nickname) gaycat ? See, Kid, cats sneak about and scratch immediately after drumming with you and then get gay (fresh). That s why we call them gaycats.
With this he pulled a revolver, and walking over to the outfit kicked their can of coffee over into the fire, and ordered them to pick up their rolls and hike (walk). They made no resistance, but just slung their bindles over their backs, marched down the track, Indian file, without even turning to look back.
You see, said Frenchy, they are cowards. They can bawl a fellow out when they are working, but are worse than dogs when you meet them on a sidetrack or tank.
After this I could have done anything for my partner, for hadn t he made six big, husky fellows walk at his command? With their disappearance Frenchy s good temper came back again, and he was soon telling me just how gaycats would turn a poor fellow up just to see him hang, and with an oath told me not to let him catch me talking to any one of them, if I wanted to avoid trouble.
Just then a train whistled in the distance, and crouching behind some bushes we waited until the brakemen were busy looking into boxcars for hoboes and hunting hot axle boxes. Now we made a dash and quickly swinging ourselves into an open boxcar door we closed it quickly and crouched into the farthest comer. We were not discovered, and rode forty miles to Modesto, a small town, that to Frenchy, looking through a crack, seemed to appear a good place to stop. We climbed out, and as we intended to travel on a passenger train that night, we walked up the track, and finding a shady place underneath some trees, we were soon sound asleep.
As a train was not due till 11 p.m., we slept till about 5 p.m., then Frenchy, who had a few dollars left from the sum they give at San Quentin to discharged prisoners to reach their homes with, sent me up town to buy provisions. On my return he had a camp-fire burning, and had collected some empty tin cans, and we cooked ourselves a generous supper. At 8 p.m. he told me to stay quietly at the camp while he went up town to prowl (look for something to steal). When he returned at 10 o clock, I hardly recognized him. He had broken into a sheep herder s corral, and while the herders snored in slumber, had exchanged his clothes for theirs in the same room where they slept. He also helped himself to eighty dollars of their money and four watches, then hurried away to rejoin me.
After relating his experience and telling me of his lucky haul, Frenchy directed me to lay quiet until we should hear the passenger train in the distance. When the far away whistle reached our ears we walked quickly towards the depot, and arrived there just as the train came to a stop. I had ridden the front end of baggage cars many times, but when Frenchy took me back to the Pullman, and told me to sit underneath on the narrow wooden brakebeam I nearly fainted. Frenchy had no time to lose talking about it, however, but just grabbed me and made me sit down on the beam. To encourage me, he sat on the same one and warned me to hold on. A moment later the train started. First the wheels turned slowly, then faster and faster, and after a while the whirling noise became deafening.
People riding in coaches on rock ballasted roads cannot imagine how it feels to be rushing through space fifty miles an hour over a loose sand ballasted track seated upon a brakebeam. Soon my eyes were filled with dust so that I could not open them. My ears were becoming deaf from the grinding and whirling noise. My mouth and throat were as dry as a parchment. And there I held on, while Frenchy kept his arm around me to keep me from falling off. The train went faster and faster over a perfectly level road, but light rails and as the night was very dark, I felt as though I was shut up in a barrel full of sand and rocks, which someone was rolling down an endless stairway, so terrible was the jolting and jumping at every joint of the rails.
The train s next stop, ten miles away, was soon reached, and as it slowed up and I had a chance to open my eyes, I took courage again. When Frenchy praised me for my display of nerve to ride that way and told me he never saw a kid of my age and size display so much courage underneath, I forgot all my terror and almost laughed, thinking what a coward I had been. I told Frenchy how my mouth and throat were parched, and he handed me a small piece of plug tobacco, telling me to chew it, when the dust should choke me again. He then climbed on a brake beam of the rear truck, and left me alone on the front one, thus giving me more room to hang on.
Soon we were flying again and the dust became thicker and thicker. I put the tobacco in my mouth, but just then there was an extra hard jolt, caused by a real bad joint in the rails, and before I had time to think, I swallowed that piece of tobacco. It was the first chew of the weed I had ever taken in my life. Soon I was deathly sick, and I nearly lost my grip on the truck, which was all that lay between me and death. Further explanation of the situation is unnecessary. I can truthfully add, that never since that night and ride have I touched tobacco in any shape or form.
At the next stop I slid out from beneath the car and ran back to tell Frenchy how ill I felt. He crawled out too, and after shaking the dust from our clothes we went to a hotel and paid for a lodging. The landlord showed us to the room and after we entered Frenchy bolted the door.
Then the strangest, but for my own future most vital occurrence happened. Picking me up and seating me upon his knee, Frenchy asked me in a kind voice: Say, Kid, when did you say your evening prayer the last time? Shamefaced I confessed that I had forgotten to thank Providence for protecting me soon after leaving home. Now Frenchy the highway robber, burglar and ex-convict had me kneel down and repeat the following words: I solemnly promise never to associate with anyone in whose company I would be ashamed to pass my mother s home in broad daylight. Amen.
After this strange prayer he put me to bed, and I was soon sound asleep.
Every night after this first one, no matter if we were sleeping in hotels, barns, boxcars or camping out by a fire in the woods, I had to kneel and repeat this odd supplication, and after we parted company, even to this day, I repeat it every evening and am convinced that these few, strange lines have prevented my joining that army of tramps whose inevitable destination is the Abyss.

A hobo riding the bumpers.
The Poor Tramp Has to Live

Many former railway workers, especially those blacklisted following the protracted and violent rail strikes of 1877, 1886, and 1893, joined the ranks of the transient after being fired or forcibly retired, turning their knowledge of trains and timetables to their advantage. Although some of those still working on the rails exploited and attacked hoboes, most respected a former railwayman s right to travel, especially when carrying a union card.

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