“It is simple marvelous the number of men who are passing through Eugene riding the freight trains. It is said San Francisco is getting tired of feeding them at soup houses run at the expense of the city and are shipping them out by the carload to get rid of them. On Tuesday evening there were three large Pennsylvania coal cars passed through Eugene on which were at least 50 men. The train men tried to get them off but were powerless. A dispatch to headquarters asking what should be done was answered, “Let them ride; do not stop the train,” and they went on. They call themselves Coxey’s army and were yelling and singing at the top of their voices. Not a day but there are from 40-60 at the camps along the railroad track. Many of them are honest, workingmen out of a job and others are of the genus “hobo.” It would be well to keeping everything of value under lock and key until the migration has ceased.”
Eugene [Oregon] Morning Register, Mar 26, 1908, pg. 5.
We just don’t hear about “hobos” anymore – today everyone is lumped together as the “homeless”. Wikipedia differentiates between the hobo, the tramp and bums. All of whom I thought were kinda scary people. When I was in grade school, our family moved to a new home near a large grove of cottonwood trees with a seasonal creek. For my brother and I this was a young boy’s paradise – a Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn kind of thing. We would spend hours exploring, building forts and playing in the creek. The older neighborhood girl and her friend decided one day they wanted to put some fear in this 2nd grader. They told us they had found a place in the woods where some hobos were camping. This really creeped me out. Our new-found paradise now had become a place to be feared. I envisioned men who wore soiled clothing, who built little fires to heat their can of beans and carried their supplies in a red bandana tied to the end of a stick. They showed us the camp – complete with empty cans of beans, the remains of their fires and matted down grass – obviously a hobo camp. The charade only played out for a short time, when my mother saw through their game and reassured us that it all was a hoax. Though it was some time before I was at complete ease and shadows no longer played tricks on me.
For the most part hobos were migratory workers who rode the rails to their next job. They left a trail of signs with symbols, guiding and warning other rail travellers. These symbols told of where to get a good meal, where they could camp, what houses to avoid, if their was an angry dog, etc. The hordes of hobos passing through in 1908 were also met with some suspicion and warning to the local residents Eugene.