Jack London



Jack London made some of the first clear delineations between the types of tramps. Although he did not use the word 'hobo', he described the life on the road using the language of the road. In The ROad, an essay he first submitted for publication in 1897 though it remained upublihsed until it appeared in 1970, he writes about Trampland, refers to his joining up with Kelly's Industrial Army or their march on Washington in 1894, and makes distinctions between types of men on the road. Interestingly, Jack London joined up with General Kelly's Industrial Army in the spring of 1894 and his Tramp Diary tells the tale of his part of the trip. although he did not use the word hobo, said Jeff Davis, King of the Hoboes, in 1939, he was clearly talking about hobos:
Jack London continues in "The Tramp:" "If he has fought the hard fight, he is not unacquainted with the lure of the "road." When out of work and still undiscouraged he has been forced to "hit the road" between large cities in his quest for a job--" Well dear readers, when Jack London wrote that last line "in his quest for a job," that fellow was not tramp -- for if he hit the road between large cities in his quest for a job -- then naturally that fellow was a hobo. (21)"
"The confusion in newspaper and other accounts which indiscriminately applied the term 'tramp' or 'hobo' to itinerant or unemployed workmen often makes it difficult to distinguish the migrations of the seekers for work from the movements of those who were trying to avoid it... (McMurray, 14)."

it is in the 1890s that the term 'hobo' comes widely into use. Its origins are unknown, though speculated upon widely. Nevertheless, the creation of class distinctions within the ranks of the wandering unemployed were part of the social response to economic conditions. The "Road," the hog-train, or for brevity's sake, the hog: It is a realm almost as unexplored as fairyland, yet hardly as impregnable. Nay, in fact, destiny not only entices but forces world-weary mortals into its embrace. It entices romantic and unruly boys, who venture along its dangerous ways in search of fortune or in rash attempt to escape parental discipline. It seizes with relentless grip the unfortunate who drifts with, or struggles against the tide of human affairs. Those who cannot go whither must come thither, all hope behind. It is the river of oblivion, of which the soul-wanderer shuddering with coward's heart (or religious scruple at self destruction, must drink. Henceforth all identity is lost. Though with many aliases, not even the semirespectable number of the convict is his. He has but one designation; they all have it: Tramp,. But the law aids him, however, if reputation grows with syllables, for under it he is known as vagrant. Yet herein is a double injustice done. While all tramps are vagrant, all vagrants are not tramps: Many are worse, a thousand times worse than the tramp. And again, the small bit of respectability which may yet linger about his former name is destroyed. He is a vagrant: It is shortened to "Vag." Three letters, two consonants and a vowel, stand between him and the negation of being. He is on the ragged edge of nonentity. We all know the tramp - that is, we have seen him and talked with him. And what an eyesore he has always been! Perhaps, when hurrying home through the rainy night, all comfortable in mackintosh, umbrella and overshoes, he has dawned upon us like a comet, malignant of aspect. Wet, shivering, and miserable, whining for the price of a bed or a meal, he casts his baleful influence over us: Nor can hastily given largesse or abrupt refusal overcome it. Our comfort seems out of place, actually jars upon us. We are thrown out of our good humor and rudely awakened from the anticipatory dream we have dreamed all day at the office - the snug little home, all cheery, bright and warm; the smiling wife and her affectionate greeting; the laughing children, or perhaps the one little crowing tot, the son and heir. We have met him [the tramp] in the park, always occupying the best benches; on the overland and summer excursions; at the springs and at the seaside: In short, we have met him everywhere, even desecrating the sanctity of our back stoop, where he ate of the crumbs of our table. Still, his land is an unknown region, and we are less conversant with his habits and thoughts than with those of the inhabitants of the Cannibal Islands. One astonishing thing about Trampland is its population. Variously estimated by equally competent authorities at from 500,000 to 1,500,000 it will be found that 1,000,000 is not far out of the way. A million! It seems impossible, yet is a fact. If a Stanley may be lost in Africa, cannot such a number be lost in the United States? This is rendered easy because of the breadth of country and the evenness of their distribution. Every town, village, railroad station, watering-tank and siding, has its proportion; in the great metropolises their numbers mount into the tens of thousands; while each county and city jail has its due quota, supported by the taxpayer. It is only when concentrated that their abundance is manifested. One example will suffice. On a rainy morning in the spring of '94, an army of then, 2,000 strong, marched out of Council Bluffs. They had, as an organization, already traveled two thousand miles and their numbers were augmenting at every step. At their head rode their leader on a handsome black charger, presented him by an enthusiastic farmer. They were marshalled in divisions and companies and had staff officers, couriers, aid-decampes [sic], buglers, banner-bearers, army physicians and fully equipped medical department, a file and drum corps, a healthy strong-box, and efficient police service, a commissary, and above all, the best of discipline. The stationary Ne cro population is often called the incubus of the South; but is not this increasing, shifting, tramp population, not passive like the Negro but full of the indomitability of the Teuton, equally worthy of consideration, and by the whole race? Strange as it may seem, in this outcast world the sharp lines of caste are as rigorously drawn as in the world from which it has evolved. There are several prominent divisions. The Simon-pure tramp, hence professional, calls himself "The Profesh." He is not the one we meet with so profusely in Judge or Puck. The only resemblance lies in that he never works. He does not carry a tomato-can on a string, wear long hair, or manifest his calling in his dress. His clothes are almost always good, never threadbare, torn, and dirty. In fact, with him, the comb, cake of soap, looking-glass and clothes brush are indispensables. He lives better and more easily than the average workingman. Having reduced begging to a fine art, he scorns back stoops and kitchen tables, patronizes the restaurant, and always has the price of the drinks about him. His is the class most to be feared. Many of them have "done time" and are capable and worthy of doing more. They will commit, under stress of circumstance and favorable opportunity, every crime on the calendar, and then, just a few more besides. Perhaps the simile is unjust, but they are looked up to as the aristocracy of their underworld. The largest class is that of the working tramp. That is, the tramp who looks for work and is not afraid of it when he finds it. He usually carries his blankets and is somewhat akin to his more respectable Australian compatriot, who strikes off into the "bush" with his "swag" and "billy-can." Because of his predilection to carrying his bed with him, he is known in trampland as the "bindle stiff." The etymology of this phrase is simple: Any tramp is a "stiff," and the blanket in a bundle is a "bindle." These are the men, who, in New York, travel into the Genesee country to the hops; in the Dakotas, to the harvests; in Michigan, to the berrypicking; and in California, to the vintage, hops and harvest. The "Stew Bum" is the most despised of his kind. He is the Canaille, the Sansculotte, the fourth estate of trampland. Of such stuff are squawmen made. It is he who is the prototype of the individual aforementioned, who graces the pages of our humorous periodicals. He is not supremely wicked nor degraded: deep-sunk in a state of languorous lassitude, he passively exists, viewing the active world with philosophic soul. His one ambition, one dream, one ideal is stew: Hence his only evil trait - an electric affinity which always draws him and chicken roosts into close conjunction. A curious class, closely connected in career with the Chinatown bum who drinks cheap gin and fills an early grave, is that of the "Alki Stiffs." "Alki" is the argot for alcohol. They, travel in gangs and are a close approach to communists, only differing in that they have no community of goods. The reason for this is simple: They have no goods. But the ideal commune could not vie with them in a community of drink. Every penny, begged or stolen, goes to the purchase of their fiery beverage, of which all may drink. The finest mixer of the "cocktail route" cannot approach them in the art of diluting alcohol with water. Too much water and it is spoiled: Too little, and they are spoiled, for then and there is much devastation done to the linings of their stomachs. Masters there are among them, but they have seldom served a long Death comes too soon for that. In the world, when a man falls, he takes to drink: In trampland, to the "white line," as they tritely call it. Somehow, one never meets a gang of these poor devils lying in the grass and wild flowers of the country wayside, sleeping and drowsing in the depths of debauch, without being reminded of Tennyson's Lotus Eaters, who swore and kept an oath: In the hollow lotus-land to live and lie reclined On the, hills like gods together, careless of mankind. The cripples, usually traveling in pairs, often are to be met with in gangs of twenty or more. A universal custom with such groups is to have two or three of the most brutal of the "profesh" as body guard. These fight their battles, run their errands, handle their money, and take care of them when they are drunk. In return, these mercenaries are given their meal and drink money. It is amusing to witness the meeting of two stranger cripples. Each will solicitously enquire as to how the other lost his limb. Then will follow a detailed account of its amputation, with criticism of the surgeons who officiated and their methods, the conversation usually terminating with an adjournment to some secluded spot, where, with all the fondness of paternal affection, they compare stumps. One touch of amputation makes all cripples kin. Then there is a transient class, a sort of general miscellany, composed of all kinds of men temporarily down in their luck. Among these, the most interesting character studies may be made. Strikingly diverse and powerful individualities are here found, all bound in a mesh of pathos and ludicrity [sic]. Most of them are men whose money has given out and who are forced to make their way home as best they can. Farmer boys, turning their backs on the city; city-bred men, turning away from the country; men who have been fleeced and are too proud to write or wire for help; others, fleeing from justice; some who have been indiscreet; many who have tried to cut too brilliant a dash; broken down actors, sports and tinhorns; and even some (a small percentage) who, parsimoniously inclined, wish to save their railroad fare. Nearly all of them are possessed of a little money and furnish rich plucking to mean railroad men and the "profesh." They are to be known 'it a glance. Their ignorance of the customs and unwritten rules of the "road" paint their greenness as vividly as does the unsophistication and lack of conventionality of our friend the "hayseed," when he comes to town. They are wanderers in a strange land and the scrapes and pitfalls they stumble into, are laughable yet often t ragic Another division, which is merely a sub-class and closely allied to the "profesh," is that of the "Fakirs." There are tinkers , umbrella menders, locksmiths, tattooers, tooth-pullers, quack doctors, corn doctors, horse doctors - in short, a lengthy list. Some sell trinkets and gew gaws and others, "fakes." These "fakes" are as curious -in(l interesting as they are innumerable. We all remember the I re nchman who made flea powder out of pulverized brick - this is the nature of the "fake." Here is a sample, as simple as it is successful: -The prudent housewife meets at the door a glib young individual, who shows her a piece of tin, so closely perfor- with tiny holes that it is almost a gauze. He gives a rambling a [sic] very impressive disquisition on the principles of the kerosene lamp then explains that this tin, fitted to the top of the wick, will give twice the flame' bum less oil, and never bum the wick which will thus last forever. He even volunteers to attach it to her oldest lamp i i i p and if she be not convinced it costs her nothing; if convinced, only fifteen cents. She brings from some top shelf an old lamp, long since fallen into disuse. Very business-like, he produces pinchers and snippers and sets to work, volubly chattering all the while. Examining the ancient burner and deftly opening the clogged flues and air vents, he attaches his tin. Then he lights it and the admiring housewife beholds a flame, larger and more luminous than that of her best parlor lamp. After receiving his fifteen cents, he advises 1ses her to give it a trial for that night and promises to call next day. - He duplicates this operation in the whole neighborhood. In the evening, the wondrous flame is the center of interest in I the family circle -"So saving! And so cheap! Father, we must them on all the lamps." Next cay the young man reappears and I puts his little "fake" on every burner in the house. Ile receives anywhere from fifty centsto ;1 dollar 1 Couple of' cents worth of low grade tin, and vanishes for ever, as Carlyle would say, "Into outer darkness." But 0, 'tis passing fair! Two days suffice: The tin drops off. Saddest of all, is the training school of the "Road." Man, vicious and corrupt, the incarnation of all that is vile and loathsome, is a melancholy object; but how much more, is innocent youth, rapidly becoming so! Modification by environment O pregnant term! In it lies all the misery and all the joy of mankind, all the purest and all the most degraded soul-developments, all the noblest and foulest attributes and deeds. Man, blindly-groping, with weak, finite conception, personifies these antitheses in the powers of light and darkness: Yet, even to man, poor earthworm, is given the power to qualify these personifications of his, through modification by environment. Still, we, Americans, and partakers of the science and culture of our tremendous civilization, cognizant of all this, allow in our midst the annual prostitution of tens of thousands of souls. Boy tramps or "Road-kids" abound in our land. They are children, embryonic souls - the most plastic of fabrics. Flung into existence, ready to tear aside the veil of the future; with the mighty pulse of dawning twentieth century throbbing about him; with the culminated forces of the thousand dead and the one living civilization effervescing in the huge world-caldron, they are cast out, by the cruel society which gave them birth, into a nether world of outlawry and darkness. But to the "Road-kids." Many are run-aways, who, through romantic dreaming or undue harshness, have left comfortable homes for the stem vicissitudes of tramp life. The romantic always return, but of those who have been cruelly treated, virtually none. These cases may be sad, but there is still a second division - the children, begotten of ignorance, poverty and sin. Uncultivated, with no helping hand to guide their faltering footsteps, with the brand of Cain upon their brows, they raise their moan in silent brute-anguish to a cold world and drift into trampland the scape- of their generation. To become what? "Alik Stiffs" and "Stew Bums"? Perhaps but almost always to become of the "Profesh" the most professional Inscrutable scheme of life! Cast out and scourged 'it a glance. Their ignorance of the customs and unwritten rules of the "road" paint their greenness as vividly as does the unsophistication and lack of conventionality of our friend the "hayseed," when he comes to town. They are wanderers in a strange land and the scrapes and pitfalls they stumble into, are laughable yet often t ragic Another division, which is merely a sub-class and closely allied to the "profesh," is that of the "Fakirs." There are tinkers , umbrella menders, locksmiths, tattooers, tooth-pullers, quack doctors, corn doctors, horse doctors - in short, a lengthy list. Some sell trinkets and gew gaws and others, "fakes." These "fakes" are as curious -in(l interesting as they are innumerable. We all remember the I re nchman who made flea powder out of pulverized brick - this is the nature of the "fake." Here is a sample, as simple as it is successful: -The prudent housewife meets at the door a glib young individual, who shows her a piece of tin, so closely perfor- with tiny holes that it is almost a gauze. He gives a rambling a [sic] very impressive disquisition on the principles of the kerosene lamp then explains that this tin, fitted to the top of the wick, will give twice the flame' bum less oil, and never bum the wick which will thus last forever. He even volunteers to attach it to her oldest lamp i i i p and if she be not convinced it costs her nothing; if convinced, only fifteen cents. She brings from some top shelf an old lamp, long since fallen into disuse. Very business-like, he produces pinchers and snippers and sets to work, volubly chattering all the while. Examining the ancient burner and deftly opening the clogged flues and air vents, he attaches his tin. Then he lights it and the admiring housewife beholds a flame, larger and more luminous than that of her best parlor lamp. After receiving his fifteen cents, he advises 1ses her to give it a trial for that night and promises to call next day. - He duplicates this operation in the whole neighborhood. In the evening, the wondrous flame is the center of interest in I the family circle -"So saving! And so cheap! Father, we must them on all the lamps." Next cay the young man reappears and I puts his little "fake" on every burner in the house. Ile receives anywhere from fifty centsto ;1 dollar 1 Couple of' cents worth of low grade tin, and vanishes for ever, as Carlyle would say, "Into outer darkness." But 0, 'tis passing fair! Two days suffice: The tin drops off. Saddest of all, is the training school of the "Road." Man, vicious and corrupt, the incarnation of all that is vile and loathsome, is a melancholy object; but how much more, is innocent youth, rapidly becoming so! Modification by environment O pregnant term! In it lies all the misery and all the joy of mankind, all the purest and all the most degraded soul-developments, all the noblest and foulest attributes and deeds. Man, blindly-groping, with weak, finite conception, personifies these antitheses in the powers of light and darkness: Yet, even to man, poor earthworm, is given the power to qualify these personifications of his, through modification by environment. Still, we, Americans, and partakers of the science and culture of our tremendous civilization, cognizant of all this, allow in our midst the annual prostitution of tens of thousands of souls. Boy tramps or "Road-kids" abound in our land. They are children, embryonic souls - the most plastic of fabrics. Flung into existence, ready to tear aside the veil of the future; with the mighty pulse of dawning twentieth century throbbing about him; with the culminated forces of the thousand dead and the one living civilization effervescing in the huge world-caldron, they are cast out, by the cruel society which gave them birth, into a nether world of outlawry and darkness. But to the "Road-kids." Many are run-aways, who, through romantic dreaming or undue harshness, have left comfortable homes for the stem vicissitudes of tramp life. The romantic always return, but of those who have been cruelly treated, virtually none. These cases may be sad, but there is still a second division - the children, begotten of ignorance, poverty and sin. Uncultivated, with no helping hand to guide their faltering footsteps, with the brand of Cain upon their brows, they raise their moan in silent brute-anguish to a cold world and drift into trampland the scape- of their generation. To become what? "Alik Stiffs" and "Stew Bums"? Perhaps but almost always to become of the "Profesh" the most professional Inscrutable scheme of life! Cast out and scourged at a glance. Their ignorance of the customs and unwritten rules of of low grade tin, and vanishes for ever, as Carlyle would say, "Into outer darkness." But 0. 'tis passing fair! Two days suffice: the "road" paint their greenness as vividly as does the unsophisti- The tin drops off. cation and lack of conventionality of our friend the "hayseed," Saddest of all, is the training school of the "Road." Man, when he comes to town. They are wanderers in a strange land and vicious and corrupt, the incarnation of all that is vile and loath the scrapes and pitfalls they stumble into, are laughable yet often tragic. some, is a melancholy object; but how much more, is innocent Another division, which is merely a sub-class and closely allied youth, rapidly becoming so! Modification by environment to the "Profesh," is that of the "Fakirs." There are tinkers, umbrella 0 pregnant term! In it lies all the misery and all the joy of mankind, menders, locksmiths, tattooers, tooth-pullers, quack doctors, corn all the purest and all the most degraded soul-developments, all the doctors, horse doctors - in short, a lengthy list. Some sell trinkets noblest and foulest attributes and deeds. Man, blindly-groping, with and gew gases and others, "fakes." These "fakes" are as curious weak, finite conception, personifies these antitheses in the powers of and interesting as they are innumerable. We all remember the light and darkness: Yet, even to man, poor earthworm, is given the Frenchman who made flea powder out of pulverized brick - this is power to qualify these personifications of his, through modification the nature of the "fake." Here is a sample, as simple as it is by environment. Still, we, Americans, and partakers of the science successful: -The prudent housewife meets at the door a glib and culture of our tremendous civilization, cognizant of all this, young individual, who shows her a piece of tin, so closely perfor- allow in our midst the annual prostitution of tens of thousands of ated with tiny holes that it is almost a gauze. He gives a rambling souls. Boy tramps or "Road-kids" abound in our land. They are a [sic] very impressive disquisition on the principles of the kerosene children, embryonic souls - the most plastic of fabrics. Flung into lamp, then explains that this tin, fitted to the top of the wick, will existence, ready to tear aside the veil of the future; with the mighty give twice the flame, bum less oil, and never bum the wick which pulse of dawning twentieth century throbbing about him; with the will thus last forever. He even volunteers to attach it to her oldest culminated forces of the thousand dead and the one living civili lamp and if she be not convinced it costs her nothing; if convinced, zation effervescing in the huge world-caldron, they are cast out, only fifteen cents. She brings from some top shelf an old lamp, by the cruel society which gave them birth, into a nether world long since fallen into disuse. Very business-like, he produces of outlawry and darkness. pinchers and snippers and sets to work, volubly chattering all the But to the "Road-kids." Many are run-aways, who, through while. Examining the ancient burner and deftly opening the clogged romantic dreaming or undue harshness, have left comfortable flues and air vents, he attaches his tin. Then he lights it and the homes for the stern vicissitudes of tramp life. The romantic always admiring housewife beholds a flame, larger and more luminous than return, but of those who have been cruelly treated, virtually none. that of her best parlor lamp. After receiving his fifteen cents, he These cases may be sad, but there is still a second division - the advises her to give it a trial for that night and promises to call next children, begotten of ignorance, poverty and sin. Uncultivated, day. He duplicates this operation in the whole neighborhood. with no helping hand to guide their faltering footsteps, with the In the evening, the wondrous flame is the center of interest in brand of Cain upon their brows, they raise their moan in silent the family circle - "So saving! And so cheap! Father, we must brute-anguish to a cold world and drift into trampland, the scape have them on all the lamps." Next day the young man reappears goats of their generation. To become what? "Alki Stiffs" and "Stew and puts his little "fake" on every burner in the house. He receives Bums"? Perhaps; but almost always to become of the "Profesh" the anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar for a couple of cents worth most professional. Inscrutable scheme of life! Cast out and scourged Jack Lotidon on Ilie Road 74 75 The Road