"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

11 Feb 2014

A Philosophy of Tramping—Leon Ray Livingston

The notes of this post provided the background material for Chapter 8 of
Published by Feral House February 2020


Unlike most of the other tramp writers discussed on this site—those who celebrated their anonymity and life in the margins of society, with no thought of competing against fellow vagabonds for publicity—Leon Ray Livingston (1872–1944) seems to have openly courted celebrity. Livingston unashamedly embraced the practice of branding, so ubiquitous today, as is evident from the logos and sound-bites on the covers of his twelve self-published books: 'America's Most Famous Tramp who travelled 500,000 miles on $7.61', adopting the moniker 'A-No.1', and crowning himself 'King of the Hoboes'. Yet in spite of these accolades, none of the other tramp writers I have read (bar Jack London) seems to have been aware of Livingston or ever mentions him. But regardless of this apparent arrogance and self-promotion, Livingston's is a story as remarkable as most in this collection of tramp biographies, and his exploits as a child tramp—from age eleven (as was Jack Everson)—second to none. Another facet of Livingston's writing that jars with the tramping spirit is, that having enjoyed and promoted his own adventures, he then not only adopts the role of the social reformer (as did Josiah Flynt, born three years before Livingston), but establishes his reputation as a campaigner against tramping. One possible motive for this stance maybe purely entrepreneurial, i.e., to endear himself to the general reading public. The following 'warning' appears in the facing page of the Preface in most of his books:

And so let us presume that Livingston was just an astute publicist rather than a apologist for tramping. If he lacked the integrity of the true Cynic (in the positive meaning of the term), he was not averse to using cynicism (in its negative context) to enhance his reputation with mainstream American society—and also increase his book sales (the links below are to those of Livingston's books available digitally):

   Hobo Camp Fire Tales (1911)
   The Curse of Tramp Life (1912) 
   The Trail of the Tramp (1913)
   The Ways of the Hobo (1914) 
   The Snare of the Road (1916)
   The Wife I Won (1919)
   Traveling with Tramps (1920)
   Here and There with A-No. 1, America's most famous tramp (1921)

*From Coast to Coast with Jack London also inspired the movie Emperor of the North (1973), directed by Robert
Aldrich and starring Lee Marvin as A-No.1, Ernest Borgnine as the sadistic train conductor, and David
Carradine's character loosely based on Jack London, using the moniker 'Cigaret' (the moniker previously used by
Josiah Flynt).

The Child Tramp (from Livingston's first book, Life and Adventures of A-No. 1)

Livingston was born to a 'well-to-do' family in San Francisco on the 24th of August, 1872. His father was French and mother German, and Livingston claims that by the age of eight he could speak both these languages fluently in addition to English; to which he later added Spanish also. At the age of eleven a minor incident at school led to Livingston running away from home to join hundreds of other homeless children and hobos roaming across America. Sent home for bad behaviour with a note from his teacher requiring his father's signature, Livingston ran away rather than face disgrace—only the day after his birthday and on which he had been lavished with presents. And so another hobo career started with a 100 franc note from his uncle in Paris, 28 dollars he took from his mother's purse, and Livingston's .22 calibre rifle.

Livingston boarded a river steamboat from San Francisco harbour to Sacramento where he booked into (unbeknown to him) the most expensive hotel in the city, and where a four night stay depleted his resources by 20 dollars. The 100 franc note he left with a bank cashier without changing it because the teller had asked where he got it. So with his rifle and his remaining few dollars Livingston walked to a water stop along a railway track where he gave his rifle to a brakeman in return for a ticketless ride to Truckee. He was eventually put off the train later by another brakeman at Winnemucca in the Nevada Dessert, 450 miles from his home in San Francisco. And so, with clearly much to learn about survival and beating trains, Livingston's career as a hobo had begun.

A woman in Winnemucca spotted the young boy crying on some steps and took him inside to give him a meal. Livingston was on the point of telling the woman the truth but, fortified with food, he repeated the tale that he was recently orphaned and trying to reach his uncle in Chicago. So moved were the townsfolk that they made a collection and gave Livingston a ticket to Omaha and five dollars in change. Livingston was a fast learner; after failing to find work in Omaha due to his young age, he resolved to hustle for a living. He beat his way to Chicago hidden among sheep in a stock car, and there he lived on free food in saloons and bedded down at night with other waifs and strays under the bushes in a local park until the cold weather arrived. Having heard stories about the warm and sunny south, Livingston then struck out for New Orleans on which journey, he says, he turned down four offers of adoption along the way.

'I arrived in New Orleans on Christmas Day, 1883, a sight to look at. I was dirty and ragged to the last degree, with toes sticking out of my shoes. But the climate was fine, and there was plenty to eat, such as it was. By stealing bread from the house fronts, left by the bakers in the early morning, and by cleaning milk and cream pitchers, and dipping this bread into the molasses leaking from syrup barrels piled upon the wharves, I managed to live. For lodging at night I crawled under the tarpaulins covering the cotton bales stored on the wharves.'

Only one week later, on New Years Day, an incident on the wharf led to Livingston being offered a job as a cabin boy on board a British schooner plying trade among the ports of Central America at five dollars a day plus board. Dressed up in his sailors outfit and cap, and being told that all he had to do was watch the seagulls and flying fishes as the schooner sailed out into the blue of the Gulf of Mexico, must have seemed like a boyhood fantasy come true. But the fantasy was short lived and soon Livingston found himself peeling potatoes, scrubbing the decks and forced into all manner of hard labour, amid beatings from the crew who for most of the time were drunk on mescal.

In British Honduras

Livingston had his chance to escape when the ship landed in Belize City in (then) British Honduras where he had to row the chef ashore for some supplies. He hid out on the edge of the jungle in view of the ship until he was sure it had sailed before exploring his new home. Again he was taken in by a kindly woman who fed and clothed him, and for the first time since running away from his parents home penned a letter to let them know where he was and beg their forgiveness. One can only imagine their surprise at receiving news of their eleven year old son from Belize.

As he was able to read and write, Livingston then persuaded the husband of the woman who had taken him in to give him work as a bookkeeper in a lumber camp several days journey in land. Livingston describes the mahogany trade of British Honduras, worked principally by African Americans who, he says, made up ninety five percent of Belize City's population. Livingston was given three months pay of $24 in advance to equip him for the trip in land, and, had he been allowed to board a steamer in the bay bound for New Orleans, he would have deserted his employment for a second time. In the event, the ship had been quarantined due to a death from yellow fever in Belize and no one was allowed to board. Livingston had no choice but to return to his employer and fulfil his contract at the lumber camp. His description of the socio-economic life of the camps makes fascinating reading, not least his diet: 'I became acquainted with roasted baboons, fried parrots, turtle and armadillo stews, tapir steak, iguana (an enormous and ugly tree lizard.), monkey soup, etc.' Below Livingston describes the beginning of his nine day journey up river, with its clear parallels to the first journey made by Trader Horn up Gabon's Ogowe River:

'We embarked in dugouts'men, women, children, dogs, household effects, provisions, etc., and paddled up the Rio Hondo. After several hours passing through mangrove swamp we came to higher ground, and then we only could use poles as the river became crooked, shallow and full of rapids. Alligators and enormous turtles slid from the banks as we approached them, and at night, when we camped on the river bank around the fires, we could hear the cries of panthers, mountain lions, wild cats, monkeys and coyotes in the dark jungle.'

It was while in the lumber camp that Livingston received his first letter from home, his parents telling him how delighted they were to have heard from him, having given him up for dead after a long search. Livingston replied asking for money to pay his way home, but admitting that by this time he was having 'the time of my life':

'fishing, hunting, eating new kinds of fruit, guavas, breadfruit, etc. I saw butterflies of gorgeous colors; birds more strange and beautiful than I ever imagined could exist, some of them with bills larger than their entire bodies. Captain Jones was very kind to me, in fact I could not have been treated better by anyone. The laborers were good to me, as I made myself popular quickly by giving them overweight, and when they purchased goods from the store, charged them less on their accounts. They in turn presented me with many pretty souvenirs.'

From Belize to Guatemala

But once again fate intervened. Livingston was struck down by a paralysing tropical disease he calls Black Swamp Fever. He was put into a canoe and rowed back to Belize City in twenty four hours; the same journey upstream having taken nine days. Livingston received excellent care in hospital and as well as making a full recovery, received a letter from his parents containing 100 pesos to pay for his trip home. But by now the yellow fever outbreak had become an epidemic and, as no ships could sail from Belize, passage was arranged in a one man, 25 foot, dugout sailing canoe bound for Guatemala 250 miles to the south; and from where onward passage could be arranged. Livingston describes a horrendous trip in which slashing the sail and frantic bailing out water only just saved the pair from being drowned by a hurricane at sea, eventually reaching the coastal port of Livingston in Guatemala, at the time no more than a military outpost:

'Later, when visiting their barracks, instead of finding a regiment, I discovered that their entire force consisted of only six soldiers, each an ex-convict, "pardoned" to join the army. Their uniforms were made up of sandals with strings between the big toes to hold them, a pair of dark blue pants, a helmet and a white cotton shirt. Each man, however, was equipped like an arsenal, with a long sword, a gun, a bayonet and a big pistol.'

And it was here that Livingston equipped himself with books and started learning Spanish in earnest, setting off sometime later to tramp the 220 mile journey to Guatemala City and onwards to the Pacific coast. He describes how on the first part of the journey he was followed by a mountain lion all the way to the first hacienda on route; and so spent most of the journey looking backwards rather than in the direction he was travelling. Livingston received such a warm welcome at each hacienda he encountered that he ended up making most of the trip on horseback; his hosts insisting on escorting him from one settlement to the next. In the passage below, Livingston describes the scenery he encountered en route:

'It was just at break of day, and there in front of me in all their majesty rose two black volcanoes, Mount Agua and Mount Fuego, each nineteen thousand feet high [actually c12,350 feet]. They were capped with snow and cut as clearly as two pyramids. Smoke and steam were rising from their cones. Behind me was a sky of fire-red hue; but behind the volcanoes was the blackness of the night, studded with twinkling stars. The eternal snow at the summit of the gigantic mounds was aglow with the splendor of the reflection of the sun's rays. Below in a distance were white houses scattered among the trees, and softly I could hear the rhythmic sound of church bells, calling worshipers to early prayers. Over and around it all was a bluish haze, which made me recall the descriptions of the fairyland that I had read about in books at home.'

Onward to Mexico

But Livingston was disappointed on his arrival at Guatemala City, the more so to discover that the spread of the yellow fever epidemic had now reached the Pacific coast also, and what would have been a twenty dollar, six day passage by steamer to San Francisco, now turned into a four month, 1,200 mile overland trek to Mexico City alone—adding further to Livingston's tramping apprenticeship. Livingston, by now a seasoned hustler, crossed the border into Mexico dressed, 'much like a Mexican dandy skin-tight pants, open blouse, a sombrero nearly as big as a basket and sandals.' It was the eve of the presidential elections and feeling was running high between Catholics and Protestants. Livingston presented himself as a son of either camp depending on the presence or absence of pictures of saints on the walls of the houses where he sought shelter. Receiving considerable hospitality along the way, he arrived in Mexico City with money to spare.

In order to acquire a set of European clothing for his onward journey to the States, Livingstone identified the names of German, French and English residents and presented himself as in need of clothing. On arriving at the railway depot to change into his newly acquired attire, he befriended a Mexican railway guard who persuaded Livingston to continue procuring clothing in the same way, which he in turn would sell and share the proceeds:

'The undertaking proved a great success, and I was soon living in a nice boarding house, and having a fine time in general. During the morning hours from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. I was busy bumming clothes in my Mexican outfit, and in the evening attired in an up-to-date suit, I spent my time most pleasantly at theatres. After I had " done'' the city I left on a "hobo-ticket" via the Mexican Central for El Paso, Texas.'

Return to America and Further Tramping Adventures

But Livingston had not completed his apprenticeship yet. On arriving in Socorro, New Mexico, with sixty dollars still remaining, he became acquainted with the roulette wheel, and fooled into thinking this was an easy way to augment his funds, was soon relieved not only of his remaining money, but his suit of clothes also. In Albuquerque, Livingston was arrested for vagrancy and locked up 'in a dark and filthy cell' until eventually released by a charitable store owner on payment to the arresting detective to cover the fee he would have been paid by the judge for arresting vagrants—no matter whether adults or children (a common practice described by other tramp writers on this site).

Livingston arrived in the town of Lathrop, California, via Salt Lake City, exactly one year after he had run away from his parents' home, and only 97 miles from his destination, San Francisco. One can only wonder at the distance, variety of experiences and adventures that the 12 year old had covered in only his first year as a tramp, including adding Spanish to the three European languages he already spoke. But, so close to returning home to his folks, Livingston would meet up with a twenty seven year old ex-con, just released from San Quentin prison following a five year sentence for holding up a stagecoach.

Surprisingly, this seems to have been the first occasion that Livingston was shown any interest by an adult tramp. In my biography of Josiah Flynt, there are extended accounts of the relationship between children groomed for begging and stealing, referred to as 'prushuns', and their adult protector (and sometimes abuser), the 'jocker'. Just as in Flynt's accounts, Livingston was seduced by tales of easy living and adventure, and in the case of his new tramping partner Frenchy, this was reinforced by the latter's reputation as a hardened criminal and the fear and respect shown to him by others on the road. And so, at the moment that Livingston was within twenty miles of his parents' home, he chose instead to throw in his lot with Frenchy and embrace the life of a hobo.

The rest of the pair's trip included the usual hobo adventures, riding the rails, begging, stealing and hustling their way across America until they arrived at the port of Pensacola in the westernmost part of Florida. Here Frenchy took a job as a cook on board a ship bound for South America and took his leave of Livingston. But before parting, Livingston relates the story of how he got his hobo moniker:

'Before leaving, Frenchy came to me and gave me his final instructions. "Listen, Kid," said he, "Every tramp gives his kid a nickname, a name that will distinguish him from all other members of the craft. You have been a good lad while you have been with me, in fact been always ' A-No. 1' in everything you had to do, and, Kid, take my advice, if you have to be anything in life, even if a tramp, try to be 'A-No. 1' all the time and in everything you undertake." '

Frenchy also instructed Livingston, as was common tramp practice, to carve his moniker on the water tanks and mile posts along the railway tracks, with the date and an arrow indicating his direction of travel. In this way, he said, he would be able to find Livingston again when he returned from his trip. A short while later, Livingston came across a 'wanted poster' for Frenchy offering one thousand dollar reward for his capture for, 'dosing crew and captain on New Year's eve, 1885, with knock-out drops, and robbing the captain's safe of 3,000 pesos, Mexican currency.' And although Livingston would never meet Frenchy again, he kept up the practice of leaving his moniker and date wherever he travelled.

A Trip to Germany

On Livingston's arrival in Jackson he found mail waiting from his father telling him that his mother was broken hearted and begging him to return home. He replied that he would return in the summer and continued with his travels and adventures. Then in Charleston, via Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, narrowly avoiding another jail sentence, the thirteen year old Livingston was offered a job as a waiter by the steward from a German steamer bound for Hamburg. But shortly after sailing, Livingston found out that he was to be put to work passing coal for fourteen hours a day in the hot, dark boiler room.

'Arriving in Hamburg, the captain had the cheek to hand me a ten mark bill (two dollars and fifty cents) with the remark: "Mine boy, you had better make yourself thin, or I will have you arrested as a stowaway, and you may be sentenced to jail for a couple of years."

But Livingston learned quickly from this and the other occasions when he fell victim to trickery and injurious experiences. Unlike many of the other tramp writers discussed on this site, Livingston was to spend his life avoiding smoking, drinking and gambling. When the young tramp tried to rent a room in a hostel, he was told he would have to register first with the police to obtain papers or the hostel manager risked being fined. These papers entitled the bearer to stay for twenty four hours in any one place, but no more unless actively seeking work. They also conferred the right to room and board for a night and permission to beg. As Livingston spoke German, and was by now an accomplished storyteller, he had no difficulty in getting the necessary papers nor in making friends with other tramps at the hostel, who related tales about tramping in Germany. Soon after arriving in Hamburg, Livingston set out on foot for Berlin with a tramp he had befriended at the hostel. He relates the following about tramping in Germany.

'In Germany, a hobo, if caught, gets one year at hard labor for walking on the track, and I believe it is life for riding on trains. Hence the German tramps never ride. They all walk the pikes [old toll roads], which are nicely kept and are centuries old, and we met hundreds daily. Everywhere we were received kindly, especially when my partner told them I was an American.


The German tramp is about the meanest piece of humanity I ever met. They have no friendship for one another, and are so low that they will keep part of their hand-outs and sell them to others, less fortunate, for a few coppers at the lodging places. A pipe full of tobacco, matches, cast-off rags, and even old cigar stumps have a money value. ... They walk from morning till night, and I don't blame their government for keeping trace of them, as they might become lost. There is no honor or kindness among themeverybody for himself.'

Livingston reached Berlin after what he described as 'more than two weeks of tiresome walking', only to be arrested on arrival in that city for 'too much loafing'. However, the forty-eight hour prison sentence turned out to be a welcome respite, being 'more like a home than a jail'; receiving five meals a day and a further twenty-four hours to find work. But work was not needed, for on running into a couple of American tourists in a park, Livingston spun his tale of woe and received ten dollars for his trouble. He then headed to the train station where he purchased a fourth class ticket straight back to Hamburg.

'I loafed about Hamburg until the middle of June, getting plenty to eat and small sums of money from crews of English, French and American steamers and sailing ships, there being hundreds in port all the time, I saved every cent possible, so as to have enough money to pay my way back to the States.'

In the event, Livingston kept his savings and managed to get work as a waiter on a ship bound for Boston by promising the steward half of his wages on arrival. But once at sea he pulled a scam he had learned from Frenchy and spent the rest of the voyage in bed in a clean cabin having drunk soap and water to make himself ill. Livingston was taken straight to hospital on arrival in Boston with his full pay of seven dollars and fifty cents (the steward not having the opportunity to claim his share), plus the twenty three dollars he had saved up in Hamburg.

Brief Homecoming and Alienation from Family

Livingston's first homecoming to his parents is dismissed in a single paragraph of his autobiography. After only two weeks back in San Francisco, the wanderlust becomes irresistible and he hits the road again, this time for Victoria in British Columbia. By now Livingston had become an accomplished beggar, but made the mistake (he calls it 'boyish foolishness') of lying to acquaintances of his father and a family relative on his trip north that he was destitute and needed money to return home. On each occasion, receiving food and kindness, he simply took the money before finding another victim for his deceit. News of his exploits got back to his family. Well to do and locally respected, their son's behaviour brought shame on the family. And so, in the manner described below, just turned fourteen years old, Livingston was forced to abandon his tramping apprenticeship and become a 'professional' hobo:

'When I returned to San Francisco in September, 1885, I found my parents at home, and my father called me into the library, and closing the door after I entered addressed me thus: " Well, sir, you are a disgrace to the good name of our familya family hitherto respected by all. I will give you just one hour to leave the city. If you have not taken yourself out of my sight by that time I will have you arrested and placed in a reform school, there to remain until you are twenty-one years old. Do not attempt to enter this house again. There is the door. Now, get!" '


'Thus I was turned from my father's door, my future ruined through wild and heartless pranks. They are still residents of San Francisco, respected and wealthy; I, their only son, am an outcast, homeless and nameless tramp.'

Livingston's self-pity is unconcealed in the following passage, and given the context that Livingston is recalling these incidents 25 years after the event, the degree of unresolved bitterness he is nurturing at his plight in becoming a tramp is difficult to reconcile with his self-promotion as 'King of the Hoboes'.

'Letters I wrote came back unopened. They were never answered, and never to this day have I been able to hear from home. Twenty-five long years of remorse; twenty-five long years of repentance; twenty-five long years trying to keep the promise I made mother long ago. What a terrible punishment to be condemned to flit restlessly over the face of the earth hither and yon, a homeless, nameless wanderer.'

The question must be posed that if Livingston had really regretted becoming a tramp and had wanted a reconciliation with his family, then given his resourcefulness and the fact he spoke four languages, it would have been a simple matter for him to achieve conventional success and respectability in a different line of business—in the same manner as did the tramp Frederick Palmer in Livingston's novel The Adventures of a Female Tramp.

Some Attempts at Employment

But to return to the fourteen year old tramp; if his situation was not dire enough, he was robbed of his money and clothes by the first two hobos he encountered when beating a train to San Francisco. A train guard found him tied-up and gagged in a box car and advised him to hand himself in to the sheriff at Bakersfield. After receiving breakfast and a visit to the judge where he received a thirty day sentence, the sheriff bought Livingston a pair of shoes, gave him a dollar, and sent him on his way. A tramp explains to the bemused Livingston, just the kind of scam as reported by other tramp writers elsewhere on this site:

"They fined you thirty dollars and thirty days; you can't pay the thirty dollars, but the sheriff gets one dollar a day for every day you are supposed to be locked up; the judge, five dollars for your sentence; the lawyer, five dollars for your conviction; the clerk, five dollars for your commitment, and the deputy sheriff five dollars for arresting you, so you see it is all graft. None of them receive a regular salary, so an officer has to steal all the fees he can to make a living."

This same tramp acquaintance now delivers a lecture to Livingston on the corruption and hypocrisy of criminal reform measures and how he would deal with the tramp problem—something Livingston later takes on as a campaign theme in his own role as a tramp reformer. This sermon includes yet another categorisation of tramps as: 'child tramps' (runaways or abandoned), 'distillery tramps' (drunks) and 'scenery tramps'—the latter describing those who tramp and avoid paid employment out of a lifestyle choice. This eleven page chapter titled, 'Why Permit Men to Become Tramps', jars somewhat with what is otherwise a straight forward autobiography of Livingston's early tramping career.

For a while Livingston did attempt to reform himself. Arriving in Los Angeles, he encounters a Salvation Army captain who kits him out with a new suit of clothes and Livingston and tries to engage in a series of jobs (bellboy, factory hand, fruit picker, ranch hand), all exploitative and abusive in different ways and so he did not stick to any for more than a week. Livingston also worked for a while at one of the many charitable institutions set up to alleviate poverty—condemned by other tramp writers elsewhere on this site. Praying on wealthy, God-fearing sponsors, Livingston calculated that the fraudulent proprietor of this particular establishment must have received around $100 dollars in donations per week, dispensing only $10 for charitable purposes, most of which (such as the stale bread he received from a bakery) also donated free.

Return to Latin America

By this time Livingston had concluded that honest tramping was preferable to dishonest employment and, reading in a newspaper about the fortunes being made in Brazilian diamond mines, resolved to tramp to that country to try his luck. On reaching Tampa, Florida, Livingston begged transportation on a steamer bound for Havana. From there he worked his passage on a lumber schooner to Santiago de Cuba on the south coast, only to find that there was no possibility of sailing further south from that port. After tramping the nearly five hundred miles back to Havana, for the third time Livingston would find himself stranded by the quarantine rules of a yellow fever outbreak. Having no choice but to find food and shelter in Cuba, Livingston threw himself, first on the mercy of the American consul, who ignored his pleas, then on the German consul (with the tale he was a shipwrecked German cabin boy) who gave him an order for a few weeks board and room, and when that was up, he tried a similar scam on the Austrian consul:

'[I] told him I came from Vienna and had lost all in a shipwreck. I told him how the waves had dashed me on shore and every detail as vividly as possible. He believed my yarn, and gave me a ticket to New York, and order for a ticket from New York to Vienna, and twenty dollars in money for my expenses. Three days later I was aboard a Ward-line steamer, the "Niagara", bound for New York. We landed there after a very rough journey of four days, finding a genuine blizzard awaited us in contrast to the tropical climate we left behind in Cuba. I sold my voucher for a ticket to Austria to a ticket broker for $40.00. It thus happened that even the Imperial Austrian government paid for some of my travels.'

Determined to continue with his Brazilian adventure, and this time better prepared and resourced, Livingston successfully beat it by rail all the way to the town of San Luis Potosi in central Mexico, where, collapsing exhausted in a boxcar, he was woken by a railway guard only to discover that it was the same guard he had procured second hand clothes for in Mexico City two years previously. Livingston enjoyed a happy reunion and hospitality at the guard's home for a few days before setting off for the port of Vera Cruz. There he secured passage as a cabin boy on a German schooner loaded with lumber bound for Venezuela, 'thus saving a 2,000 mile tedious overland trip through Central America and over the Isthmus of Panama.'

On arrival at the port of La Guaira in Venezuela, the lumber was unloaded and the schooner continued to Maracaibo to pick up a load of coffee. Here Livingston jumped ship to continue his journey to Brazil, it is also the fist time, Livingston says, that he was offered work on account of his ability to speak several languages, but he had other plans. In Maracaibo he met another American boy of his own age. Tom Hanrahan from Pennsylvania had also jumped ship in Maracaibo but, unable to speak Spanish or get a passage back to North America, was near starvation when encountered by Livingston. The latter, by now well schooled in the art of begging, soon collected the equivalent of $48 and persuaded Hanrahan to join him on his expedition south. Now assisted by the purchase of two donkeys, the new friends set out for the capital of Colombia. Livingston relates below the means they used for navigation and the manner of their travel:

'Maracaybo is the shipping point for Bogota, the capital of the Republic of Columbia, 475 miles south, and as there was a single telegraph wire strung from tree to tree all the way, we planned to follow it to Bogota. At Maracaybo whole ship loads are transpacked on the backs of pack mules and burros, and thus transported all over the interior. The narrow path, beaten deep by countless hoof prints, and the telegraph wire as guide, were all we had to lead us into an unknown country.
     Ropes for bridles and empty coffee bags for saddles, thus equipped and happy we started on our journey, camping at night, and living high on what the people provided. My Spanish opened the houses for us, and the story of "our uncle in Rio de Janeiro, who was rich," the same old yarn with only the destination changed, seemed to touch their tender hearts.


Our burros, being used to carrying loads nearly their own weight, seemed to enjoy our company, and more so, because we treated them more kindly than did the cruel natives, who overload and beat them with clubs. We made good progress, even when crossing the high mountain ranges.
    The country is like a paradise down there, tropical and cooled by the winds from the Gulf of Mexico. The rich planters are very rich, but the peons are pitifully poor. [...] We received letters of recommendation from one hacienda to another, the same as I had in Central America, and everybody was anxious to provide us with the best and help us on our journey.'

It took one month for the pair to reach Bogota in this fashion, and then onward to Quito in Ecuador 450 further to the south, this time without the aid of the telegraph wires to guide them, 'The country became more and more desolate, with dangerous trails up and down steep mountain sides; wire bridges swinging in the wind over gorges and chasms, we crossed often.' It took Livingston and Hanrahan two months to reach Quito in this fashion, this time encountering not only Spanish settlers but indigenous Indians also. In Quito, Livingston claims to have had the greatest success in begging so far. He targeted German settlers while Hanrahan approached Americans, netting the equivalent of $155 dollars between them in just one day. The pair rested up in Quito for three weeks after the gruelling but adventurous 900 mile trek by donkey, and also kitted themselves out with much needed supplies, not least new footwear and a pistol. They were about to enter hazardous territory.

Amazon Adventure and Return to America via London

After crossing through the snow and ice of Andean mountain peaks, and receiving food and shelter mainly from monks, the pair eventually reached the navigable source of the Amazon tributary, the Rio Napo. And here, after having carried them for 1,250 miles, they exchanged their burros for a large ironwood canoe to continue to their destination in Brazil, according to Livingston, a further 5,000 miles down river.

'From the riding on slow jolting burros to the easy floating down a crystal current in a canoe on the Rio Napo was indeed a welcome change. The tropical scenery was beautiful as we were yet at an altitude of nearly 6,000 feet and the nights cool but pleasant. Here is a country hardly ever visited and never written about by Americans. ... The Rio Napo has many falls and rapids and we had to carry our canoes as well as our little cargo down steep places to reload them and to repeat this tiresome task farther down. Some days we had to make three portages thus, and it was this very unpleasant job that prevented us making rapid progress.'

It took the pair three months to reach the Marañón river in Peru from where they would enter the Madeira river, and then the Amazon proper. By now there were no more portages to navigate and as the rainy season had just ended, were moved downstream by a rapid but steady flow of water, making the journey more peaceful. Here also they met other much larger craft.

'Parrots, monkeys and gaily plumed birds we encountered by the millions, Every little hut along the banks had them for pets. To try and buy them only seemed to amuse the natives, and when we explained to them that each parrot would be worth $10.00 in the States, they seemed to think we were telling them yarns'.

On reaching the Peru/Brazil border at Tabatinga, the pair went through customs procedures before continuing downstream. From here on, neither speaking Portuguese, communication would present some difficulty. A further disadvantage was provided by the tropical heat and relentless sun, not to mention constantly dodging tree stumps and the ever waiting crocodiles. Now they also had to keep watch at night from preying animals and the also indigenous bandits who stole their paddles and would have taken their canoe also had they not been vigilant. Their only source of hospitality now were the few Catholic fathers and monks they encountered along the river. But on the night of July 1st 1887, while camping on a slight rise on the confluence of the Amazon with the Rio Negro, tragedy struck:

'Tom awoke and arose to put a few more dry branches on the fire. Suddenly he screamed and awakening me I saw him stagger to the fire and kneeling over lie dazed on the ground. In a weak voice he told me that some poisonous snake had struck at him, which no doubt, attracted by the warmth of the dying embers of the fire, had crawled so close that Tom unadvertly [sic] had stepped on it. In haste I ripped open his pants leg and with my knife cut into the flesh, where two small spots showed where the fangs had entered, but it was already too late, as even then the blood would not respond, and in less than ten minutes and after awful convulsions, yet with his senses clear, turning purple-black, poor Tom died. His last words were to tell his mother that he thought of her, and to give her his rosary and prayer book.'

Livingston was dazed and distraught by the loss of his friend to whom, after all the adventures the pair had shared together, he had naturally formed a very close bond. It was a further two months before Livingston reached the settlement of Santarém at the confluence with the river Tapajós, describing his condition as follows:

'When I left poor Tom at our last camp I was strong and healthy, but on reaching here I was only the shadow of my former self. I was worn out by sorrow, hardship and malaria. At this place I found a number of French merchants and agents and these had a benevolent society. Seeing the condition I was in, they sent me for treatment to a small hospital, conducted by Sisters of Mercy. It was not until May, 1888, that I was discharged. I tipped the scales at 37 pounds heavier than when I entered, thus giving a vivid idea of what a condition I must have been in. I was dark yellow, only skin and bone, and nearly dead.'

After nine months in the Amazon hospital, and having learned that the diamond mines were a further 1,700 miles overland trek and all claims had, in any case, been bought up by syndicates, Livingston abandoned his original quest and gladly accepted passage on a German steamboat to the coast in return for working his passage. In two months the boat reached the harbour of 'Para' (Belem), the main port serving the Amazon basin where, on account of his adventure being published by the local newspaper, he made many friends, eventually securing employment as a steward on a coastal steamer plying trade between the Guyanas (French, Dutch and British). While in the capital of Dutch Guyana, Living ston was offered a job on an ocean going liner bound for Rio de Janeiro. Having received his discharge pay of $5 on arrival in that city, we pick up the story again in Livingston's words:

'I found plenty to interest me in beautiful "Rio" as it is called by the Brazilians, opera houses, banks, the military war ships in the harbor; fine parksin fact a European metropolis. Many Americans, Germans, Spanish and English residents, and also several genuine American tramps. I met some of the latter again in the States, thus plainly proving that they are not "tied" to railroads alone, as means of travel. I was offered different jobs, but being restless I wanted to work the people first, before the people worked me. But all fun and pleasure came to a sudden end, as on Christmas day I was conveyed in an ambulance to a hospital, suffering from yellow fever. It took only three weeks to be discharged, but three months to get over the after-effects, showing how dangerously near I came to dying. People, Europeans especially, were dying like flies, there being over 2,000 funerals from September till May.'

On May 1st 1890, still only eighteen years of age, Livingston stowed away in an Italian tramp steamer bound for Montevideo in Uruguay. Lucky to escape with his life on being discovered, having breached quarantine regulations, and saved only by the discovery on his person of Tom's rosary and prayer book, Livingston is put ashore eighty miles from Montevideo with dire threats against revealing the name of the vessel that had taken him there, tramping the last few miles on foot. From Montevideo, Livingston then made the 600 mile trek to Buenos Aires in Argentina and, after enjoying the delights of that capital, signed on as a crew member on a ship carrying cattle to London, England, for ten dollars wages. Following the three week trip to London, Livingston signed on to work his passage back to New York, finally returning to America after a four year absence.

Livingston's first assignment on his arrival back on American soil was, as promised, to deliver Tom's rosary and bible to his mother in Pennsylvania, but on meeting Mrs Hanrahan, and she being overcome by the news that Livingston had met and spent time with her son, did not have the courage to inform her of his death. After relating some of their adventures, and how Tom had spoken often and fondly of his mother, he left the woman with her hopes and dreams and went on his way, still in possession of the rosary and bible. Sometime later, Livingston told the tale of Tom's death to a police officer and entrusted him with the task of informing Tom's mother of his death and returning his possessions.

The Mature Tramp

Livingston does not say how he spent the intervening seven years, other than referring to not having given up the tramping life, but by the Summer of 1897, with America in the grip of gold fever, he had left Oregon to beat his way by train, steamer and dog sled to the Klondike goldfields in Alaska to seek his fortune and make good his vow to his mother to settle to a more conventional life. A year later, due to a series of accidents, harsh weather, and illness requiring further convalescence, Livingston had returned from the goldfields without his intended fortune. However, through his bravery, skills at survival, and having saved the lives of a party of rich adventurers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, Livingston made some lasting friendships that would serve him well on his eventual arrival in the town of Oneonta in New York State:

'Thus a kind Providence had turned all the hardships and dangers that I passed through since childhood to final advantage, for through the acts of Mr. Frank D. Miller, it taught me something far better than any Alaska gold mine. It showed me a way, not alone to save money, but by doing so, to gain the estimation of my fellow beings, something that I had, up to that moment, thought to be impossible to attain for those who follow the road of "The Restless", and made it possible for me to be proud of my record, even when I am called in disdain " a tramp " '

Following this final chapter of Livingston's first book, he provides a 'conclusion' that includes mention of his further adventures, a frustratingly dismissive account of the reasons for his wanderlust, but an interesting explanation of how he documented his various memoirs, including the claim introduced in his first book and other eleven volumes: 'America's Most Famous Tramp who travelled 500,000 miles on $7.61'. Turning to writing at the age of 35, Life and Adventures of A-No. 1 was published 3 years later and followed by eleven further books in the same number of years. But before turning to these other works, I reproduce below the greatest part of the Conclusion from Life and Adventures of A-No. 1:


'WITH this description of my trip to the Alaska gold discoveries, I have told the most interesting part of my foreign tramping journeys. To give a narrative of the adventures I encountered on my other trips, six different ones to Europe, one each to Japan, West Indies, China, New Zealand, etc., would be, to a large extent a repetition of the experiences already narrated in this book, and it would be only tempting the patience of my readers to do so.
     For over a quarter of a century I have now led this hard and thankless life, a nameless wanderer, driven on by an irresistible longing to rove, and during all these years I have tried to do the "square thing" by all who befriended me the least, never forgetting any kindness done me; never having touched liquor and tobacco, nor gambled, and if I have done wrong (outside of beating the railroads) I am sure I have more than evened this score a hundred-fold by doing good to those less fortunate, and I have documents from different railroad companies, thanking me for having prevented, at the risk of my life and limbs, over twenty different wrecks, etc., etc.
     Many times in my wanderings, strangers as well as acquaintances, interested in the tramp problem, have asked me, " What is the reason, ' A-No. I,' that you should tramp?"  [...] "Wanderlust"! Ask any other victim of this strange maladytramp, commercial traveler, railroad man, circus follower, etc., and all these will attest to the very same inability to shake off the desire to wander.
     During all these long years of restless roving, I have carried a small memorandum in which I have kept a list of the many humoristic, as well as pathetic experiences, which can happen to no other class of human being but the homeless, wandering tramp, and I will publish these under the title of "Hobo- Camp-Fire-Tales," and sincerely hope that this book also will have the approval of the reading public. In this memorandum I have kept an exact account of every mile I have tramped from the first day I "hit" the road on the 24th of August, 1883, and the total mileage on the Ist of May, 1910, was 471,215 miles, and my cash expenditures for transportation, exclusive of unavoidable street car and ferry boat charges were $7.61.


Livingston's Further Writings

Hobo Camp Fire Tales

Livingston's second book, Hobo Camp Fire Tales, relates a series of yarns spun between three tramps, of whom Livingston is one of the company. The tales are related around a campfire on a single night to stave off the pangs of hunger after being thrown from a boxcar by an irate brakeman at a desolate water tank in West Virginia, and with no hope of either food or onward passage. The book opens with the same warning against the perils of tramping titled, 'To Every Young Man and Boy' (see above), a campaign Livingston continues in his subsequent volumes. Livingstone's manifesto against tramping is further promoted in the following one page preface from Camp Fire Talesin the same breath as he bemoans a lost romantic age of tramping:


BY FAR a majority of the present day tramp army were boys or young men when they commenced their roving. The aim of this book is to warn others (showing what a miserable life even the best of tramps have to lead), by relating how an innocent boy, who had left his good home, urged on by a longing to see the world, while listening to stories of actual tramp life told by "Old-Timers" around a campfire, gradually realized the truth of a tramp's existence, and repenting, escaped the clutches of his older companion and returned home.
     This booklet will be especially entertaining to the adult reader because it gives a vivid insight into the daily life and character of the average tramp, of whom an army of more than one hundred thousand is aimlessly wandering about the United States.
     The tramp, tramping and everything pertaining to tramp life in the United States at the present time, is not what it used to be in the past.
     Vividly do I recall the days before 1900, when it was more often the rule than the exception, to see from ten to fifty tramps riding upon a single freight train. Hordes of tramps could be met with migrating to and from all points of the compass, while after nightfall their campfires lit the woodlands from Maine to California.
     The general prosperity; the strict enforcement of the vagrancy statutes; the encroachments of "Prohibition;" but chief of all the detective bureaus, maintained by every railroad, whose officers harass him every moment of the twenty-four hours, are the principal causes for the gradual disappearance of the tramp.
     Of the "Old-Timers", those who have been victims of the "Wanderlust" for more than twenty years, few are left, and while these are few in number, fewer are those who have recorded their singular adventures as they occurred.
     I believe by relating a few actual tramp experiences in the shape of this story, the reading public will find something novel and interesting concerning the bright, as well as the dark ways of the "Underworld"the more, as no stale jokes or love affairs are repeated.
     I sincerely hope that these "Hobo-Camp-Fire-Tales ' will meet with as good a reception as my first literary effort "The Life and Adventures of A-No. 1."
     I beg the reader to remember that, while these tales are strictly moral ones, no person can be a tramp and a saint at the same time.                                      THE AUTHOR.'

If one wishes to challenge the final sentence of Livingston's preface, then for those able to accept, as I have done elsewhere on this site, that Jesus of Nazareth (fictional or historical is irrelevant) was a tramp par excellence, this would be a helpful starting point. But to return to Livingston's own thesis of tramping, in the second chapter of Campfire Tales, he places tramps into two categories:

'the insolent, begging drunkard commonly called "tramp" by the press, and the inveterate wanderer ... a victim of an irresistible urging to keep constantly on the movea malady so well designated in the German language as the "Wanderlust." '

This broad division between the tramp-of-circumstances and the tramp-of-choice is referred to by most of the other tramp writers in this philosophy, except that in Livingston's case, he chooses to pathologise the tramp-of-choice by referring to wanderlust as a malady, and it's advocate as a victim. But then Livingston is not a helpful reference when it comes to the 'science' of tramping. For those who appreciate understanding human behaviour by forcing it into categories, tramp sociologists from the early 1900s such such as Ben Reitman and Nels Anderson (see Introduction) have provided over thirty classifications of tramps. What Livingston did helpfully catalogue and discuss, more formally than other tramp writers have done, is the parlance, codes, and symbols that American hobos used to communicate with each other concerning themselves and their environment. We are particularly indebted to Livingston for preserving, though not as some have claimed 'inventing', the information system of symbols carved by hobos into water tanks and mileposts, and described by him as 'The Code of the Road':


This sharing of intelligence about who to trust, what towns and sheriffs to avoid, the best places to hustle and find shelter, etc., are well documented by other tramp writers such as Josiah Flynt, Jack Everson, Bart Kennedy and Jack London, so no need to dwell further on Livingston's more instructional accounts. But the Camp Fire Tales are entertaining and do add further to the cultural legacy of hobohemia. Yarns, for instance, describing some of hobohemia's more colourful characters, and further evidence of the vagaries of the American legal system: Livingston and his companions alternatively get away with daylight robbery or get thrown into jail having committed no crime at all.

The moralising in this book focuses on the evils of tramps who entice youngsters into the hobo lifestyle, ending with the sentimental tale of a reformed tramp who, in his earlier life, had lured a young boy away from his parents to become his 'prushun', and then on the birth of his own son suffers remorse on account of his former actions. Although many of the tales told by Livingston and his companions relate the harsher aspects of tramping, they do also contain some lighter moments, such as the feast five starving tramps enjoy on discovering that a chef has forgotten to padlock the ice-box beneath a Pullman dining car:

'When we surveyed the results of our dining car raid we found that we possessed a hind quarter of veal, an assortment of veal, mutton and pork chops, four fat pullets and two dozen cans of fresh oysters which were labeled "Selected Oysters For Fine Trade Only".
     That night, until well into the small hours of the morning, there was a grand barbecue out in the jungle by the river! We were busy toasting, roasting and eating, without a pinch of salt, pepper nor a piece of bread, the meats, fowls and fish as only five thoroughly starved men, who did not see one chance in a thousand ahead of them to eat soon another meal, could do it.'

The Curse of Tramp Life

Livingston's third book, The Curse of Tramp Life, is introduced (as are his later 'novels') with the claim 'A True Story of Actual Tramp Life Written by Himself'. The reader will have to decide what elements of the book are based on actual experience and which are fiction, but here again Livingston expounds the dangerous effects of wanderlust on young boys, this time turning to the form of the Victorian sentimental novel—full of mawkish, clichéd descriptions of aristocrats and their slaves—to tell the tale of the runaway son of a southern land owning family. The following passages from the opening two pages of the book set up the plot as well as Livingston's newly adopted writing style:

'Off to one side, some distance from the manor are the "Negro quarters", that section set apart on every large southern estate, for the humble homes of the colored house servants and farm laborers. The most pretentious one of these was the home of the manor's expert cook, "Old Aunt Dinah," as "her folks up the hill" affectionately called the trusty old-timer who was considered part and parcel of the Braxton family.


After cautioning her pickaninniessome her own and others adopted to "hush up and behave," she turned to her husband and said, "Joe, pore Missus Braxton shore had another one of her crying spells to-day. My pore Missus! How sorrow is eating out her pore heart evah since her boy ran away." Then she wiped a tear away that had strayed down her ebony cheek


There upon the hill amongst the majestic oaks, in the upper story in the left wing of the Manor, a lighted lamp was moved from room to room. It was held by the hands of the lady of the manor, Mrs. Braxton, clad in her night gown, who now entered the spacious library where she held the brightly burning lamp high before the large picture of a handsome, manly boy of about seventeen, and with her handkerchief she carefully brushed away every particle of dust that might have adhered to the painting and then gazed long and longingly at that beautiful, life-size portrait of her own, only child, her runaway son, Buford.
     Tears were streaming down her pallid cheeks and wearily she set the lamp upon the heavy oaken library table, and sank into a chair and placing her head between her hands she wept bitterly. All alone with her sorrow, the mistress.'

Any authenticity that Livingston may have achieved in his first two books is now abandoned for the naked self-consciousness of the sensation seeking Victorian novel. But the book does have some original touches, such as the appearance of the author in the second chapter (describing himself in the third person) as one of the books characters:

'In the midst of this human whirlpool, leaning against a lamp-post, stood the Author of this book, whose general appearance, dressed as he was in a natty business suit, would never have revealed to the casual observer that the wearer followed the dangerous life of a professional tramp.'

Livingston then shifts to the form of the soliloquy before eventually reverting to the first person. And now, in a rare display of unselfconscious poetry, he describes the grip of wanderlust from whose addictive power it is impossible to shake oneself free (I will refer to these passages again in my summing-up):

' ... unable to longer refuse to obey, I listened to its implorings, and Lo! a strange sickening feeling of oppression overcame me, the mighty City of Cleveland had suddenly became too small to hold me, so small indeed, that I could hardly breathe, and then some one seemed to push me away from the lamppost and the next moment, with a bound, I was racing down the street, as if hounded by a fiend, to where I had hidden my overalls and snatching these, I ran to the New York Central Terminal. There I stopped long enough in its shadow to pull my overalls completely over my better clothes. Then, protected from observation by the stacked baggage I slipped through the baggage-room into the train shed, where, hiding behind the truck of an empty baggage car, I gave vent to a loud sigh, the sign of relief from the oppressive feeling, which only now, that I obeyed the "Call of Wanderlust," left me.'

And now, again, in the rest of this chapter and the next, we have Livingston back to his authentic and poetic best; here, unapologetically, describing the very life force of the true tramp adventurer:

'Yes, here in the darkness, hanging under the Pullman betwixt life and death, at last I found what only seemed to satisfy that devilish something. There, so close to death, that a mere slip would have put a sudden, horrible finish to my career, at least the "Wanderlust" seemed not to prod me, and as I watched those wheels ahead and in the rear of me slowly revolve, squeaking as they passed the many cross-overs and switches, I at last felt that I had given up everything but life itself, to please that bane of my existence. The faster those wheels revolved, the easier I felt, and as we passed beyond the electric lights of the City and the train gathered speed from a soft purring and murmuring, they began to sing, and when top speed of a mile a minute and over was attained, they fairly screamed with joy. There, hanging on with only those weak, human hands, out of reach of any possible succor, speeding through the night, I felt at peace with all the world.'

Livingston, supported by his intimate knowledge of tramp life, now successfully merges his real life experiences with the fanciful plot of the Victorian melodrama introduced in the first chapter; combining both genres for the purposes of a social campaign to affect a change in the law compelling judges to reunite runaway boys with their parents before resorting to custodial sentences—no small feat. In the chapters that follow, the book settles into an agreeable yarn in which Livingston, as the first person hero, having found and returned a missing diamond bracelet to its owner—Mrs Braxton, lady of the aforementioned manor—is then freed from the horrors of a chain gang to exploit the lady's loss of her son in his avowed mission to change the law concerning the treatment of child tramps:

' "Yes," I mused "it is not yet too late to incorporate into every state-code a law making it compulsory upon every judge to notify parents of runaway boys of their detention. Had this rule been, in force this very moment "Billy Brown, the Hobo Kid" would be once more "Master Buford of Braxton Manor, ... he could have never strayed very far away before he had been caught and returned to his anxious parents; could have never for a whole year been the companion of a grown-up tramp; could have never returned within eight miles of his good home only to wear the so-easily-changed, but never-to-be-forgiven striped garb of the felons; could have never been shut up in a narrow steel-barred cell with a criminal to follow this scoundrel out of the jail, to become lost in the wide, wide world, and there would be, never again, a poor brokenhearted mother, pleading with all, and God above, for the return of her wandering boy," '

The rest of the book recounts Livingston's mission to rescue the runaway boy from from his 'jocker' (older tramp who adopts a child tramp for companionship and as a partner in crime, begging, etc.—see Josiah Flynt) and returning him to his grieving mother. Tellingly, Livingston admits to this story being provoked by feelings of guilt towards the sorrow he caused his own mother.

The Trail of the Tramp

Livingston's fourth book, The Trail of the Tramp, once again concerns the author's obsession with child tramps or 'road kids'—opening thus:

'IT is my turn tonight to relate for your entertainment a story of my past, and I shall repeat to you the most pathetic happening that I have ever experienced in all my life. I have never been able to eradicate its details from my memory, as I witnessed its beginning with my own eyes, and its ending, many years later, was told to me by one of the principal participants. ... I shall relate to you a rarely strange story that will stir your hearts to their innermost depths and will cause you to shudder at the villainy of certain human beings, who, like vultures seeking carrion, hunt for other people's sons with the intention of turning them into tramps, beggars, drunkards and criminals into despised outcasts.'

In this version of the plight of the road kid, Livingston tells the tale of twin boys who run away from home following the death of their father. They are robbed and then befriended by two villains, one a confirmed tramp beggar and the other an armed criminal, only to then be separated for the first time since their birth. The twin who is conned into accompanying the tramp, ends up in a Denver camp full of other beggars and their road kids. Here Livingston again repeats his familiar refrain concerning the fate of those tricked into this form of tramping apprenticeship, and also the means by which the victims allegiance is secured (again, see Josiah Flynt's treatise on road kids):

'To have seen these road kids one would have never imagined that within the course of a few short years every one of these boys would be transformed into the same class of sodden wretches their jockers now were, who had trained them into the ways of the road, and that they in turn during their life time would spoil the futures of scores of sons of respectable parents, which proves that degeneration breeds degeneration. ... One of the road kids in the den of the plingers, who was known by the name of "Danny" ... had skipped school to hop freight trains in the railroad yards of his home city. One day he had watched some wandering hoboes cooking a mulligan by a campfire, and had helped to eat the stew, and through this had made the first acquaintance of his present jocker, who ... had trained him into making a living for both; had taught him first to drink, then to like and last to crave strong liquor, and although he treated the lad as a master would his slave, he gave him daily a regular allowance of diluted alcohol, which caused his young victim to quickly forget all desire to return to his home and his parents as there he could not secure the dram he yearned.'

Brutality is piled on brutality in Livingston's further composition on the evils of tramping, including graphic descriptions of the practice he refers to as 'busting a bronco', in which a newly recruited road kid who attempts to escape, is first beaten unconscious and then lavished with attention by his jocker as part of the dehumanising process of eliciting total obedience. At this point of his story, Livingston departs from his fiction to admit that:

'The actual experiences of the Author, who when a young boy was at one time a plinger's road kid, are embodied into this chapter and have been even far more revolting than herein described.'

Unlike Flynt, Livingston does not refer to the frequent sexual abuse of road kids. He uses the term 'plinger' to distinguish tramps who choose hustling and begging from 'yeggs' (out-and-out criminals who disdain plingers), often with the assistance of a child tramp sporting sores ('jiggers') or fake disabilities to elicit sympathy from their victims. In this book, plingers also abuse alcohol both for their own use and to develop a dependence among their young charges. Livingston's campaigning motives are never far from the surface of his storytelling, as when he breaks with his fiction to propose a solution to the road kid problem. And as Livingston describes that it was not just kids fleeing abuse but also those from loving families that succumbed to the guile and trickery of the jocker, his proposed change to the law (below) of offering aid rather than custodial sentences to young boys caught begging, seems eminently logical:

'Should any minor be found beyond the limits of his legal residence tramping, peddling, begging or stealing at the command or for the benefit of an adult person, who cannot prove that he had the legal consent of the minor's guardian, then this adult person shall be sentenced to a long term at hard labor in the state penitentiary.'

The remainder of the book involves the quest of the twin who had been duped by the yegg, in tracking down his brother who had been led astray by the plinger. The latter only escaping the fate of less fortunate road kids by being arrested while carrying out his jocker's dirty work and serving a prison sentence for his trouble. Livingston has by this time perfected the art of writing the plot and character driven suspense novel, embellished as they are by his intimate knowledge of tramping, especially his experience of having lived the life of a road kid himself from the age of eleven.

'The Adventures of a Female Tramp', 'The Ways of the Hobo', 'The Snare of the Road' and 'Mother Delcassee of the Hobos'

Livingston opens his fifth book, 'The Adventures of a Female Tramp', with a brief history of the American hobo pre and post the American Civil War and the financial crash of 1869 (Black Friday); but as these events are already covered in my Introduction I will not repeat them here. Livingston is now into full swing as a novelist with a tried and tested formula that piles tragedy upon tragedy before concluding his book with the most unlikely of reunions and happy-endings. The underlying message of this tale, as with others, is the folly of tramping and the inhuman and heartless treatment of child tramps, of which the heroine of this story is just a further example—starting her tramping career disguised as a boy. After a successful business venture and marriage, an ex-hobo, suffers a resurgence of wanderlust and drags his new wife along with him to certain disaster. But, other than the entertaining twists and turns of the romantic thriller come bildungsroman, this volume adds nothing of particular substance regarding women tramps than is discussed elsewhere on this site. 

The subtitle of Livingston's sixth book, The Ways of the Hobo, reads 'A Book of Educational Worth in connection with the National Demand for a Solving of the Tramp Problem'. Livingston is now well into his campaigning stride even if his refrain has now become repetitive, as the opening passages of the preface to this volume indicate:

'THE Road took thirty of the best years of my life ere I broke its bonds as if by a miracle. While I traveled with tramps I did missionary work among them, but failed to induce even one of the three hundred thousand chronic hoboes who ceaselessly and at will range over this continent, to forsake his unnatural existence. ... I set to the task of saving penny upon penny, at the same time studying (at the age of thirty-five) the "First Reader" and other literature of primary learning. Thus, but insufficiently equipped, I attacked the Road by writing and publishing books which exposed its foremost curse the boy tramp shame.'

Apart from the appearance of Livingston's manifesto on the tramping problem appearing halfway through the book, The Ways of the Hobo is another collection of hobo stories similar to those narrated in Campfire Tales, only this time related by a group of hobos to the landlady of a boarding-house. Livingston's tramping anecdotes are lively and entertaining, but the obvious fondness and pride in the manner he relates his tramping career is difficult to reconcile with the political posturing on the evils of tramping that preface his books.

The Snare of the Road is yet another treatise on the dangers facing child tramps, partly anecdotal, part autobiographical fact and fiction, there seems no end to the tramping tales collected or experienced by Livingston, and all the while interspersed with cultural references such as yet another version of the classification of American tramps discussed in my introduction:

'In accordance with the method of travel they prefer when hoboing over the country, tramps are classed in three grand divisions: "Pikers" they are called who walk; "Rattlers," who ride freight cars, and "Ramblers," who hobo passenger trains. The ramblers are further subdivided into two classes: "Foxes" are termed those who ride within the coaches by kiting hat checks, by occupying vacant berths, and by resorting to other tricks of cunning, and "Wolves" tramps who depend on brute strength to accomplish their ends. The wolves in their turn are graded into three distinct ratings: "Catters" those who ride the platforms of mail express and baggage cars, the tenders of engines, and similar places; "Danglers" those who suspend themselves from the rods upholding the coach bodies, straddle trucks and brakebeams, or attach themselves to other hazardous outholds beneath the passenger equipment, and last in line are the "Roofers" those who travel lying stretched full length upon the metallic roofs of the coaches. As mentioned, I was a rambler and my professional rating was that of a roofer. My favorite place of deadhead traveling was the roof of the dining car if such was hauled in the train I chanced to be hoboing.'

As with Camp Fire Tales and Ways of the Hobo, Livingston's ninth book, Mother Delcassee of the Hobos, provides another collection of hobo yarns, this time oddly narrated to a bunch of railroad employees in a train depot for their entertainment and enlightenment. As usual, the tales share amusing anecdotes concerning individual hobo characters, their adversaries, their benefactors, and the sundry scams and swindles they employ to survive. Of particular interest on pages 43 and 44 of Mother Delcassee is a comprehensive glossary of tramp classifications; some of which are mentioned elsewhere on this site but are reproduced here for easy reference: 

Coast to Coast with Jack London

The opening of Livingston's eighth book, Coast to Coast with Jack London, presents the author as already something of a minor celebrity. To prove his credentials to doubters (likely including himself) he describes a catalogue of supporting evidence of his deeds and achievements:

'There were recommendations galore donated by grateful railroad companies and others by individual railroaders for saving­ofttimes at the risk of serious personal injury­trains from wreck and disaster by giving timely warning of faulty condition of car or track equipment.  And letters penned by appreciative parents of youths, and others by some of the waywards themselves whom by the thousands I had induced to forsake an unnatural existence which was the straight path to mental, moral and physical perdition.  And newspaper clippings by the score which mentioned deeds worth while I had performed­in many instances years prior to the time publicity was accorded them.  And autographic commendations by a long line of national notables, such as Burbank, Edison, Admiral Dewey, three of the presidents of the United States, a governor general of Canada and others too many to enumerate in limited space.'

His success at self-promotion included newspaper and magazine interviews, and it was one of these that he claims inadvertently led to his meeting with—the as yet unknown—Jack London. Livingston had bet the editor of the Sunday World Magazine that the average citizen was so ignorant of the dangers of tramping that he would have no trouble in getting a response to a request for a companion to join him on a tramp from the east to the west coast. To test the proposal, the editor agreed to publish an ad in the Help-Wanted column: 'Wanted­travelmate by hobo contemplating roughing trip to California.' The response Livingston received was overwhelming, but as his ad was a hoax to prove a point he ignored the letters and would have made his departure the next day had he not been accosted in person by a confident youth of eighteen wanting to know when they could set off on their trip.

But here there seem inconsistencies in the telling of the tale. London's first book was published in 1900 at the age of twenty-four, ten years before Livingston published his first book. Livingston says that London was four years younger than him when they met, and that London was 'a youth of perhaps eighteen years' (which concurs with Livingston also saying that they made the trip in 1894). So Livingston could himself only have been around 22—surely to young to have come to the attention of three US presidents? As Coast to Coast was published in 1917, this would have been 23 years after Livingston's first meeting with London. So how does that square with Livingston's meeting with London resulting from a magazine interview with Livingston the celebrity tramp? Was Livingston confusing the trip with the date of publication of the book, now aged 45 and a minor celebrity who had settled down to married life.

Whatever the case, to add to the authenticity of his tale, Livingston reproduces some very touching letters from London (by this time very much the established author) to himself in the opening pages of Coast to Coast, both endorsing and encouraging his telling of their adventures, and in which London also refers to Livingston's wife. So I will simply ignore the conundrum and discuss the trip itself, assuming that at the time of their travels together they were first and foremost tramps, not yet writers. Indeed when they embarked upon their trip in 1894 they had not a cent between them. Though only eighteen, London himself already had a respectable tramping career behind him, and experience as a sailor also. And although he had responded to Livingston's ad as a companion for a trip from coast to coast, he himself acknowledged to be, 'out looking for a comrade with whom to hobo-cruise around the globe'. As was Josiah Flynt, London had been known by the moniker Cigaret, and also Sailor Jack. But I will curb any further description of his own tramping career as a future biography on my site will be devoted entirely to London, best known of all Victorian tramp writers.

This legendary trip did not get off to a great start. Without the six cents between them required to board the ferry to cross the Hudson River, the pair were ejected from Grand Central Station and then made their way to the New York Central freight yard from which they were also chased. After sharing a loaf of stale bread acquired by London with a third tramp, during the sleep that followed the pair were robbed of their shoes and coats by the ungrateful hobo. They managed to beat a train for seventy miles before being discovered by a railroad sleuth and locked up for their trouble. In the event, the beginning of the coast to coast trip proved even less agreeable than many of the tramp stories already narrated. What follows was the usual narrow escapes and near death experiences both with railway employees and brigands who pray on hoboes. This included several arrests and being dislodged from the rods beneath a speeding train by a brakeman playing out a line with a steel spike attached under the train; a common but deadly practice previously referred to on this site as the heavy pin ricochets at high velocity between the railway sleepers and train undercarriage, splintering anything not also solid steel on its way.

Part way through their coast to coast tramp, due to the relentless vigilance of railroad police, the pair were forced to spend some time in what Livingston describes as Chicago's hobo 'abyss'. My Introduction provides a description of the significantly expanded Chicago abyss, or 'main stem', some 30 years later, when it's vagrant population had reached up to 75,000. Livingston's account of his and London's visit to what would become the largest hobo mecca in the USA, is provided in the following description:

'In 1894 the abyss of Chicago reached northward on South Clark Street from the intersection of this thoroughfare with La Salle Street.  There the distance of several city squares was lined with buildings the owners or renters of which exclusively catered to the trade brought to town or created there by the transient wanderers of hobodom and peculiar to them only.  Other districts scattered over, the city held the hangouts of the local vagrant elements and the various subdivisions of the underworld.
     Bounding the Chicago abyss within narrow confines, actually it was the east side of the street only which held the cafes, the dime flopping dumps, the nickel restaurants and barber shops and the missions patronized by the uncouth hoboes.  Across the roadway, on the west side of South Clark, were cheap stores, the basement dens of vice of various degrees of viciousness presided over by slant-eyed Orientals and the boarding houses and booze resorts of low-caste Greeks, Sicilians and other human castaways of the nations of the universe.'

There follows a graphic description of the mean drinking dens and pseudo-religious missions of the Chicago abyss as our heroes unsuccessfully attempt to find food and shelter for the night. Their onward journey from that city resulted in the usual tramping adventures including a novel stay in the small town of Fairfax, Iowa, where the whole town ended up betting against each other on whether the pair would successfully board a train out of town. Naturally those who had bet in their favour kept them supplied with food and encouragement, and in spite of the odds that half the townsfolk, including police and railroad officials, made it their business to prevent the hobos boarding a train, their tramping skills won out. The whole of Coast to Coast is in fact a catalogue of cat and mouse yarns concerning the two future tramp writers and a host of infamous sadist policemen, such as the chain wielding Old Strikes and Bad Bill of Boone.

Accounts of the journey through Wyoming, Utah and Nevada, as it relates to rail travel by hobos and the various settlements and local history (e.g., the Milk and Honey routes through Mormon country and the Reno divorce colony of women), are uniquely informative for those interested in the subject. The pair made part of the final leg of their trip, to London's family home in Oakland, down the Sacramento river by rowing boat, before abandoning this mode of transport having been eaten alive by mosquitoes and delirious with malaria.

Any onward round the world trip was curtailed, as following a sumptuous meal prepared by Mrs London on the pairs arrival in Oakland, they were forced to take to separate sick beds to recover from malaria. When Livingston returned from his San Francisco convalescence to look for London, the latter's mother refused to provide his forwarding address; paradoxically—given Livingston's obsession with protecting road kids—suspecting the older tramp might rekindle her son's wanderlust; he having since given up the road for work in an up-state laundry.

But as we shall learn when I discuss that writer later, London did not abandon his round the world tramping ambitions. Livingston received a letter from London twelve years later when the latter was recovering in Tahiti from another tropical disease, having this time persuaded his now wife and a friend to accompany him on a seagoing tramp in the forty-five foot sailing boat, the Snark.

The Wife I Won

At the time I first published this biography on my site, I had still to obtain the one book of Livingston's that may have filled in an important part of his life story. The Wife I Won, unless a work of fiction, would have presumably covered that period of Livingston's life in which he decided to settle down to a more conventional life and, given his literary accomplishments, a more prosperous and comfortable existence. Tantalisingly, London had referred to Livingston's wife in the opening line of a letter he wrote to his old tramping companion dated 1st March 1917 (the year Coast to Coast was published):

'Dear A. No. 1:

     I can't seem to say "Dear Mr Livingston." And, as your wife is undoubtably proud of your remarkable career, she won't mind! '

But this was the only reference I could find regarding Livingston's wife in the nine books that I had reviewed. I simply failed to track down a copy of The Wife I Won and threw myself into researching my next biography on the Irish tramp writer Jim Phelan. Then, in the way one is often rewarded from the most unexpected quarters, another scholar of Phelan's work with whom I had been in correspondence—coincidently named Jim Phelan also—on reading my piece on Livingston, emailed me a link to a digital copy of The Wife I Won, which I immediately purchased for the grand sum of £0.61.

The book is every bit as strange as the title, being another odd collection of hobo stories, anecdotes and opinions (from employment and unemployment to politics and war) including a yarn on Livingston's only encounter with a Jewish tramp. One has to wait until the last chapter, 'The Wife I Won', to get any sense at all of the manner in which Livingston gave up tramping for domestic life.

Livingston recalls how, alone one day in a boxcar, he ended up in Erie, Pennsylvania, jumping from the car just as a train inspector was passing. Instead of the rough treatment he had come to expect, the railroad employee invited Livingstone to sit in his office by a fire and share a meal. So grateful was Livingston for the hospitality he received, that he promised to return one day and the following year sent the man a box of oranges from Florida by way of thanks; a welcome gift indeed in the bleak and cold Northern town. Then, in midsummer, Livingston made good his pledge to return to Erie where he received another warm welcome and was invited to stay with the man, his wife, and family, comprising four daughters and a son. 

The rest of the tale is predictable enough. Having been exposed to the vocal talents of the daughters and overcome by the moment (for reasons Livingston admits that, 'to this day I cannot explain how I came to express such a singular desire') he requested that they sing 'Home, Sweet Home'. Livingston continues:

'But it was too late for a retraction of my request, as presently Miss Mayme, the eldest, and of course, most comely of the interesting quartette of charming sisters, performed the song. When her pure soprano rang full through the room, I, who heretofore had always rated myself as being a most unemotional sort of chap, felt tears welling in my eyes—a first instance that on my long career of roving I had become conscience-stricken.'

Livingston is seated opposite the nineteen year old Mayme at dinner, furtive glances are exchanged, and, emotion now giving way to more practical concerns, Livingston dryly observes: 'All this occurred in just a brief moment, yet proved of a duration sufficient to have me instinctively realize that the time for my mating was at hand.' 

Livingston was at this time a confirmed bachelor in his early forties and had already published four books. Neither was his arrival at Erie a total coincidence. He had already set up his literary headquarters in Cambridge Springs, only 25 miles from Erie. In any case, following the usual inhibited courtship worthy of the Victorian romance (whose style Livingston was imitating in his fictions), the couple marry and settle down to family life. We know from earlier chapters of the book, that in 1918, at the end of World War One, Livingston, now nearing his fiftieth year, was living in Erie with his wife and children in their own home.


Livingston's wanderlust continued to haunt him even after he started his career as a writer. Just as with the trip that brought him to Erie and subsequent trip to Florida, Livingston continued to make tramping excursions whenever the craving took him. A newspaper reporter, George B. Love, writes of several meetings with Livingston. The first was in Atlantic City in the summer of 1907, the second two years later in the office of the Los Angeles Times. On his third meeting with Livingston in Jacksonville in the spring of 1912, Livingston had just published his first two books and gained in prosperity. On this occasion, Love reports that, Livingston was carrying two $50 bills in his pocket, copies of his books, clippings from newspapers from across the country of his life history, and he was staying at, 'a posh room at the Seminole Hotel.'

'The Rambler said he was on a mission, and to accomplish this mission he had improved his station in life, more than somewhat. ... The Rambler said his only goal in this late stage of life was to save the American boy from the siren song of the open road. ... ''Simply write of me as a man who wants to save young boys, and warns the women of Jacksonville not to harbor and feed boys who run away from home. It is these same boys that become the men you drive away from your back porches as worthless vagabonds." '

But, as Love further notes, 'not even fame and prosperity could dissuade the Rambler from his endless, aimless travel.' In an often quoted remark that sums up Livingston's tramping lifestyle, he confided to Love: 'When I started out the wanderlust was upon me and I enjoyed the zest of adventure. Later I traveled because it became a habit with me, and now, although I hate the life, I travel because I cannot stop.'

As of his death, one Livingston aficionado claims that the hobo writer was killed in a train wreck in Houston, Texas, in 1944, and is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery outside of Erie where he lived out his later years and published his books.

Putting his overt campaign against the perils of tramping and the blatant promotion of his self-published books to one side, the formidable range and magnitude of Livingston's tramping experiences—not least his remarkable adventures as a child tramp from age eleven—there is no doubt that Livingston is a strong contender for the title, 'King of the Hoboes', if length and breadth of career were a criteria. But such accolades go strictly against the individual and egalitarian concept of tramping, and this side of Livingston's character belies the honest and often self-deprecating portraits of himself in many of his stories. There is also the paradox of his public diatribes against tramping with the obvious fondness and passion he relates in his narratives as a practitioner of the vagabond art. And so perhaps we must just accept that Livingston was a complex and contradictory character. To speculate on the psychological effects of leaving home at eleven and never reconciling with his mother (maybe also carrying guilt occasioned by indirect suffering to other mothers) is a futile enterprise. The consequent campaign adopted by Livingston to dissuade other young men from following in his footsteps, provides its own indicators. But as Livingston's own accounts of being a child tramp are limited to his (albeit fascinating) adventures*, giving only clues to the traumas and abuses he must have suffered, we are left to speculate on the psychology behind this strange and unique body of work.

An aspect of Livingston's writing that is of particular interest to my work in progress is, once again, the distinctions made between the tramp-of-circumstances and the tramp-of-choice and, in respect of the latter, the powerful allure of that phenomena described as 'wanderlust'. Even in the case the child tramp, wanderlust cannot simply be explained away by the pull of fortune and adventures. There is no allure for the true tramp in pursuing riches. The raison d'être of tramping, in the timeless, metaphysical pull it has on the human psyche, is precisely to free oneself from such material preoccupations. Sadly, in the case of Livingston's writing, we have only glimpses of his true tramping spirit, preoccupied as he became with his own celebrity and the approval of conventional society. Nevertheless, for those with the patience to probe Livingston's work, these glimpses are there to be found hidden away between the storytelling and the lectures on the evils of tramping. 

One such clue to the spirit of tramping in which Livingston must surely have delighted, can be found in the two poetic prose passages reproduced above from The Curse of Tramp Life; writing that has parallels with similar emotions expressed by other tramp writers (see for instance Stephen Graham). The first of these is when Livingston describes the suffocating effects of a city, 'Lo! a strange sickening feeling of oppression overcame me, the mighty City of Cleveland had suddenly became (sic) too small to hold me, so small indeed, that I could hardly breathe.' And the second is when Livingston describes the thrill of hurtling at top speed through the night, hanging underneath a train only inches from the track: 'I at last felt that I had given up everything but life itself, to please that bane of my existence. ... There, hanging on with only those weak, human hands, out of reach of any possible succor, speeding through the night, I felt at peace with all the world.' These two passages reveal an important element of tramp psychology: that it is the momentum of tramping and not the destination that pulls the tramp ever onward. For although the tramp is occasionally forced to stop and rest from sheer exhaustion, sometimes due to illness or disability, the destination of his or her journey is always deferred. Livingston describes it above as a life force, without the constant onward movement of which the tramp is unable to breath, loses the reason for their existence.

*Although human brutality abounds in Livingston's books, severe self-censorship—to meet what he clearly believes to be Victorian sensibilities and their literary appetites, e.g., his note that, 'The author has carefully avoided the least mention of anything that would be unfit reading for ladies or children')—means that today's readers are denied many valuable insights into some significant realities of hoboism, and in particular the life of the 'prushun' or 'road kid'.


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Are you interested in any of the other tramp writers on the site?

  2. Really great coverage. I have all Livingtone's book that are avaiabke in digital. I have two photos of his A no.1 moniker, one recently foubd under a bridge, the other found on a scarp of wood from a torn down railroad station.Both can be found online.

    There is a modern hobo that in some ways is like Livingstone. He, sadly recently died falling from a bridge onto a tailroad yard. He went by Stobe the Hobo. His videos record his many rail trips, and tours of towns snd cities coast to coast. At the time of his death, he, like Livingstone, wanted to slow down the traveling and do commentary of his experiences abd philosophy of live.You can find him on YouTube.