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

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9780809030217: Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West
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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 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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Review:

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2010: Hoboes. The word calls images of the dusty downtrodden: a subterranean vagabond society communicating through secret symbols and riding rails from one terminus to another; the iconic hobo scruff and shouldered bindle stick. Mark Wyman's fascinating, deeply researched, and groundbreaking Hoboes strips away the rust from hobo history, revealing the intricate, multi-ethnic tapestry that hung in the background of the Old West--and in many ways drove its economy. From bindlestiffs and beeters to betabeleros and buranketto boys (not to mention gasoline tramps and apple glommers) Hoboes documents the lives, travails, and impact of the itinerant workers who sought opportunity--most often short-lived at best--as the railroads pushed the frontier into the memory of the modern United States. --Jon Foro

About 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.

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