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Hoboes : bindlestiffs, fruit tramps, and the harvesting of the West
Wyman, Mark.

Personal Author:
First edition.
Physical Description:
336 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps, portraits ; 24 cm
Great expectations -- "Wheat farms and hoboes go together" -- The Western hobo -- "Labor shortage menace" in the Northwest -- The Northwest becomes an orchard -- Hoboes battling forest fires -- King cotton moves West -- The "Cotton West" reaches Arizona -- "Beeters" -- The California garden -- Mexicans, wobblies, war -- Arrival of the "gasoline tramps."
A revisionist history of the American West traces how the railroad led to new agricultural opportunities, including the migrations of innumerable harvest workers who contributed to the region's settlement and fledgling economy.
Bibliography Note:
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Pub Date:
Hill and Wang, 2010.


Home Location
Material Type
Shelf Number
Central - Houston Public Library Adult Non-fiction Book 305.568 W984
Central - Houston Public Library Adult Non-fiction Book 305.568 W984

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When the railroad stretched its steel rails across the American West in the 1870s, it opened up a vast expanse of territory with very few people but enormous agricultural potential: a second Western frontier, the garden West. Agriculture quickly followed the railroads, making way for Kansas wheat and Colorado sugar beets and Washington apples. With this new agriculture came an unavoidable need for harvest workers-for hands to pick the apples, cotton, oranges, and hops; to pull and topthe sugar beets; to fill the trays with raisin grapes and apricots; to stack the wheat bundles in shocks to be pitched into the maw of the threshing machine. These were not the year-round hired hands but transients who would show up to harvest the crop and then leave when the work was finished.   Variously called bindlestiffs, fruit tramps, hoboes, and bums, these men-and women and children-were vital to the creation of the West and its economy. Amazingly, it is an aspect of Western history that has never been told. In Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West , the award-winning historian Mark Wyman beautifully captures the lives of these workers. Exhaustively researched and highly original, this narrative history is a detailed, deeply sympathetic portrait of the lives of these hoboes, as well as a fresh look at the settling and development of the American West.

Author Notes

A distinguished professor of history, emeritus, at Illinois State University, Mark Wyman has written several books on immigration and the American West. He lives in Normal, Illinois, with his wife Eva.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian Wyman offers a richly detailed study of the thousands of workers who followed the booming railroads west during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in order to pick, prepare, and load crops, from cotton, wheat, and hops to apples, beets, and oranges. These transients moved about the country, often accompanied by their families, who worked as well. They endured generally low wages, backbreaking labor, and awful living conditions-mitigated only slightly in the 1910s, for the select few who could afford automobiles and were thus granted greater mobility. Periodic efforts to unionize, especially by the radical Industrial Workers of the World, were invariably met with hostility. Wyman's extensive research translates into readable, often moving prose with details that illuminate the lives of previously obscure people and reveals a surprising ethnic and racial diversity among this often-overlooked group. The author of several books, Wyman has become a leading source on the American West and here makes a case for a more complex narrative of the region, one that ought to include hoboes in the list of "Western heroes," along with "cowboys and Indians, explorers and entrepreneurs, first settlers and gunslingers." (May) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Hoboes is a welcome addition to the migration and labor studies of Wyman (history, emeritus, Illinois State Univ.; Round-Trip to America: The Immigrants Return to Europe, 1880-1930). The radical agricultural change that accompanied the building of western railroads through sparsely populated regions attracted an army of workers to harvest an enormous number of crops. Wyman details how the railroads were the means by which workers as well as crops were moved from place to place and how such "hoboes and tramps" came to occupy the lowest rung of the social order. Political movements such as the "burning of the bindles" in 1918, when workers burned their own blankets to force decent bedding from their employers, are covered here. VERDICT With broader historic sweep than recent sugar-beet industry and migrant-labor studies (e.g., Kathleen Mapes's Sweet Tyranny: Migrant Labor, Industrial Agriculture, and Imperial Politics and Jim Norris's North for the Harvest: Mexican Workers, Growers, and the Sugar Beet Industry), Wyman's book is highly recommended for both academics and the general public as a scholarly yet accessible history of a rather neglected topic of the American West.-Nathan E. Bender, Laramie, WY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This revealing as well as heartbreaking book focuses on those who were down and out in the late-19th and early-20th centuries--homeless wanderers, men, women, and children of many nationalities and ethnicities who migrated from place to place in the western US harvesting a variety of crops. Often they were initially welcomed (or recruited) as crops ripened and as labor was needed, but after the harvest, they might be set upon by "good people" in villages to be run out of town as hoboes, labeled tramps, or jailed as vagrants. Wyman (emer., Illinois State Univ.; Hard Rock Epic: Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution, 1860-1910, CH, Nov'79) offers a new history of the era and turns consensus history of progressivism "on its head." The author reveals maltreatment of laborers; few politicians paid attention to migrants' lives and often justified their plight. Wyman presents a must read for Gilded Age, Progressive Era, ethnic, women, and family historians. One might also wish to consult Patricia Nelson Limerick's The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (CH, Dec'87). Summing Up; Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. P. D. Travis Texas Woman's University

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