Rochester Kate

train tracks in Joplin

In the winter of 1907, Joplin received a visit from “Rochester Kate” a female hobo who ran away from home sometime in the late 1880s at the tender age of twelve. She claimed to have visited “in every state and territory in the union and made two trips through Europe, paying her way in the steerage once and hiding in the hold the second time.” According to Kate, her fare “across the Atlantic in the steerage was the only money she ever paid for transportation in her life.”

The world traveler, who was in her early thirties, arrived in Joplin via a car on the Kansas City Southern freight train. As the train passed the Frisco crossing she jumped off and walked into Joplin through the Frisco yards. She must have been an object of curiosity as the Globe noted she “despises dresses and wears a pair of corduroy trousers.” When interviewed by a Globe reporter, she was wearing a “very heavy sweater of good quality” and a coat. The only giveaway as to her gender was her long hair of which she was “very proud.”

Rochester Kate told the reporter, “I’ve been moochin’ since I was a kid. One day I got mad at Ma and got on a freight that was standing on a side track back of our shack. We hadn’t gone far when the brakey [hobo slang for brakeman] spotted me and put me off at the next stop. A guy let me ride on a wagon with him back home and I got a beating.”

But wanderlust was in Kate’s blood and she soon took to the rails again. She remembered, “I kept running off after that and when I was about 15, I guess, I lined out one day and didn’t come back. I couldn’t stand staying around a place very long after I lined out the first time. I mooched up to Buffalo and got a job in a factory and saved up a little and mooched it to Chicago on the blind most of the way, and I been a going since.”

The reporter observed, “Aside from the professional slang words picked up on the road, Rochester Kate does not use the rough language that would be expected from such a life, nor is her appearance as rough as would be thought.”

Kate would not tell the reporter how long she planned to stay in Joplin or where she was headed next, saying that “she did not care to have the police know too much about her movements, as she had spent too many days in jail for vagrancy.”

Source: Joplin Globe, 1907