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Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West Hardcover – April 27, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

From Publishers Weekly

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."
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1 edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809030217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809030217
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,826,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is no question Mark Wyman's book is informative, well-written, extensively researched and documented, so it might seem strange to assign it only a 3-star rating. Hoboes, Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West is a history book, a detailed account of the agricultural development of the West, post-Civil War and early 19th century, and the factors that brought this vast, for the most part deserted territory under the plow.

According to Wyman the steam locomotive perches atop the New West food pyramid, and his account of the iron horse's crucial role in the settlement and agricultural expansion of the Western Frontier is the most fascinating segment of the book. It was a "win-win" situation for the railroads, their owners, and backers. To encourage railroad construction, the Federal government offered free land--so many acres per mile of track laid (6,400 acres per mile to one railroad), and federal loans as enticements. The railroads in turn carried passengers and freight to the frontiers, not only charging travelers fares, but also selling them the land on which to settle. Towns sprung up along railroads, attracting more settlers to this new "civilization." When the land was farmed and crops harvested, railroads transported the goods to markets. And, of course, the railroads brought workers to the fields to harvest the crops. For those who may have wondered how the wilds of the West came to be parceled out into the hands of private landowners, the answer lies with the railroad industry.

Extensive monocultures became part of the West's agricultural landscape: wheat, corn, sugar beets in the Midwest; cotton moved westward from the deep south: and hops, nut crops, citrus fruit, apples, soft fruits and berries were cultivated in the Far west.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Wyman's book Hoboes is about the various transient groups that roamed the West harvesting crops in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The book is thoroughly researched gives the reader a feel for what life was like for hoboes, bindlestiffs, and fruit tramps. Predecessors of modern migrant workers, these groups shared the modern workers' experience of being both necessary for economic development while simultaneously vilified. This is just the kind of book that Ken Burns would use to frame a historical documentary.
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Format: Hardcover
I was interested in reading Mark Wyman's Hoboes, Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps and the Harvesting of the West because I think that hoboes are interesting. I knew about how they lived and traveled, but not why, or what they did for money besides begging. What I mostly learned instead was the story of how America replaced slavery, and on whose work-bent backs our agricultural might was built on. A better title probably would have been Hoboes:What were they doing, and who replaced them.

Wyman organized this book by the different crops the west is known for, ordered by the chronology of each one's rise to prominence. Everything from great plains wheat to California produce is covered. However, each chapter is repetitive, because the story of the workers changes little. As speculators and landowners opened up new possibilities for agriculture, they despaired of finding the seasonal workers needed to harvest it. The instant the work was done, the workers, whether they were traditional hoboes, oriental immigrants, or migrant Mexicans, residents and landowners wanted those people to clear out immediately.

Wyman does not shy away from presenting terrible situations and inequalities in his work. Hoboes, Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps and the Harvesting of the West tells rather horrifically on p. 126 how permanently damaging cotton picking could be, despite being considered "women's work," while easier jobs such as driving horse drawn equipment was considered "men's work." Some jobs, however, were truly reserved for men because literally no one could do the exhausting work, such as fruit harvesting in California, as described on p. 206, with many miserable details.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book gives the best explanation for our current migrant issues that I have found anywhere. Certainly more than the news gives us.
It's written in an engaging manner, carrying itself along and the reader with it.
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