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A few beloved books in our collection that are a great starting point. 

Knights of the Road: A Hobo History

By Roger A. Bruns

"Interviews, letters, song, poetry, articles from hobo newspapers, IWW literature and autobiographical accounts evoke a colorful, often savage portrait of hobo life from the 1800s to the Great Depression."

A favorite history of the American hobo. Written in an approachable and enjoyable way that isn't overly academic.

Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary

By Nelson Peery. 1994. The News Press.

"A personal account of one soldier's political awakening. The author describes his childhood in rural Minnesota, his encounters as a teenage adventurer on freight trains, and his tour of duty as a soldier in the all-black 93rd Infantry Division."

An autobiography as beautifully poetic as it is brutal. A rare perspective from a Black hobo.

Beggars of Life

By Jim Tully. 1924. Albert & Charles Boni.

"Jim Tully left his hometown of St. Marys, Ohio, in 1901, spending most of his teenage years in the company of hoboes. Drifting across the country as a 'road kid,' he spent those years scrambling into boxcars, sleeping in hobo jungles, avoiding railroad cops, begging meals from back doors, and haunting public libraries. Tully crafted these memories into a dark and astonishing chronicle of the American underclass."

Fantastic autobiography of hobo life in the early 20th century.

You Can't Win

By Jack Black. 1926. The Macmillan Company.

"An amazing journey into the hobo underworld: freight hopping around the still wide open West at the turn of the 20th century, becoming a member of the "yegg" (criminal) brotherhood and a highwayman, learning the outlaw philosophy from Foot-and-a-half George and the Sanctimonious Kid, getting hooked on opium, passing through hobo jungles, hop joints and penitentiaries."

While light on specifics of the freight hopping life, this one's on everyone's top list for good reason. And available for free!


The majority of these books are out of print, or being reprinted so they can be difficult to track down.

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