A Ten Cent Pork Chop

Hobos kicked out of Joplin

Joplin Police kicking out bums and hobos


Joplin’s newspaper reporters loved to write about the tramps and hoboes that often drifted through town. The lifestyle of the “weary willie” was one that reporters seemingly found colorful and romantic despite the hardships that many of the men and women who traveled the road faced on a daily basis. Long before the 1930s, and in a time when relief agencies were few and far between, hoboes and tramps often found themselves one meal away from starvation. On one occasion during an economic downtown, a News-Herald reporter sought out a hobo and asked him what the smallest amount of money was that he could live on.

The hobo, after thinking for a moment, responded, “It is possible for me to live on 25 cents a day. I have lived on that amount but I did not spend any on it for a place to sleep. Of mornings, I would eat two chilies and for dinner, a ten cent pork chop. For supper, I would eat another chili.” To get the occasional piece of meat, the hobo would visit butcher shops and obtain meat that was otherwise reserved for feeding dogs. He would sleep in the woods rather than in town, lest he be picked up by the police for vagrancy. If a tramp or hobo were fortunate, he would sleep in boxcars, barns, or on railroad platforms rather than in the open.

When asked if he ever became desperately hungry, the hobo told the reporter, “I have been so hungry that I was too weak to walk, but did not become desperate. I felt that I was near the place where I would not have to spend from twelve to eighteen hours per day being turned down by people, with the world against me and no pleasure whatever.” Instead, he confided, “I also knew that after I reached a certain stage, people would feed me, for fear I would die on their hands.”

Joplin had more than its fair share of the “knights of the road.” There were individuals that loved the lifestyle, but there were others who found themselves riding the rails because of sudden, severe economic downturns that cost them their livelihoods. Funny how some things never change.

Shredded Wheat

An early advertisement for Shredded Wheat from the Library of Congress

Joplin was a stopping point for many hoboes and railroad tramps and one can only assume that they hoped to find a square meal as they roamed its streets and alleys. On one occasion, hoboes were able to secure themselves a free meal, but probably not the feast they had hoped for.

Early one morning, young boys roamed the streets of Joplin with free samples of shredded wheat biscuits. At every doorstep the boys visited, they left a small box that contained two shredded wheat biscuits. It was not long, however, before a tramp caught on and began to trail behind the boys collecting the boxes of shredded wheat. Before noon “over two dozen tramps had been told the joyful tidings” and soon each tramp had at least “half a dozen boxes.”

Armed with plenty of shredded wheat, the tramps and hoboes fled to the safety of the Kansas City Bottoms, where “cans, old buckets, cups, and in fact anything that would hold liquid were pressed into use.” A nearby farmer was talked out of a “gallon or so of milk.”

The newspaper, which often frowned upon weary willies, declared that perhaps the boxes of shredded wheat “did more good to mankind” that day than if it had remained on the doorsteps of its intended recipients. One has to wonder if hoboes reminisced years later about the time they feasted on shredded wheat in Joplin.

Gypsies and Joplin

Joplin Police kicking out unwelcomed "tourists."

The Joplin Police kicking out unwelcomed "tourists."

In mid May of 1911, visitors arrived on the outskirts north of Joplin.  Their presence immediately brought about disapproval and a visit from the Joplin police.  The police had been notified of the arrival of a “tribe of Gypsies” at what was called their “usual camping ground.”  Gypsies or Roma, or Romani, as they presently prefer to be called, were not welcome visitors to Joplin.  The Joplin News Herald, captured the feelings of the Joplin police chief, Joe Myers, who claimed that most (but not all) of the gypsies were of the type who would do anything but work for a living.  Chief Myers added, “It is our intention to make life such a burden for them that they will not want to remain here long.”

One reason for the lack of hospitality came from the Joplin police department’s claim that a month long visit by the gypsies the year before had been accompanied by an explosion of “petty robberies, begging and small crimes.”  The new arrivals hardly had time to unhitch their horses before the police arrived to inform them that no license would be granted to them to fortune tell.  The News Herald reporter was told that the police force was expected to “make life miserable for them generally.”

The gypsies eventually packed up and departed Joplin only to face the likelihood of similar treatment in the next town. Their treatment at the hands of the Joplin police was not uncommon; tramps, transients, and migrant workers often faced the same fate upon arriving in town. Loafers, idlers, and hoboes were not welcome in many towns across the country, including Joplin. The gypsies that sauntered into Joplin were fortunate they were not sent to the city’s work house to break rocks like so many tramps and vagrants had before. Instead, these free spirits were encouraged to move on, lest an anticipated crime wave break out.

Source: Joplin News Herald, 1911.