Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 top the sugar beets; to fill ...

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Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West

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Overview

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 top the 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
History in the Howard Zinn school, with working people taking the fore, finally acknowledged for their contributions in settling the frontier. The Western history many people schooled before the 1970s grew up with is an affair of steely-jawed Anglo pioneers and stalwart but inconveniently located American Indians. The more comprehensive version that has followed allows for "Navajos and Klickitats, African Americans and Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Hindus, Filipinos, and Puerto Ricans, among others." This view shows that the West developed less by individuals than by a 19th-century version of the military-industrial complex, with railroad rights-of-way and resource concessions to the public domain. Historian Wyman (The Wisconsin Frontier, 1998, etc.) situates a sturdy narrative on this ground, writing principally of the migrant agricultural workers who came from all over the world to work the factory fields. The relationship between workers and owners was never easy, he writes. At points there were too many workers and not enough work, at others seasons in which labor was so scarce that, as one 1884 federal report put it, "Farmers have been compelled to take what help they could get, whether they were white or Chinamen, nor has it been a strange sight to see in California women and children labor in the fields." Thus the origins of imported labor from Mexico, a matter that reverberates in the current cacophony over immigration. The migrant worker, or "western hobo," had three things in his favor: the likelihood of a crop's being ruined if not harvested quickly, lack of a large labor pool in the West and rail lines to take him wherever he needed to be. The owner had money, the police, theArmy and much more. In their contending powers, and in strikes and massacres, lie forgotten episodes that Wyman ably covers. A vigorous, well-written multicultural history of the West as it really was. Agent: Deirdre Mullane/Mullane Literary Associates
The Barnes & Noble Review

Turn the title around for this fact-heavy historical narrative of the American West. It's less about hoboes than about the new agricultural frontier that came about with the rise of the railroad. Between the Civil War and the early automobile -- think from Mark Twain's San Francisco to The Joads' overloaded jalopy -- the West developed into America's garden. As tracks were laid across the land, irrigation projects boomed with them. The once-dry landscape began to yield its cornucopia, with different regions specializing in all sorts of crops. Kansas became the breadbasket and King Cotton moved west into Texas and Arizona. With northwestern hops, brewers no longer relied on Europe, and sugar beets from Colorado replaced foreign cane. Picked clean of most of its gold, California gave up new treasures: almonds, grapes, citrus fruit, peaches, apricots, and berries.

Trains (with eventual improvements in refrigeration) delivered produce across the country, and farms grew exponentially, way beyond the Jeffersonian ideal of land worked by family and friends. Agriculture expanded where there were no towns or people, and into this labor gap stepped the hoboes of lore, but also an array of immigrants from around the globe. Scandinavians flocked to northwestern states, Mexicans came across the border into Texas and California, and Asians worked up and down the Pacific coast.

Wyman, a historian of labor and the West, relies on a wealth of public documents, regional histories, and personal testimony to give voice to these forgotten men (women and children joined in later years). While landowners bemoaned labor shortages, they also encouraged a vast oversupply. Conditions were usually poor, and the work seasonal, with long travel between harvest areas. Hence the worker with his stick bearing his bundle ("bindlestiff") tramping across a country ever hostile to his presence. Wyman appreciates the pressures on farm owners as well, especially with shortages created by WWI. The arrival of the automobile also changed a lot about the labor supply, but it's easy to see the relevance of this fine study for today, when cheap labor continues to spill into the country, dividing American opinion. An untold chapter in American labor history: solid if unexciting.

--Thomas De Pietro

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429945905
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

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.


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.
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    Posted August 27, 2014

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