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Title: Notes of an Itinerant Policeman
Author: Flynt, Josiah
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: JOSIAH FLYNT.]






_Copyright, 1900_



A number of the chapters in this book have appeared as separate papers
in the _Independent_, _Harper's Weekly_, the _Critic_, _Munsey's
Magazine_, and in publications connected with McClure's Syndicate; but
much of the material is new, and all of the articles have been revised
before being republished.


For a number of years it had been a wish of mine to have an experience
as a police officer, to come in contact with tramps and criminals, as a
representative of the law. Not that I bore these people any personal
grudge, or desired to carry out any pet policy in dealing with them; but
I had learned to know them pretty intimately as companions in
lodging-houses and at camp-fires, and had observed them rather carefully
as prisoners in jails, and I was anxious to supplement this knowledge of
them with an inquiry in regard to the impression they make on the man
whose business it is to keep an official watch over them while they are
in the open. I desired also to learn more concerning the professional
offender than it had been possible for me to find about him in tramp
life. If one has the courage to go and live with professional criminals
as one of them, he can become even more intimate with them than in a
police force, but it is very difficult to associate with their class
long and not be compelled to take an active part in their criminal
enterprises, and my interest in them was not so great that I was
prepared to do this. I merely wanted to know how strong they are as a
class, in which sections of the country they are the most numerous,
whether they have peculiar characteristics differentiating them in
public thoroughfares from other types of outlaws, how they live, and
what is the general attitude toward them of our police and prison
authorities. Partial answers to these questions I had been able to get
in Hoboland, but I was anxious to fill them out and get any new facts
that would throw light on the general situation.

During the spring and summer of last year (1899) it was possible for me
to have a police officer's experience. The chief of a large railroad
police force gave me a position as a patrolman, and, in company of two
other officers, I was put on a "beat" extending over two thousand miles
of railroad property. The work we were given to do was somewhat of an
innovation, but it afforded me an excellent opportunity to secure the
information I desired. For two months and a half, which was the extent
of my connection with the undertaking and with the force, we had to
travel over the property, protecting picnic trains, big excursions,
passengers travelling to and from towns where circuses were exhibiting,
and the ordinary scheduled traffic, whenever there was reason to believe
that pickpockets and other thieves were likely to put in an appearance.

Early in the spring wandering bands of thieves start out on tours of the
railroads. They follow up circuses and picnics, and make it a point to
attend all big gatherings, such as county fairs, races, conclaves, and
congresses. Their main "graft," or business, is pocket-picking, but in a
well-equipped "mob" there are also burglars, sneak-thieves, and
professional gamblers. The pickpockets and gamblers operate, when they
can, on passenger trains, and they have become so numerous and
troublesome in a number of States that railroad companies are compelled
to furnish their own protection for their patrons.

This protection, on the road for which I worked, has generally been
provided for by the stationary members of the force, and more or less
satisfactorily, but last year the chief wanted to experiment with "a
flying squadron" of officers, so to speak, who were to go all over the
property and assist the stationary men as emergency required, and we
three were chosen for this work. In this way it was possible for me to
come in contact with a large variety of offenders, to make comparisons,
and to see how extensively criminals travel. It was also easy for me to
get an insight into the workings of different police organisations along
the line, and to inspect carefully lock-ups, jails, workhouses and

In the following chapters I have tried to give an account of my finding
in the police business, to bring out the facts about the man who makes
his living and keeps up a bank account by professional thieving, to tell
the truth in regard to "the unknown thief" in official life who makes it
possible for the known thief to prey upon the public, and to describe
some of the tramps and out-of-works who wander up and down the country
on the railroads. There is much more to be said concerning these matters
than will be found in this little book, but there are a great many
persons who have no means of finding out anything about any one of them,
and it is to such that my remarks are addressed. Until the general
public takes an interest in making police life cleaner and in
eliminating the professional offender and the dishonest public servant
from the problems which crime in this country brings up for solution,
very little can be accomplished by the police reformer or the



The first duty of a policeman, no matter what kind of a police force he
belongs to, is to inform himself in regard to the people in his
bailiwick who are likely to give him trouble. In a municipal force an
officer can only be required to know thoroughly the situation on his
particular beat; if he can inform himself about other districts as well,
he is so much more valuable to the department, but he is not expected to
do much more than get acquainted with the people under his immediate
surveillance. In a railroad police force it is different, and it is
required of the officer that he study carefully the criminal situation
in all the towns and villages on the division on which he is stationed.
Some divisions are longer than others, but the average railroad
policeman's beat is not less than sixty miles, and in some cases nearly
two hundred. Mine, as I have stated, was over two thousand miles long,
and it took in five different States and nearly all the large cities in
the middle West. I was, consequently, in a position to acquaint myself
pretty thoroughly with the criminal classes in one of the most populous
and representative parts of the country. Offenders differ, of course, in
different localities, and one is not justified in drawing sweeping
conclusions concerning all of them from the study of a single type, but
my work was of such a nature that, in the course of my investigations, I
encountered, indoors and out, the most frequent offenders with whom the
policeman and penologist have to deal. It would take a large book merely
to classify and describe the different types, but there is a general
analysis that can be made without any great sacrifice of fact, and it is
this I desire to attempt in this chapter.

There are six distinct categories of offenders in the United States to
which may be assigned, as they are apprehended and classified, the great
majority of our lawbreakers. They are: the occasional or petty offender,
the tramp, the "backwoods" criminal, the professional criminal, the
"unknown" thief, and what, for want of a better name, I call the
diseased or irresponsible criminal. All of these different types are to
be found on the railroads, and the railroad police officer must know
them when he sees them.

The largest class is that of the petty offenders, and it is in this
category that are found the majority of the criminally inclined
foreigners who have emigrated to our shores. It is a popular notion that
Europe has sent us a great many very desperate evil-doers, and we are
inclined to excuse the increase of crime in the country on the ground
that we have neglected to regulate immigration; but the facts are that
we have ourselves evolved as cruel and cunning criminals as any that
Europe may have foisted upon us, and that the foreigners' offences are
generally of a minor character, and, in a number of instances, the
result of a misunderstanding of the requirements of law in this country,
rather than of wilful evil-doing. I hold no brief for the strangers in
our midst in this connection; it would be very consoling, indeed, to
know that we ourselves are so upright and honest that we are incapable
of committing crimes, and, this being proved, a comparatively easy task
to lessen the amount of crime; but there is no evidence to show that
this is the case. The majority of the men, women, and children that I
found in jails, workhouses, and penitentiaries, on my recent travels,
were born and brought up in this country, and they admitted the fact on
being arrested. If the reader desires more particular information
concerning this question, the annual police reports of our large cities
will be found useful; I have examined a number of them, and they
substantiate my own personal finding. In some communities the
proportion of foreign offenders to the general foreign population is
greater than that of native offenders to the general native population,
but I doubt whether this will be found to be the case throughout the
country; and even where it is, I think there is an explanation to be
given which does not necessarily excuse the crimes committed, but, in my
opinion, does tone down a little the reproach of wilfulness. The average
foreigner who comes to the United States looks upon the journey as an
escape; he is henceforth released, he thinks,--and we ourselves have
often helped to make him think so,--from the stiff rule of law and order
in vogue in his own land. He comes to us ignorant of our laws, and with
but little more appreciation of our institutions than that he fancies he
is for evermore "a free man." In a great many cases he interprets "free"
to mean an independence which would be impossible in any civilised
country, and then begins a series of petty offences against our laws
which land him, from time to time, in the lock-up, and, on occasions,
in jail. Theft is a crime in this country as well as elsewhere, and we
can make no distinction in our courts between the foreigner and native,
but I have known foreigners to pilfer things which they thought they
were justified in taking in this "liberal land;" they considered them
common property. Some never get over the false notions they have of our
customs and institutions, and develop into what may be termed occasional
petty thieves; they steal whenever the opportunity seems favourable. It
is this class of offenders, consisting of both natives and foreigners,
that is found most frequently in our police courts and corrective

I have put the tramp next to the occasional offender in numerical
importance, and I believe this to be his place in a general census of
the criminal population, but it is thought by some that his class is the
most numerous of all. Doubtless one of the reasons why he is considered
so strong is that he is to be found in every town and village in the
country. It must be remembered, however, that he is continually in
transit, thanks to the railroads, and is now in one town and to-morrow
in another. In both, however, he is considered by the public to
represent two distinct individuals, and is included in the tramp census
of each community. In this way the same man may figure a dozen times, in
the course of a winter, in the enumeration of a town's vagabonds, but as
a member of the tramp population he can rightfully be counted but once.
It is furthermore to be remarked concerning this class that a great many
wanderers are included in it who are not actual vagabonds. The word
tramp in the United States is made to cover practically every traveller
of the road, and yet there are thousands who have no membership in the
real tramp fraternity. Some are genuine seekers of work, others are
adventuresome youths who pay their way as far as food and lodging are
concerned, and still others are simple gipsy folk. The genuine tramp is
a being by himself, known in this country as the "hobo." The experienced
railroad police officer can pick him out of a general gathering of
roadsters nearly every time, and the man himself is equally expert in
discovering amateur roadsters. I will describe one of the first men I
learned to know in Hoboland; he is typical of the majority of the
successful tramps that I met during my experience as a police officer.

His name was "Whitey,"--St. Louis Whitey,--and I fell in with him on the
railroad, as is the case in almost all hobo acquaintances. He was
sitting on a pile of ties when I first saw him. "On the road, Jack?" he
said, in a hoarse, rasping voice, sizing me up with sharp gray eyes in
that all-embracing glance which hoboes so soon acquire. They judge a man
in this one glimpse as well as most people can in a week's
companionship. I smiled and nodded my head. "Bound West?"


"The through freight comes through here pretty soon. I'm goin' West,
too. This is a good place to catch freights." I sat down beside him on
the ties, and we exchanged comments on the weather, the friendliness of
the railroad we were on, the towns we expected to pass through, some of
the tramps we had met, and other "road" matters, taking mental notes of
each other as we talked. I noticed his voice, how he was dressed, where
he seemed to have been, the kind of tramps he spoke most about, how he
judged whether a town was "good" or not, whether he bragged, and other
little things necessary to know in forming an opinion of all such men;
he observed me from the same view-point. This is the hobo's way of
getting acquainted, of finding out if he can "pal" with a man. There are
no letters of introduction explaining these things; each person must
discover them for himself, and a man is accepted entirely on the
impression that he makes. A few men have great names that serve as
recommendations at "hang-outs," but they must make their friends
entirely on their merits.

Merely as a hobo there was nothing very peculiar about "Whitey." He
looked to be about forty years old, and knew American tramp life in all
its phases. His face was weather-beaten and scarred, and his hands were
tattooed. He dressed fairly well, had read considerably, mainly in
jails, wrote a good hand, knew the rudiments of grammar, and almost
always had money in his pockets. He made no pretensions to be anything
but a hobo, but the average person would hardly have taken him for this.
He might have passed in the street as a sailor, and on railroads he was
often taken for a brakeman. I did not learn his history before becoming
a tramp,--it is not considered good form to ask questions about this
part of a man's life,--but from remarks that he dropped from time to
time I inferred that he had once been a mechanic. He was well informed
about the construction of engines, and could talk with machinists like
one of their own kind. He had been a tramp about eight years when I
first met him, and had learned how to make it pay. He begged for a
thing, if it was possible to be begged, until he got it, and he ate his
three meals a day, "set downs" he called them, as regularly as the time
for them came around. I was with him for two weeks, and he lived during
this time as well as a man does with $1,500 a year. His philosophy
declared that what other people eat and wear he could also eat and wear
if he presented himself at the right moment and in the right way, and he
made it his business to study human nature. While I travelled with him
he begged for everything, from a needle to a suit of clothes, and did
not hesitate to ask a theatre manager for free tickets to a play for
both of us, which he got.

What made him a tramp, an inhabitant of Hoboland, was that he had given
up the last shred of hope of ever amounting to anything in decent
society. Every plan that he made to "get on" pertained exclusively to
his narrow tramp world, and I cannot recall hearing him even envy any
one in a respected position. I tried several times to sound him
concerning a possible return to respectable living, and tentatively
suggested work which I thought he could do, but I might as well have
proposed a flying trip. "It's over with me," was his invariable reply.
His fits of drunkenness--they came, he told me, every six weeks or
so--had incapacitated him for steady employment, and he did not intend
to give any more employers the privilege of discharging him. He had no
particular grudge against society, he admitted that he was his own worst
enemy; but, as it was impossible for him to live in society respectably,
he deemed it not unwise to get all he could out of it as a tramp. "I'm
goin' to hell anyhow," he said, "and I might as well go in style as in
rags." Being considerably younger than he, he once barely suggested that
perhaps I would better try to "brace up," but it was in no sense of the
word an earnest appeal. Indeed, he seemed later to regret the remark,
for it is out of order to make such suggestions to tramps. If they want
to reform, the idea is that they can do it by themselves without any
hints from friends.

As a man, separate from his business, "Whitey" was what most persons
would call a good fellow. He was modest, always willing to do a favour,
and everybody seemed to like him. During our companionship we never had
a quarrel, and he helped me through many a strait. I have seen him once
again since the first meeting. He was not quite so well dressed as
formerly, and his health seemed to be breaking up, but he was the same
good fellow. In late years I have not been able to get news of him
beyond the rumour that he was dying of consumption in Mexico.

The menace of the tramp class to the country seems to me to consist
mainly in the example they set to the casual working man,--the man who
is looking around for an excuse to quit work,--and in the fact that they
frequently recruit their ranks with young boys. It is also to be said of
them that they are often in evidence at strikes, and take part in the
most violent demonstrations. As trespassers on railroads they are
notorious; they are a constant source of trouble to the railroad police
officer. Strictly speaking, the majority of them cannot be called
criminals, although a great many of them are discouraged criminals, but
in the chapter dealing with "The Lake Shore Push" it will be seen how
ferocious some of them become.

The next largest class is composed of what I call backwoods criminals.
Scattered over the country, in nearly every State of the Union, are to
be found districts where people live practically without the pale of the
law. These places are not so frequent in the East as in the West, in the
North as in the South, but they exist in New England as well as in
Western States. They are generally situated far away from any railroad,
and the inhabitants seldom come in touch with the outside world. The
offenders are mainly Americans, but of a degenerated type. They resemble
Americans in looks, and have certain American mental characteristics,
but otherwise they are a deteriorated collection of people who commit
the most heinous offences in the criminal calendar without realising
that they are doing anything reprehensible. I have encountered these
miniature "Whitechapels" mainly on my excursions in tramp life, but I
had to be on the lookout for them during the police experience. In one
of the States which my "beat" traversed, I was told by my chief that
there was a number of such communities, and that they turned out more
criminals to the population in a year than the average large city. One
day, while travelling in a "caboose" with a native of the State in
question, I asked him how it came that it tolerated such nests of crime,
but he was too loyal to admit their existence. "We used to have a lot of
them," he explained, "but we've cleaned them up. You see, when we
discovered natural gas, it boomed everything, and we've been building
railroads and schools all over. No; you won't find those eyesores any
more; we're as moral a State to-day as any in the Union." It was a
pardonable pride that the man took in his State, but he was mistaken
about the matter in question. There are communities not over a hundred
and fifty miles from his own town where serious crimes are committed
every day, and no court ever hears of them because they are not
considered crimes by the people who take part in them. Not that these
people are fundamentally deficient in moral attributes, or unequal to
instruction as to the law of Mine and Thine, but they are so out of
touch with the world that they have forgotten, if indeed they ever knew,
that the things they do are criminal.

It is impossible at present to get trustworthy statistics in regard to
this class, because no one knows all of its haunts, but if it were
possible, and the entire story about it were told, there would be less
hue and cry about the evil that the foreigners among us do. I refer to
the class without advancing any statistics, because it came within my
province as a police officer to keep track of it, and because it had
attracted my attention as an observer of tramp life; but it is well
worth the serious consideration of the criminologist.

The professional criminal, or the habitual offender, as he is called by
some, comes next in numerical strength, but first of all, in my opinion,
in importance. I consider him the most important because he frankly
admits that he makes a business of crime, and is prepared to suffer any
consequences that his offences may bring upon him. It is he who makes
crime a constant temptation to the occasional offender, and it is also
he with whom we have the most trouble in our criminal courts; he is
almost as hard to convict as the man with "political influence." On my
"beat" he was more in evidence, in the open at least, than any of the
other offenders mentioned, except the tramp, but, as I stated, the warm
months are the time when he comes out of his hiding-places, and it was
natural that I should see a good deal of him.

My fifth category is made up of what a friend calls "the unknown thief,"
whom he considers the most dangerous and despicable of all. He means, by
the unknown thief, the man in official life, or in any position which
permits of it, who protects, for the sake of compensation, the known
thief. "If you will catch the unknown thief," he has frequently said to
me, "I will contract to apprehend and convict the known," and he
believes that until we make a crusade against the former, the latter is
bound to flourish in spite of all our efforts. He sees no use, for
instance, in spending weeks and sometimes months in trying to capture
some well-known criminal, as long as it is possible for the man to buy
his freedom back again, and it is his firm belief that this kind of
bargaining is going on every day.

Although there was no doubt that the unknown thief was to be located on
any "beat," if looked for, my instructions were not to disturb him
unless he seriously disturbed me, and as he made no effort to interfere
with my work I merely made a note of his case when we met, and doubtless
he also "sized me up" from his point of view. How strong his class is,
compared with the others, must remain a matter of conjecture, but I have
put his class fourth in my description because it is the quality of his
offences, rather than their quantity, which makes his presence in the
criminal world so significant. There are those who believe that he is
to be found in every town and village in the United States, if enough
money is offered him as bait, but I have not sufficient data to prove,
or to make me believe, such a statement. The league between him and the
known thief--the man whose photograph is in the "rogue's gallery"--is so
close, however, that I have devoted special chapters to both offenders.

Of the last category, the man whom I have called the irresponsible
criminal, there is not much of interest or value that I have to report.
While acting as police officer I practically never encountered him in
the open, and the few members of his class that I saw in prisons seemed
to me to have become irresponsible largely during their imprisonment.
Perhaps I take a wrong view of the matter, but I cannot get over the
belief that the majority of offenders, particularly those who are ranked
as "professionals," are _compos mentis_ as far as the law need require.
In every department of the prisons that I visited, men were to be seen
who gave the impression of being at least queer, but they formed but a
very small part of the prison population, and may very possibly have
been shamming the eccentricities which seemed to indicate that they were
on the border line of insanity. For this reason, and, as I say, because
I met none in the open, it has seemed fair to put this class last.

The foregoing classification is naturally not meant as a scientific
description in the sense that the professional criminologist would take
up the matter. I have merely tried to explain how the criminal situation
in the United States seems to the man whose business it is to keep an
official watch over it. I may have overlooked, in my classification,
offenders that some of my brother officers would have included, but it
stands for the general impression I got of the criminal world while in
their company. To attempt to estimate the numerical strength of these
classes as a whole would land one in a bewildering bog of guesses. It is
only recently that we have made any serious effort to keep a record of
offenders shut up in penal institutions, of crimes which have been
detected and of offenders who have been punished, and it is a fact well
known in police circles that there is a great deal of crime which is
never ferreted out. There is consequently very little use in trying to
calculate the number of the entire criminal population. The most that I
can say in regard to the question is that never before has this
population seemed to me to be so large, but I ought to admit that not
until my recent experience have I had such an advantageous point of view
from which to make observations.



In appearance and manner the professional criminal has not changed much
in the last decade. I knew him first over ten years ago, when making my
earliest studies of tramp life. I saw him again five years ago, while on
a short trip in Hoboland, and we have met recently on the railroads; and
he looks just about as he did when we first got acquainted.

Ordinarily he would not be noticed in mixed company by others than those
accustomed to his ways. He is not like the tramp, whom practically any
one can pick out in a crowd. He dresses well, can often carry himself
like a gentleman, and generally has a snug sum of money in his pockets.
It is his face, voice, and habits of companionship that mark him for
what he is. Not that there is necessarily that in his countenance which
Lombroso would have us believe signifies that he is a degenerate,
congenitally deformed or insane, but rather that the life he leads gives
him a look which the trained observer knows as "the mug of a crook." He
can no more change this look after reaching manhood than can a genuinely
honest man, who has never been in prison, acquire it. I had learned to
know it, and had become practised in discovering it, long before I
became a policeman. It took me years to reach the stage when in merely
looking hurriedly at a criminal something instinctively pronounced him a
thief, but such a time certainly comes to him who sojourns much in
criminal environment. There are, of course, certain special features and
wrinkles that one looks for, and that help in the general summing up,
but after awhile these are not thought of in judging a man, at least not
consciously, and the observer bases his opinion on instinctive feeling.
Given the stylish clothes to which I have referred, a hard face,
suspicious eyes which seem to take in everything, a loitering walk, a
peculiar guttural cough, given by way of signal, and called the thief's
cough, and a habit of lingering about places where a "sporty"
constituency is usually to be found, and there is pretty conclusive
evidence that a professional thief is in view. All of this evidence is
not always at hand; sometimes there is only the cough to go by, but, the
circumstances being suspicious, any one of them is sufficient to make an
expert observer look quickly and prick up his ears.

In New York City, for instance, there are streets in which professional
thieves can be met by the dozen, if one understands how to identify
them, and it is only necessary to pass a few words and they can be drawn
into conversation. Some are dressed better than others,--there are a
great many ups and downs in the profession,--and some look less typical
than the more experienced men,--it takes time for the life to leave its
traces,--but there they stand, the young and old, the clever and the
stupid, for any one who knows how to scrape acquaintance with them.
They are the most difficult people in the world to learn to know well
until one has mastered their freemasonry, and then they are but little
more fearful of approach than is the tramp.

I devote a special chapter to their class, because I believe that they
are the least understood of all offenders, and also, as I stated in the
last chapter, because I consider them the real crux of the problem of
crime in this country. The petty offender is comparatively easy to
discourage, the backwoods criminal will disappear as our country
develops, the born criminal, the man who says that he cannot help
committing crimes, can be shut up indefinitely, but the professional
criminal, thanks to his own cleverness and the league he and the unknown
thief have entered into, baffles both the criminologist and the
penologist, and he probably does more financial harm to the country than
all the other offenders put together. He is the man that we must
apprehend and punish before crime in the United States will fail to be
attractive, and at the present moment it is its attractiveness which
helps to make our criminal statistics so alarming.

I have placed him fourth in numerical strength in my general
classification, and I believe this to be a correct estimate of the
number of those who really make their living by professional thieving.
If those are to be included who would like to succeed as professional
thieves and fail, and drop down sooner or later into the occasional
criminal's class, or into the tramp's class, the position I have given
the so-called successful "professional" would have to be changed; but it
has seemed best to confine the class to those who are rated successful,
and on this basis I doubt whether an actual census taking, if it were
possible, would prove them to be more numerous than I have indicated.
Seeing and hearing so much of them on my travels, I made every effort to
secure trustworthy statistics in regard to their number, and as the
majority of them are known to the police, it seemed reasonable to
suppose that, if I passed around enough among different police
organisations, I ought to get satisfactory figures, but the fact of the
matter is that the police themselves can only make guesses concerning
the general situation, and I am unable to do any better.

When putting queries concerning the number of the offenders in question,
my informants wanted me to differentiate and ask them about particular
kinds of professionals before they would reply. One very well informed
detective, for instance, said: "Do you mean the whole push, or just the
A Number One guns? If you mean the push, why you're safe in saying that
there are 100,000 in the whole country, but the most of 'em are a pretty
poor lot. If you mean the really good people, 10,000 will take 'em all

The cities which were reported to have turned out the greatest number
were New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Buffalo,
Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and San Francisco. Chicago
was given the palm for being, at the present moment, the main stronghold
of habitual criminals. Nearly every photograph I saw of a young
offender was said to represent one of Chicago's hopefuls, and the
pictures of the old men were generally described as the likenesses of
New York City "talent." Chicago's lead in the number of "professionals"
was explained by one man on the ground that it is a Mecca and Medina
"for young fellows who have got into some scrape in the East. They go to
Chicago, get in with the push, and then start out on the road. The older
men train them."

A question that I was continually putting to myself when meeting the
"professional" was: What made him choose such a career? He is
intelligent, agreeable to talk to, pleasant as a travelling companion,
and among his kind a fairly good fellow, and why did he not put these
abilities and talents to a better use? To understand him well I believe
that one must make his acquaintance while he is still living at home, as
a boy, in some city "slum." He does not always come from a slum, but, as
a rule, this is where he begins his criminal career. In every quarter
of this character there is a criminal atmosphere. The criminologists
have not given this fact sufficient prominence in their writings. They
make some mention of it, but it is seldom given its true significance in
their books. The best-born lad in the world can go wrong if forced to
live in this corrupt environment. Not that he is necessarily taught to
commit crimes, or urged to, although this sometimes happens; they become
spontaneous actions on his part. The very air he breathes frequently
incites him to criminal deeds, and practice makes him skilful and
expert. In another environment, in nine cases out of ten, he could be
trained to take an interest in upright living; in this one he follows
the lines of least resistance, and becomes a thief.

Let me describe the childhood of a criminal boy who will serve as a type
for thousands.

He was born in one of the slums of New York, not far from the Bowery,
and within a stone's throw of the clock of Cooper Institute, and the
white spire of Grace Church. From the very start he was what is called
an unwelcome child. Not that there was any particular dislike toward him
personally, but his parents had all they could do, and more too, to care
for the half dozen other children who had come to them, and, when he
appeared, there was hardly any room in the house left. He grew up with
the sense of want always present, and when he got into the street with
the other children of the neighbourhood, it became even more oppressive.
Pretty soon he learned from the example of his playmates that begging
sometimes helps to quiet a boy's hunger, and that pilfering from the
grocer's sidewalk display makes the dinner at home more substantial.
These are bits of slum philosophy that every child living in slums
learns to appreciate sooner or later. The lad in question was no
exception. He was soon initiated into the clique, and played his own
part in these miniature bread riots. He did not appreciate their
criminal significance. All he knew was that his stomach was empty and
that he wanted the things he saw in the shops and streets. He was like a
baby who sees a pretty colour gleaming on the carpet, and, without
counting the cost or pains, creeps after it. He knew nothing of the law
of Mine and Thine, except as the thing desired was held fast in the fist
of its owner. Not that he was deformed in his moral nature, or naturally
lacking in moral power, but this nature and power had never been
trained. Like his body, they had been neglected and forgotten, and it is
no surprise that they failed to develop. Had somebody taken him out of
his "slum" environment, and taught him how to be respectable and honest,
his talents might have been put to good uses, but luck, as he calls
circumstances, was against him, and he had to stay in low life.

In this life there is, as a rule, but one ideal for a boy, and that is
successful thieving. He sees men, to be sure, who find gambling more
profitable, as well as safer, and still others humble enough to content
themselves with simple begging, but as a lad truly ambitious and anxious
to get on rapidly, he must join the "crook's" fraternity. There is also
a fascination about crime which appeals to him. Men describe it
differently, but they all agree that it has a great deal to do in making
criminals. My own idea is that it lies in the excitement of trying to
elude justice. I know from experience as an amateur tramp that there is
a great deal of satisfaction in slipping away from a policeman just as
he is on the point of catching you, and I can easily understand how much
greater the pleasure must be to a man, who, in thus dodging the officer,
escapes not simply a few days in a county jail, but long years in a
penitentiary. It is the most exciting business in the world, and for men
equal to its vicissitudes it must have great attractions.

In time it interested the boy I am describing. At first he thieved
because it was the only way he knew to still his hunger, but as he grew
older the idea of gain developed, and he threw himself body and soul
into the thief's career. He had been brought up in crime, taught to
regard it as a profitable field of labour, full of exciting chase and
often splendid capture, and naturally it was the activity that appealed
to him. He knew that he had certain abilities for criminal enterprises,
that there was a possibility of making them pay, and he determined to
trust to luck. The reader may exclaim here: "But this boy must have been
a phenomenon. No lad wilfully chooses such a career so young." He was in
all respects an average slum boy in his ambitions and maturity, and if
he seems extraordinary to the reader, the only explanation I can give is
that low life develops its characters with unusual rapidity. Outcast
boys are in business and struggling for a place in the world long before
the respectable boy has even had a glimpse of it. This comes of
competition. They must either jump into the fray or die. The child in
them is killed long before it has had a chance to expand, and the man
develops with hothouse haste. It is abnormal, but it is true, and it all
goes to show how the boy in question was registered so early in the
criminal calendar. He had to make his living, he had to choose a
business, and his precocity, if I may call it that, was simply the
result of being forced so early into the "swim." He ought to have been a
frolicsome child, fond of ball and marbles, but he had but little time
for such amusements. Money was what he wanted, and he rushed pell-mell
in search of it. I will leave him in the company of hardened tramps and
criminals, into which he soon drifted, and among whom he made a name for

The resolution to be a "professional" comes later with some lads than
with others. Until well on into their teens, and sometimes even into
their twenties, there are those who merely drift, stealing when they can
and managing otherwise when they can't. Finally they are arrested,
convicted, and sent to state prison. Here there is the same criminal
atmosphere that they were accustomed to in the open, only more of it. Go
where they will in their world, they cannot escape it. In prison they
form acquaintances and make contracts against the day when they will be
free again. They are eventually turned loose. What are they to do? The
"job," of course, that they have talked about with a "pal" in the "stir"
(penitentiary). They do it, and get away with two or three thousand.
This decides them. They know of more deals, and so do their cronies, and
they agree to undertake them and divide the plunder. So it goes on for
years, and finally they have "records;" they are recognised among their
fellows and in police circles as clever "guns;" they have arrived at

Only one who has been in the criminal world can realise how easy it is
for a boy to develop on these lines. He who studies prison specimens
only, and neglects to make their acquaintance while they are still young
and unhardened, naturally comes to look upon them as weird and uncanny
creatures, to be accounted for only on the ground that they are freaks
of nature; but they are really the result of man's own social system. If
there were no slums in this country, no criminal atmosphere, and no
unknown thieves to protect the known, there would be comparatively few
professional offenders. The trouble at present is that when a boy gets
into this atmosphere, once learns to enjoy criminal companionship and
practice, he is as unhappy without them as is the cigarette fiend
without his cigarette. Violent measures are necessary to effect any
changes, and there comes a time when nothing avails.

Before closing this chapter it seems appropriate to refer to some of the
peculiar characteristics of professional offenders. The most that can be
attempted in the space of one chapter is a short account of a few of
their traits as a class, but an interesting book might be written on
this subject.

A peculiar caste feeling or pride is one of the most noteworthy
characteristics of professional offenders. They believe that, in
ostracising them from decent company, the polite world meant that they
should live their lives in absolute exile, that they should be denied
all human companionship, and in finding it for themselves among their
kind, in creating a world of their own with laws, manners, and customs,
free of every other and answerable only to itself, they feel that they
have outwitted the larger world, beaten it at its own game, as it were.
Their attitude to society may be likened to that of the boy who has been
thrown out of his home for some misdemeanour and who has "got on"
without paternal help and advice; they think that they have "done"
society, as the boy often thinks that he has "done" his father, and the
thought makes them vain. Individually, they frequently regret the deeds
which lost them their respectability, and a number, if they could, would
like to live cleaner lives, but, collectively, their new citizenship and
position give them a conceit such as few human beings of the respectable
sort ever enjoy. Watch them at a hang-out camp-fire gathering! They sit
there like Indian chiefs, proud of their freedom and scornful of all
other society, poking fun at its follies, picking flaws in its
morality, and imaginatively regenerating it with their own suggestions
and reforms. At the bottom of their hearts they know that theirs is a
low world, boasting nothing that can compare with the one which they
criticise and carp at, and that they are justly exiled; but the fact
that they have succeeded alone and unaided in making it their own puffs
them up with a pride which will not allow them to judge impartially.

I remember talking with a Western criminal in regard to this matter, and
taking him to task for his loose and careless criticism, as I considered
it. He had tossed off bold judgments on all manner of inconsistencies
and immoralities which he claimed that he had found in respectable
society, and took his own world as a standard of comparison. Generosity
was a virtue which he thought much more prevalent in his class. He
listened to my objections, and seemed to accept some of the points made,
but he closed the argument with a passionate appeal to what he would
have called my class pride. "But think how we've fooled 'em, Cigarette,"
he exclaimed. "Why, even when they put us in prison we've still got our
gang, just the same, our crowd,--that's what tickles me. I s'pose they
are better'n I am,--I'll be better when I'm dead,--but they ain't any
smarter'n I am. They wanted me to go off in the woods somewhere 'n' chew
up my soul all alone, 'n' I've fooled 'em,--we all have! That's what I'm
kickin' for, that they give in 'n' say, 'You ain't such Rubes as we
thought you were.' If one uv 'em 'ud jus' come to me 'n' say: 'Jack,
it's a fact, we can't ring in the solitary confinement act on
you.--d'you know, I believe I'd reform jus' to be square with 'im. What
I want 'em to do is to 'fess up that I ain't beholden to 'em for cump'y,
for my gang, 'n' that they ain't any smarter'n I am in findin' a gang.
I'm jus' as big a man in my crowd as they are in theirs, 'n' nothin'
that they can do'll make me any smaller. Ain't that right, eh?" And I
had to confess that from his point of view it was.

Respectable, law-abiding people never realise what a comfort this caste
feeling is to thousands of men. I have met even educated men to whom it
has been a consolation. They have never been able to define exactly the
compensation it affords them, indeed they have often been ashamed to
admit the fact, but it has remained, nevertheless. I think the man I
have just quoted enunciates it as clearly as it is possible to be set
forth in words. His joy consisted in discovering that he was just as
"smart," just as full of resource, just as equal to a trying situation,
even in his disgrace and downfall, as the man who shunned his company,
who wanted him banished or sent to prison; he had revenged himself, so
to speak, on his avengers, a gratification which is more or less dear to
all human beings.

Personal liberty and freedom in contra-distinction to class liberty and
freedom also count for a good deal in the outcast's life. Besides being
independent of other people, he is also more or less independent of his
own people, so far as laws and commands are concerned. He tolerates no
king, president, or parliament, and resents with vigour any
infringements upon his privileges, either from society or his own
organisation. In fact, he leaves the organisation and lives by himself
alone, if he feels that its unwritten, but at times rather strict, laws
bear too heavily upon him. There are men who live absolutely apart from
the crowd, shunning all society, except that which supports them. They
are often called "cranks" by their less thoroughgoing companions, and
would probably impress every one as a little crotchety and peculiar, but
their action is the logical outcome of the life. The tendency of this
life is to make a man dislike the slightest conventionalism, and to live
up to his disliking is the consistent conduct of every man in it. He
hates veneer about him in every particular and only as he throws off
every vestige of it does he enjoy to the full his world.

In a lodging-house in Chicago, some years ago, I met a tramp who was a
good example of the liberty-loving professional offenders. We awoke in
the morning a little earlier than the rest, and, as it was not yet time
to get up, fell to talking and "declaring ourselves," as tramps do
under such circumstances. After we had exchanged the usual cut and dried
remarks which even hobo society cannot do entirely without, he said to
me, suddenly, and utterly without connection with what had gone before:
"Don't you love this sort o' life?" at the same time looking at me
enthusiastically, almost as if inspired. I confessed that it had certain
attractive features, and showed, for the sake of drawing him out, an
enthusiasm of my own. "I don't see," he went on, "how I have ever lived
differently. I was brought up on a farm, but, my goodness, I wouldn't
trade this life if you'd give me all the land in the wild West. Why, I
can do just as I please now--exactly. When I want to go anywhere, I get
on a train and go, and no one has the right to ask me any questions.
That's what I call liberty,--I want to go just where I please," and he
brought out the words with an emphasis that could not have been stronger
had he been stating his religious convictions.

I have often been asked whether tramps and criminals have class
divisions and distinctions like those in society proper. "Are there
aristocrats and middle class people, for instance," a number of persons
have said to me, "and does position count for much?" Most certainly
there are these distinctions, and they constitute one of the most
notable features of the life. There is just as much chance to climb high
and fall low, in the outcast world, there are just as many prizes and
praises to win, as in the larger world surrounding it, and the
investigator will find, if he observes carefully enough, the identical
little jealousies, criticisms, and quarrels that prevail in "polite

A man acquires position in pretty much the same way that it is acquired
elsewhere,--he either works hard for it, or it is granted him by common
consent on account of his superior native endowment. There is as little
jumping into fame in this world as in any other; one must prove his
ability to do certain things well, have a record of preparation
consistent with his achievements, before he can take any very high place
in the social order. The criminal enjoys, as a rule, the highest
position; he is the aristocrat of the entire community. Everybody looks
up to him, his presence is desired at "hang-out" gatherings, boys
delight to shake his hand, and men repeat his remarks like the wise
sayings of a prophet. He feels his importance, works for it, and tries
to live up to it, just as determinedly as aristocrats in other spheres
of activity, and if he loses it and falls from grace, the disappointment
is correspondingly keen.

The tramp may be said to belong to the middle class of the outcast
world, and, like other middle class people, he often finds life a little
nicer in a class socially above him. He enjoys associating with
criminals, being able to quote them on matters of interest to the
"hang-out," and giving the impression that he is _au courant_ with their
business. If he can do all this well it makes him so much the more
important among his fellows. His own particular class, however, also
has advantages and attractions, and there are men who seek his company
nearly as much as he seeks the criminals. There is an upper middle class
as well as a lower, and the line of separation is sharply drawn. The
"old stagers," the men who have been years "on the road," and know it
"down to the ground," as they say, constitute the upper middle class.
They can dictate somewhat to the tramps not so experienced as they are,
and their opinions are always listened to first. If they say, for
instance, that a certain town is "hostile," unfriendly to beggars, the
statement is accepted on its face, unless some one has absolute evidence
to the contrary, and even then the under class man makes his demurrer
very modestly. I have never succeeded in getting as far as this during
my tramp experiences, and had to remain content in the lower division,
but even there I had a significance denied to men less experienced than
I was. A newcomer, for instance, a "tenderfoot," was expected to show me
deference, and if I happened in at a "hang-out," where only newcomers
were present, I was cock of the walk. Even these "tenderfeet" have a
class pride, too, for at the bottom of all this social arrangement there
are men and women who have been turned out of every class, the outcast
of the outcasts. They are called "tomato-can-stiffs" and "barrel
dossers" by the people above them, terms which indicate that they have
reached the last pitch of degradation. They realise their disgrace
nearly as much as their counterparts who have been turned out of
respectable society, and often look with longing upon the positions they
once enjoyed, but their lot is not entirely without its consolations, as
I learned one day in talking with one of them. "Well, at any rate," he
said, "I ain't got to keep thinkin' all the while 't I'm goin' to fall
and lose my posish the way you have to. There's no place for me to fall
to, I've come to the end o' my rope. You've got to keep lookin' out fer
yerself ev'ry step you take--keep worryin' about gettin' on, 'n' I don't
have them worries any more, 'n' it's a big relief, I tell you. You feel
the way you do when you get out o' prison." This thought is a little
fanciful, and not entirely sincere, but I can nevertheless appreciate
the man's point of view, for, with all the independence and liberty of
this world, there is, just as he said, considerable worry about holding
one's place, and I can imagine a time when it would be pleasant to be
relieved of it all.

The financial profits in a professional offender's career are not easy
to determine, but they must be taken into consideration in all accounts
of his life, no matter how short. I saw more of the pickpocket, during
my police experience, than of any other professional thief, and it was
possible for me to learn considerable in regard to his winnings.



Next to the tramp, who is more of a nuisance on American railroads,
however, than a criminal offender, the pickpocket is the most
troublesome man that a railroad police officer has to deal with. He has
made a study of the different methods by which passengers on trains can
be relieved of their pocketbooks, and unless he is carefully watched he
can give a railroad a very bad name. The same is true of a circus, in
the wake of which light-fingered gentry are generally to be found.
Circuses, like railroads, hire policemen to protect their properties and
patrons, and there are certain "shows" which one can attend and feel
comparatively safe; but in spite of the detectives which they employ,
many of them are exactly what the owner of a circus called them in my
presence--"shake-downs." Everybody is to be "shaken down" who is "green"
enough to let the pickpockets get at him, and, if pocketbooks are lost,
the proprietor will not be held responsible.

A railroad company, on the other hand, is severely criticised, and
justly, if pickpockets are much in evidence on its trains, and as they
are the most numerous of all habitual offenders, the railroad police
officer is kept very busy during the summer season.

The origin of the pickpocket takes one too far back in history to be
explained in detail here, but the probability is that his natural
history is contemporaneous with that of the pocket. When pockets were
sewed into our clothes, and we began to put valuables into them, the
pickpocket's career was opened up; to-day he is one of the most expert
criminal specialists. In the United States he has frequently begun life
as a newsboy, who, if he is dishonest, soon learns how to take change
from the "fob" pocket of men's coats. If he becomes skilled at this
kind of "grafting," and attracts the attention of some older member of
the pickpocket's guild, he is instructed in the other branches of the
art, or trade, as one pleases; I call it a business. An apt pupil can
become an adept before he is in his teens; indeed, some of the most
successful pickpockets in the country to-day are young boys. There are a
number of reasons why so many criminals make pocket-picking a specialty.
In the first place, it brings in hard cash, which does not have to be
pawned or sold, and which it is very difficult to identify. The
"leather," or pocketbook, is "weeded" (the money is taken out) and then
thrown away, and unless some one has actually seen the pickpocket take
it he cannot be convicted. Another reason is that it requires no
implements or tools other than those with which nature has provided us.
Two nimble fingers are all that is necessary after the victim has once
been "framed up," and the ease with which victims are found constitutes
still another attraction of the profession. We all think we take great
care of our pocketbooks in crowded thoroughfares, and on street cars,
but the most careful persons are "marks" for the pickpocket, if he has
reason to believe that the plunder will pay him for the necessary
preparations. It is usually the unwary farmer from the country who makes
the easiest victim, but there are knowing detectives who have been
relieved of their purses.

A fourth reason, and the main one, is that a practised hand at the
business takes in a great deal of money. Twenty-five dollars a "touch"
is not considered a phenomenal record if there is much money in the
crowd in which the pickpocket is working, and five or six touches in a
day frequently only pay expenses. An "A Number One grafter" is after
hundreds and thousands, and it is the ambition of every man in the
business to be this kind of pickpocket.

Some men operate on the "single-handed" basis; they travel alone,
arrange their own "frame-ups" (personally corner their victims), and
keep all the profits. There are a few well-known successful pickpockets
of this order, and they are rated high among their fellows, but the more
general custom is for what is called a "mob" of men to travel together,
one known as the "tool" doing the actual picking, and the others
attending to the "stalling." A stall is the confederate of the
pickpocket, who bumps up against people, or arranges them in such a way
that the pickpocket can get at their pockets. Practically any one who
will take a short course of instruction can learn how to stall, but
there are naturally some who are more expert than others. A tool who
hires his stalls and makes no division of spoils with them will
sometimes have to pay as much as $5 a day for skilled men. When he
divides what he gets, each man in the mob may get an equal share or not,
according to a prearranged agreement, but the tool is the man who does
the most work.

Of first-class tools, men who are known to be successful, there are
probably not more than 1,500 in the United States. Practically every
professional offender has a "go" at pocket-picking some time in his
career, but there are comparatively few who make a success of it as
actual pickpockets; the stalls are numberless. Among the 1,500 there are
some women and a fair portion of young boys, but the majority are men
anywhere from twenty to sixty years old. The total number of the
successful and unsuccessful is thirty, forty, or fifty thousand, as one
likes. All that is actually known is that there is an army of them, and
one can only make guesses as to their real strength.

It is an interesting sight to see a mob of pickpockets at work. It
equals football in exercise and tactics, and fencing in cunning and
quickness. At the railroad station one of the favourite methods is for
the mob to mix with the crowd, pushing and tugging on and near the steps
of the coaches. It was my duty to watch carefully on all such occasions,
and I was finally rewarded by seeing some pickpockets at work. We were
three officers strong at the time, and we had concentrated at the
middle of the train, where the pushing was worst. One of the officers
was a man who has made a lifelong study of grafts and grafters. He and I
were standing close together in the crowd, and suddenly I saw him dart
like a flash toward the steps of one of the cars. I closed in also, as
best I could, and there on the steps were two big stalls blocking the
way, one of them saying to the people in front of him: "Excuse me, but I
have left my valise in this car." His confederate was near by, also
pushing. Between the two was the tool and his victim, and my companion
had slipped in among them just in time to shove his arm in between the
tool's arm and the victim's pocket, and the "leather" was saved.

In the aisle of a car, when the passengers are getting out, another
popular procedure is for one stall to get in front of the victim,
another one behind him, and the tool places himself so that he can get
his hand into the man's pocket. The stall behind pushes, and the one in
front turns around angrily, blocking the way meanwhile, and says to the
innocent passenger: "Stop your pushing, will you? Have you no manners?"
The man makes profuse apologies, but the pushing continues until the two
stalls hear the tool give the thief's cough or make a noise with his
lips such as goes with a kiss, which is a signal to them that the
leather has come up, and is safely landed; it has been passed in
lightning fashion to a confederate in the rear; the tool never keeps it
if he can help it. On reaching the station platform the front stall begs
pardon for the harsh words he has spoken to the passenger, and in the
language of the story-teller, all ends happily.

Still another trick, and one that can happen anywhere, is to tip the
victim's hat down over his eyes, and then "nick" him while he is trying
to get his equilibrium again. A veteran justice of the peace whom I met
on my travels, and who was the twin brother in appearance of the poet
Whittier, has an amusing story to tell of how this trick was played on
him. We had called on him--my two brother officers and I--to find out
whether he would enforce the local suspicious character ordinance if we
brought pickpockets before him that we knew were in town. It was circus
day, and a raft of them had followed the show to the town, and we were
afraid that they might attempt to do work on our trains.

"Pickpockets! Enforce the suspicious character ordinance!"--screamed the
squire. "You just bring the slickers in, an' see what I'll do with them.
Why, gol darn them, they got $36 out o' me the night the soldier boys
came home."

"How did it happen?"

"I can't tell you. All I know is that I was coming down that stairway
over there across the street, my hat fell over my eyes, and I stumbled.
I didn't think anything about it at the time, but when I got down to
Simpson's, where I was going to buy some groceries for my wife, I found
that my wallet was gone."

"Did you notice any one on the stairway?"

"Yes, there was a well dressed looking stranger coming down behind me,
and there may have been another man, coming down behind him, but I
couldn't 'a' sworn that they took my wallet. Some boys found it down the
street the next day."

For the benefit of those who have to travel much, and we are all on the
cars a little, it seems worth while to describe the "raise" and "change"
tricks. When a victim is to be raised, one stratagem is for a stall to
go to him and ask whether a valise in the seat behind him is his,--it
always is,--and if so will he kindly shift it. If passengers are getting
into the car, and there is considerable crowding going on, the man will
be relieved of his pocketbook while he is reaching down for his valise.

To "change" a man is to shift him from one car to another on the plea
that the one he is in is to be taken off at a junction. While he is
changing and going down the aisle, his "roll" or wallet disappears, and
the pickpockets take another train at a junction. It is all done in a
flash, and is as simple as can be to those who are in the business, but
a great many "leathers" would be saved if people would only be careful
and not crowd together like sheep. At circuses I have seen them push and
shove like mad, and all the while the pickpockets were at work among

An interesting story is told of an Illinois town where a mob of
pickpockets had been led to believe that they had "squared" things
sufficiently with the authorities to be able to run "sure thing" games
at the show grounds with impunity,--pickpockets dabble occasionally in
games,--but they swindled people so outrageously that the authorities
got scared and prohibited the games. The men had paid so heavily for
what they had considered were privileges, that they were going to be
losers unless they got in their "graft" somehow, so they turned
pickpockets again, and, as one man put it, "simply tore the crowd open."
When it dispersed, the ground was literally covered with emptied

The easiest way for the police officer to deal with the pickpocket is to
know him whenever he appears, and to let him understand that he is
"spotted" and would better keep away. Some officers are born
thief-catchers, and can seemingly scent crime where it cannot even be
seen, and, whether they know a man or not, can pick out the real
culprit. The average officer, however, must recognise his man before he
can touch him, unless he catches him red-handed, and it is he who knows
a great many offenders and can call the "turn" on them, give their names
and records, that is the great detective of modern times. The sleuth of
fiction, who catches criminals by magic, as it were, is a snare and a

During my police experience I carried with me a pocket "rogue's gallery"
of the most notorious pickpockets of the section of the country in which
I had to travel. For a time I saw so many of these gentry in the flesh,
and was shown so many pictures, that a bewildering composite picture of
all formed in my mind. It seemed to me, sometimes, as if everybody I saw
in the streets resembled a pickpocket that I had to be on the lookout
for. I finally determined to commit to memory a picture a day, or every
two or three days as was necessary, and learn to differentiate, and the
method proved successful. To-day there are about fifty pickpockets that
I shall know wherever I see them. The majority of them I have met
personally, but a number are known to me by photograph only.

To illustrate the usefulness of photographs in the police business, and
incidentally my method, I must tell about a pickpocket whom I
identified, one morning, in a town where a circus was exhibiting. He had
tried to take a watch from a fellow passenger on a trolley-car, and had
nearly succeeded in unscrewing it from the chain when he was discovered.
He was a desperate character, and drew a razor, with which he frightened
everybody off the car, including the motorman. He attempted to escape by
running the car himself, but on seeing that it was going to take him
back to the town, he deserted it, appropriated a horse and buggy, and
made another dash for liberty. He was eventually driven into a fence
corner by some of the young men of the town, and kept at bay until the
police arrived, when he was taken to the lock-up, where, in company with
my two companions, I saw him. He was brought out of his cell for our
inspection, and, as luck would have it, it was his photograph in my book
that I had elected to commit to memory a few days before. I knew him the
minute I saw him, and he was identified beyond a possible doubt. In
return he gave me the worst scolding I have ever had in my life, and
threatened to put out "my light" when he is free again, but this is a
_façon de parler_ of men of his class; after he has served his five or
ten years he will have forgotten me and his threat.

The amount of money which pickpockets take in annually is probably
greater than that of any of the other specialists in crime. It would be
idle to say how large it is, but it is a well-known fact that thousands
of dollars are stolen by them at big public gatherings to which they
have access. It was reported, for instance, that at the recent
Confederate Soldiers' Reunion in the South $30,000 were stolen by
pickpockets, and almost every day in the year one reads in the
newspapers of a big "touch" reaching into the thousands. I think it is a
conservative statement to say that in a lifetime the expert pickpocket
steals $20,000. Multiply this figure by 1,500, which I have given as the
number of the first-class tools in the country, and the result reaches
high up into the millions. Like other professional thieves, the
pickpocket throws away his money like water, and very seldom thinks of
saving for old age, but practically all successful mobs have "fall
money" (an expense fund for paying lawyers, etc., when they get
arrested) of from $3,000 to $5,000 each, carefully banked, and I know of
one pickpocket who is the owner of some very valuable real estate. A
good illustration of the rapidity with which they recoup themselves
financially after a period of rest, or a term in prison, is the story
told about one of them who returned to this country penniless after a
pleasure trip in Europe. The man related the incident to a friend of
mine. "Didn't have a red," he said. "I tackled a saloon keeper I knew
for a couple of thousand. How long do you think I was paying him back?
Three weeks!"

If the pickpocket knew how to save his money, and could invest it well,
his children might some day be but millionaires.



Speaking generally, there are two methods in vogue in American police
circles for dealing with crime, and they may be called the compromising
and the uncompromising. The latter is the more honest. In a town where
it is followed, the chief of police is known to be a man who will not
allow a professional thief within the city limits, if he can help it,
and he is continually on watch for transient offenders. He will make no
"deal" with criminals in any particular, and he takes pride in securing
the conviction and punishment of all whom his men apprehend. He is
naturally not liked by offenders, although they respect his consistency,
and there is a local element of rowdies who consider him "an old fogey,"
but he is the kind of officer that makes Germany, for instance, and
England, too, in a measure, so free of the class of criminals that in
this country are so bold. There are some chiefs of police in the United
States of this character, and they become known throughout the criminal
world, but there ought to be more of them.

The compromising policeman is a man of another stripe. He knows about
the uncompromising "copper," has read about him and thought about him,
but he excuses his disinclination to accept him as a model on the ground
that, if he did, the thieves would "tear his town open."

"Why, if I should antagonise this class, as you suggest," he will say to
the protesting citizens, "they would come here some night and steal
right and left, just out of revenge. I haven't enough men to protect the
city in that way. The Town Council only give me so much to run the
entire force, and I have to manage the best way I can. If you'll give me
more men, I'll try to drive all the thieves out of the city."

In certain instances his argument has truth in it; it sometimes happens
that he has not enough men to take care of the city from the
uncompromising policeman's point of view. The trouble is, however, that
because he is thus handicapped he thinks that he can go a step farther,
and is justified in reasoning thus: "Well, I had to pay to get this
position, and if the people don't want the town protected as it ought to
be, it isn't my fault, and I'm going to get out of the job all that's in
it," and then begins a miserable conniving with crime.

To illustrate what a professional thief can accomplish with such a
police officer, let it be supposed that the thief is happily married, as
is sometimes the case, has a family, and wants to live in a certain
town. The chief of police knows him, however, and can disgrace his
family, if he is so inclined. The thief wants his family left alone, he
takes a pride in it, so he visits the chief at "Headquarters," and they
have a talk. "See here, chief," he says, "I'll promise you not to do any
work in your town, if you'll promise to leave me and mine alone. Now,
what's it going to cost me?"

Sometimes it costs money, not necessarily handed over the desk, and not
always to the chief personally, but in a manner that is satisfactory to
all concerned. In other cases the matter is arranged without money, and
the thief may possibly promise to "tip off" to the chief some well-known
"professional" when he comes to town, so that the chief can get the
benefit of an advertisement in the newspapers; they will say that such
and such a man has been captured, "after a long and exciting chase ably
conducted by our brilliant chief." The chase generally amounts to a
quiet walk to the hotel or saloon where the visiting thief is quietly
reading a newspaper or drinking a glass of beer, and the capture
dwindles down to a request on the part of the chief or his officer that
the man shall go to the "front office," which he does, wondering all the
while who it was that "beefed" on him (told the chief who he was). A
number of the "fly catches," as they are called in police parlance,
which create so much comment in the press, can be explained in some such
way as this. Meanwhile, however, what has become of the protected thief?
He may keep his word, a number of thieves do, and commit no theft in the
town where he is allowed to live; it depends on how much money he needs
to meet his various expenses, how dear his family is to him, and what
temptations he encounters. If he does break his word, however, and there
are no hall-marks on his theft, by which it can be definitely traced to
him, all he has to say, when asked by his protector as to who did it,
is: "It must have been outside talent." In other words, he can "work"
with almost absolute safety in the town, and the innocent public is
paying taxes all the while for a police force that ought to be able to
apprehend him.

To prove that this case is not hypothetical but actual, I would say that
I have recently been in at least two cities where I know that
professional thieves live with impunity, for I saw as many as ten in
each, and they were not afraid to do criminal work in either. The
police of both places claimed that in giving the thieves a domicile they
were protecting their towns, but any one who knows either city well is
aware that professional crime is prevalent.

One of the worst features of the policy under consideration is its
selfishness. A chief who says to a professional thief, "I will leave you
alone if you will leave me alone," practically says to him: "Go to
another town when you want to steal." An amusing story is told in this
connection about two chiefs who aired their different notions in regard
to the matter, at one of the annual conferences of the chiefs of police.
One of them had said tentatively, so the story goes, that he had heard
that in some cities criminals were protected, and that he considered the
practice a bad one. Another chief, who was thought to favour such a
policy, got up and said that he did not know much about the question in
hand, but he did know that his town was particularly free of crime.
"That may be, Bill," retorted the first speaker, "but I'll tell you
what your thieves do--they come down to my town to steal and go back to
yours, where they are left alone, to live." I give the anecdote merely
as gossip, but it illustrates splendidly one of the worst results of
compromise with crime.

It sometimes happens that an entire municipal administration, or, at any
rate, the most powerful officials in it, favour the policy of
compromise, and then it is utterly impossible to punish the criminal
adequately. I have been in such communities. Not long ago I was in a
town of about ten thousand inhabitants where a "mob" of New York
pickpockets were caught in the act of attempting to pick a pocket. On
being charged with the crime by the officers who had discovered them,
they admitted their guilt and profession, and said: "But what are you
going to do about it?" If the town authorities had been trustworthy the
pickpockets could have been sent to the penitentiary; because there was
practically no hope of securing their conviction in the local courts on
account of their ability to bribe, or to give a purely nominal bail and
then run away, they were let go.

One of the best illustrations of how a town's officials sell themselves
is embodied in the vile character known as "the fixer." I know this man
best as a circus follower. Connected with nearly all shows, sometimes
officially and sometimes not, are men who have games of chance with
which they swindle the public. In late years it has become necessary for
these men, in order to run their games, to pay for what are called
"privileges," and the man who secures these is called "the fixer." He
goes to the mayor or the chief of police of a town, as necessity
requires,--sometimes to both,--assures them that the games are harmless
(which they know is a lie), and hands them $25, $50, or $100, as
circumstances may require. In association with the men who have the
games are pickpockets and other professional thieves,--indeed the
gamesters themselves can frequently change clothes with the pickpockets
and let the thieves attend to the games while they pick pockets. It is
not necessarily understood that the "crooks" are to be protected by the
authorities to the extent that the gamesters are, but "the fixer," who
stands in with the thieves also, is supposed to be able to get them out
of any serious trouble, or, at least, to warn them if he knows that
trouble is brewing.

It was once my duty to run a race with a "fixer," and try to get the ear
of a mayor of a town before he did. Two other officers and myself had
assured ourselves that a "mob" of pickpockets was following up a circus
which was being transported over the railroad we were protecting, and we
knew that in one town, at least, "the fixer" had "squared" things with
the authorities. The circus was on its way to another town on our lines,
the mayor and police of which we believed we could swing our way if we
got to them before "the fixer" did, and we travelled there ahead of him.
We were particularly anxious to have the pickpockets arrested if they
put in an appearance, and we told the mayor who they were, what
protection they were getting, and explained to him how he would be
approached by "the fixer." The mayor listened to us, nodded his head
from time to time, and then said: "Well, there'll be no fixing done in
this town, and if you will point out the pickpockets, when they come in,
you may rest assured that they will be arrested. I can't understand what
the citizens of a town can be thinking of when they elect to office men
such as you describe." The pickpockets as well as "the fixer" must have
got wind of what we had done, for the former did not appear, and the
latter made no call on the mayor. We learned, however, that he arranged
things satisfactorily to all concerned in the town where the circus
exhibited on the following day.

How many towns in this country can be "fixed" in this manner is a
question I would not attempt to answer, but I do know that in the
district where I was on duty as a police officer a great deal of tact
exercise was necessary to beat "the fixer" in a town where it was to his
interests to buy up the local authorities; and I ask in wonderment, as
did the mayor whom I have quoted: What are the citizens of a town
thinking of, when they allow such corrupt officials to manage things? Is
it because they are ignorant of what goes on, or merely because they are
indifferent? A friend in the police business, but a man who has
understood how to remain honest in spite of it, answers the question by
saying: "The world is a graft; flash enough boodle under nine noses out
of ten, and you can do as you like with them. Take New York, for
instance. I could clean up that city in a week if the people would stand
by me. They wouldn't do it. Enough would tumble down in front of some
fixer to queer everything that I might do. You can't do anything worth
while in the police business unless you've got the people behind you,
and they are as fickle as a cat. Why, if I were chief of police in New
York, and I should clean up the city thoroughly, there is a class of
business men who would come to me and say that I was taking away some of
the main attractions of the city, and that they were going to make a
kick about it. Heaven knows that the police are corrupt, but I tell you
that the public is corrupt, too. See how things are up in Canada! I have
just come back from there, and I can assure you that there is no such
sneak work going on up there as there is with us. Their police courts
are as dignified almost as is our Supreme Court, and if a crook gets
into one of them they settle him. How many crooks get what they ought to
in this country? About one in ten, and he could get off with a light
sentence, if he had money enough to square things."

Perhaps this is true, and we are indifferent to corruption as a people.
Certainly the police business makes one think so, but I have not been in
it long enough to hold to this pessimistic notion. It is my opinion that
the majority of the people in this country do not realise what goes on
about them, and I can take my own experience as an example. I have seen
more of criminal life, perhaps, than the average person, and it would
seem that I ought to have been able to learn considerable about the
corruption in the country, but I must admit that, until this experience
in a police force, I had no idea that it was as widespread as it is. It
is not unreasonable to suppose that people who have never had occasion
to look into such matters at all must be even more ignorant of the
situation than I was. There is a great deal of wrong-doing that is
apparent to any one who takes an active part in municipal politics, and
the newspapers are continually reporting things which can but make it
obvious to all who read that there is a strong criminal class in the
United States; but one seldom takes such matters seriously until he is
brought in close contact with them, and the general public is not thus

Take the Mazet Committee, which recently investigated New York. So far
as the police are concerned, I cannot see that the committee brought to
light much that was new, and it was difficult for me to take an interest
in this part of the investigation. If they had subpoenaed a few
successful professional thieves located in New York, however, and
persuaded them to tell what they know, the situation would have been
much clearer to me and to the general public. More interest and
indignation would also have been aroused if New York is "protected" in
the way that I have indicated in the case of other towns. The police are
not going to help investigate themselves, and the public is not likely
to be permanently affected by what they say. A very definite effect
would be made upon me, however, if a thief would get up and tell on what
basis he is allowed to live in New York, what it costs him, if anything,
to "square" things when he is arrested, what his annual winnings are,
and what, in general, he thinks of the criminal situation in the city.
He is a specialist entitled to speak with authority, and I would accept
his statements as trustworthy.

It is, of course, to be replied to all this that it is very difficult to
persuade a thief to talk, but the point I would make is that the public
seldom gets the truth in regard to such matters as are under
consideration. It hears in an indefinite way that corruption is rampant,
and then there is an investigation, but the average citizen rarely
realises what is going on until some personal business brings him in
contact with the suspected officials. Let a man have his pocket picked,
or his home robbed, and go to the police about it, and he will begin to
see how things are managed. If everybody could have this experience,
meet both detective and thief, and all could have a talk together, there
would be an awakening in public sentiment that would be very beneficial.

Meanwhile all that I can recommend is to hunt down the unknown thief,
and punish him hard. There are different methods by which he can be
apprehended, but I know of none better than to catch the known thief and
through him find out the other. The police and court proceedings, if
carefully followed, are bound to develop the facts, and, these once
secured, the public is to blame if the unknown thief is not punished.



One of the advantages that the itinerant policeman has over the
stationary officer is that he can inspect a large number of penal
institutions, and find out who, among the people he has to keep track
of, are shut up. The municipal officer may know that a certain
"professional" is out of his bailiwick, but unless he can place him
elsewhere he is never sure when or where he may turn up again. The
itinerant officer, on the other hand, can follow a man, and if he gets
into prison the officer knows it immediately. This is a very definite
gain in the police business, and it would be well if police forces
generally were given the benefit of it. There is a National Bureau of
Identification to which officers who are members may apply for
information in regard to any offender of whom there is a record, and the
institution is to be recommended to those who are connected with police
life, but voluntary information in regard to convicts sent to police
chiefs by prison wardens would also be helpful.

My interest in the lock-ups, jails, workhouses, and penitentiaries that
I visited on my travels was, in a measure, professional, but I was
mainly concerned in getting information in regard to their condition and
management, and in finding out to what extent they have a deterrent
effect on crime. All told, I inspected about thirty-five places of
detention and penal institutions, and they represent the best and worst
of their kind in the country. In criticising them I would not have it
understood that I hold the officials in charge necessarily responsible
for their condition--the taxpayers decide whether a community shall have
a truly modern prison or not; my purpose is merely to report what I saw,
and to comment objectively on my finding.

I visited more lock-ups than anything else. On reaching a town, I went
as soon as possible to the "calaboose" to see who were held there.
Sometimes the little prison was empty, and then again every cell would
be occupied, but in a week I generally saw from thirty to fifty inmates.
Mature men predominated, but women and boys were also to be found. The
women were invariably separated from the men by at least a cell wall,
but the boys, and I saw some not over ten years old, were thrown in with
the most hardened criminals. They were allowed to pass about among the
men in the lock-up corridor, and at night were shut up with them in the
cells. This is the worst feature of the lock-up system in the United
States. Very little effort is made in the smaller towns to separate the
young from the old, the hardened from the unhardened, and even in the
lock-ups of large cities a much more careful classification of the
inmates is necessary. The officials in charge of these places excuse the
policy now in vogue on the ground that there is not room enough to give
the boys better attention, and the taxpayers say that there is not
money enough in the community to build larger lock-ups. There is always
a reason of some sort for every blunder that is made, but as long as we
make our lock-ups "kindergartens of crime," as I once heard a criminal
call them, there is no excuse whatever to wonder why there are so many
offenders. It is a fashion, nowadays, to run to "the positive school" of
Italy and France for an explanation concerning the origin of the
criminal, to ask Signor Lombroso to diagnose the situation, but in this
country we need but make a round of our lock-ups to discover where the
fresh crop of offenders comes from. They generally get to the lock-up
from the "slum," where they may or may not have shown criminal
proclivities, but once in the lock-up and allowed to associate with the
old offenders, very few of them, indeed, escape the contaminating
influences brought to bear upon them.

The county jail may be described as the public school of crime. There
are some county jails in which a thorough classification of the inmates
is secured, but there is a very small number of these jails compared
with the hundreds in which young and old, first offenders and habitual
criminals, are all jumbled together. I can write from a full experience
in regard to our county jails, because I have not only had to visit them
as a police officer, but I have also had to "serve time" in them as a
tramp, and I know whereof I speak. Practically any boy, no matter what
his training has been, can be made a criminal if handed over to skilled
jail instructors, and every day in the year some lad, who, after all is
said, is really only mischievous, is committed by a magistrate or
justice of the peace to a county prison. There is no other place for the
magistrate to send the boy, if his parents demand his incarceration, and
the sheriff is not prepared to take him to the reform school
immediately, and so he is tossed into the general rag-bag of offenders
to take his chances. He is eventually sent to the reform school or house
of correction, where it is theoretically supposed that he is going to be
reformed; but it is a fact that the majority of professional offenders
in this country have generally spent a part of their youth in just such
institutions, where they were no more reformed than is a confirmed
jailbird on his release from a penitentiary. It is an extremely
difficult task to change any boy who goes to a reform school after a
long sitting in a county jail, and the wonder to me is that our
reformatories accomplish what they do. The superintendent of a
reformatory school in Colorado took me to task some years ago for making
the statement in public, in regard to tramps, that I have just made
about professional criminals,--that the majority of them have
experienced reform-school discipline,--and he said that it was a
thoroughly established fact that tramps keep out of such places. Of
course they keep out of them as full-grown men, as do also grown-up
thieves, but they are sent to them as youngsters, if apprehended for
some offence, whether they like it or not, and any one who is acquainted
with tramps and criminal life knows this to be true.

I make so much mention of boys in this paper because they are to be the
next generation of offenders, unless we succeed in rescuing them from a
criminal life while they are still susceptible to good influences; and
we are not doing this, or even seriously thinking about it, when we give
them professional thieves and convicted murderers as associates in

Various suggestions have been made by which the county jail system can
be improved, and I favour the one which recommends that the county
institution be abolished entirely, and that two or three well-equipped
houses of detention be made to suffice for an entire State. Such an
arrangement would not only be a great deal cheaper than the present
practice, but it would permit of a careful division of all the inmates.
Some of our workhouses are already run on this basis, several counties
contributing toward the support and maintenance of each. It would, of
course, be necessary to make a county's contributions toward the support
of a jail proportionate to its population, but there ought not to be any
great difficulty in arranging a satisfactory contract; and it is time,
anyhow, that we throw over some of our commercial notions about making
corrective and penal institutions pay their way. The thing to do is to
make them effective in checking crime, and if they are successful in
this very important particular, we can well afford to put a little money
in them without worrying about the financial returns.

I visited but one reformatory during my pilgrimage, but it was
representative of the latest of these institutions. I refer to the
Elmira, N. Y. type. The old and hardened "professional" calls these
places the high schools of crime, the next grade after the county jail,
but I do not agree with him in this classification. It is true, as he
says, that a number of offenders are committed to these institutions,
who ought to have been sent to the penitentiary, and it is particularly
disgusting to him to see educated men, with "pull" and friends, who have
been convicted of crimes for which less favoured offenders would receive
sentences to the State prison, relieved of the disgrace of going to
prison by being sent to the "kids' pen," as the reformatory is also
sometimes called; but, admitting all this, I believe that the modern
reformatory, when well managed, represents the best penological notions.
As in all prisons, however, where the inmates work on the association
basis, a great deal can be taught that is not in the curriculum of the
institution, and it is consequently no surprise to meet, in the open,
criminals who have "served time" in reformatories. In the reformatory
that I visited, it was a disappointment to me to find that men whose
faces, manner, and bearing proved them to be, if not actual
professionals, at least understudies of men who are, were mixed up in
the workshops with young fellows whom any one would have picked out; for
comparatively innocent offenders. I believe in the principle of
association in certain corrective institutions also, but I do not
approve of indiscriminate companionship. A natural reply to my criticism
is that it is hard to tell who are the old offenders, but a prison
official who knows his business, and has learned how to read faces and
to interpret actions, ought to be able to separate the "crook" from the
beginner in crime. It is a false notion to think that the former is
going to be helped by association with the latter. A prison is a prison,
no matter what euphemistic name it is called, and the old offender is
not going to allow any "mother's boy" fellow prisoner to set him an
example. In the criminal world, as in the larger world on which it
lives, the law of the survival of the fittest is operative, and the
fittest, as a rule, are those who are the most hardened; in prison and
out, it is they who really run things.

Another mistake made in the reformatory in question, according to my
view, is the age limit by which admission into the institution is
regulated. When a young man has reached his twenty-first year, and
commits a crime which calls for a prison sentence, I say let him have
it, no matter whose son he may be, provided the penitentiary authorities
observe the classification referred to above. If it can be proved
beyond a reasonable doubt that the young man is mentally deficient, and
not accountable for his actions, it is obvious that the State prison is
no place for him; but, otherwise, it is my observation that more good
than harm is done, if he is made to suffer the punishment that the law
demands. I realise that I am on debatable ground in taking this view of
such cases, but they are debatable largely because the different
opinions held in regard to them are the result of different
observations. Mine have been made mainly in the outdoor criminal world,
and I have not had a wide experience with the offender in confinement,
but I have met the pampered young criminal so often, and it has been so
plain that it was light punishment which trained him to stand the more
severe, that I have come to believe that a quick checking-up at the
start would have been more beneficial.

Of penitentiaries I saw two, each in a different State. One contained
about two thousand five hundred inmates, and the other about one
thousand eight hundred. It is not easy even for a police officer to
explore these institutions freely. I know of one warden who refuses to
let the police have photographs of criminals in his charge; he says that
"it is not nice to pass them around,"--but I managed to see a good deal
that I could not possibly have seen as an ordinary visitor, hurried
through by a guard.

As a general statement, it may be said that a penitentiary reflects the
warden's personality. There are rules to be observed and work to be
done, which have been arranged and planned for by the board of
directors, but the warden is the man with whom the prisoners have to
deal, and they look up to him as the principal authority in every-day
matters. His main anxiety is to get good conduct out of his charges, and
he has to experiment with various methods. Some wardens favour one
method and some another. One, for instance, will think that leniency and
kindness work best, while another will recommend whipping, the dungeon,
electricity, hot water, etc., for recalcitrant inmates. The idea of each
warden is that he wants things to go smoothly, and if they do not, he
has to straighten them out as best he can. All this is very interesting
from the warden's point of view, and it interested me also somewhat when
visiting the two penitentiaries; but my main endeavour was to try to
find out to what extent these institutions were lessening the number of
criminals in the communities which they served. A man may be as gentle
as a lamb while in durance, and the warden may pride himself on the good
conduct he is getting out of him, but how is he going to be when he has
his liberty once more? The cleverest criminal is usually the most docile
prisoner, and yet he takes up crime again as his profession after his
time has expired, and the penitentiary has been in his case merely a
house of detention. Excepting the death penalty, however, imprisonment
in a penitentiary is the final form of punishment that we have in this
country, and if it fails to check crime, either our criminals are
increasing out of proportion to our means for taking care of them, or we
do not administer the proper chastisement. From what I have been able
to see of our penitentiaries as a visitor, and have heard about them as
a fellow traveller with tramps, and incidentally with criminals, I am
inclined to accept the second conclusion. Crime has increased in this
country faster than the population, but in the older States there are
enough penal institutions to take care of the offenders, if they were
made to have the discouraging effect on criminals that similar
institutions have in Europe.

The late Austin Bidwell, an American offender who had a long experience
in an English prison, and who was a competent judge of the kind of
punishment that is the most deterrent, once said to me that he believed
that a short imprisonment, if made very severe, accomplished more than a
long imprisonment with comforts. And he added that he thought that in
the United States a mistake was made in giving criminals long sentences
to easy prisons. I hold more or less to the same view. Penologically, I
think that the punishment in vogue in Delaware, for certain offences,
is wiser and more to the point than that in any other State in the
Union. Punishment in prison ought not to be wholly retributive,--it has
been well called expiatory discipline,--but it ought to check crime, and
up to date there is no satisfactory evidence that our prisons are
achieving this end. In many of them the discipline is too lenient. At
one of the prisons I visited, two Sundays of the month are given up to a
lawn festival, which the prisoners' friends may attend. They bring lunch
baskets and join the prisoners in the prison garden, where they chat,
eat ice-cream, and drink lemonade, sold at a booth presided over by one
of the prisoners, and generally amuse themselves. It seemed to me that I
was attending a picnic. In a talk with the warden in regard to the
affair, he said that he found that such favours made the prisoners more

In my humble opinion, a prison is not a place where favours of this
character need be expected or shown, and if good conduct can only be got
out of them by being "nice" to them after this fashion, they would
better be shut up in their cells until they can learn to obey.

In conclusion, I desire to put two queries: Why is it that the cleverest
criminals in our prisons are frequently to be found taking their ease in
the prison hospitals and "insane wards," and how does it come that men
who belong to the class of prisoners who ought to wear the "stripes" are
allowed the clothes which ordinarily are only given to prisoners who
have passed the "stripe" period of their incarceration? In one
penitentiary I found a politician and rich physician favoured in the
latter particular, and in the hospital and insane ward of another,
enjoying themselves in rocking-chairs and a private garden, I found more
professional thieves than in any other part of the institution. I ask
the questions in all innocence, but there are those who claim that
correct answers to them would disclose some very bad practices in prison



Up till the present time the police business in the United States has
remained almost exclusively in the hands of a particular class. From
Maine to California one finds practically the same type of man
patrolling a beat, and there is not much difference among the superior
officers of police forces. They all have about the same conceptions of
morality, honesty, and good citizenship, and they differ very little in
their notions of police policy and methods. The thing to do, the
majority of them think, is to keep a city superficially clean, and to
keep everything quiet that is likely to arouse the public to an
investigation. Nearly all are politicians in one form or another, and
they feel that the security of their positions depends on the turn that
politics may take. If they have a strict chief, one who tries to be
honest according to his best light, they are more on their good
behaviour than when governed by an easy-going man, but even under such
circumstances there may be found, in large forces, a great deal of
concealed disobedience. Their main friends and acquaintances are
saloon-keepers, professional politicians, and employees in other
departments of the municipal government. In small towns they mix with
the citizens more than in large cities, but the best of them acquire in
time a caste feeling which impels them to find companionship mainly
among their own kind. Not all are dishonest or lazy, but the majority
have a code of honour suggested by their life and business. Once in the
life, and accustomed to its requirements, it is very difficult for them
to change to another. They have learned how to arrest men, to make
reports, to keep their eyes open or shut according to necessity, to rest
when standing on their feet, and to appreciate the benefits of a
regularly drawn salary, and their intelligence and general training
correspond with such an existence. A few develop extraordinary ability
in ferreting out crime, and become successful detectives, and others
keep their records sufficiently clean, or secure enough "pull," to rise
to superior posts, and in certain cases these exceptional men would fit
into exemplary police organisations. As a general thing, however, they
are men who would have received much less responsible positions in other
walks of life. This is as true of the commanding officers as of the
patrolmen. The captain of a precinct is frequently as poorly educated as
the patrolman serving under him, and his gold braid and brass buttons
are all that really differentiate him from the men he orders about. The
chief, in some instances, is a man of demonstrated ability, but there
are chiefs and chiefs, and the way their selection is managed it is
largely a matter of luck whether a town gets a good or bad one.
Occasionally the citizens of a town will become indignant, and remove
from office a disreputable chief, choosing in his place some highly
respected citizen who has consented to take the position on a "reform
platform" and for awhile the town has a man at the head of its police
force who is accepted as an equal in society and is recognised as an
influential man in municipal affairs, but before long the professional
politicians get hold of the reins of government again, things get back
into the old rut, and the conventional chief returns.

It is this precariousness of the life, and the slavery to politicians,
that have probably deterred educated young men from making police work
their life business. They have seen no chance of holding prominent
police positions long, and they have possibly dreaded the companionship
which a policeman's life seems to presuppose. The young man just out of
college and casting about for a foothold in the world practically never
includes the police career in the number of life activities from which
he must make a choice. It is the law, medicine, journalism, or
railroading which generally attracts him, and he leaves unconsidered
one of the most useful callings in the world. There are few men who are
given more responsible positions, and who have better opportunities of
doing something worth while, than the police officer, and I think that I
ought to add, the prison official. In Germany this fact is recognised,
and men train for police and prison work as deliberately and diligently
as for any other profession; in this country very little training is
done, and the result is that comparatively inferior men get the
important posts, and our cities are not taken care of as they ought to
be, and could be.

There is nothing sufficiently promising as yet in the state of public
opinion to justify one in saying that the time is particularly opportune
for young men to begin to consider the police career as a possible
calling, but I doubt whether there ever will be until the young men take
the matter into their own hands and give public notice of their
determination to enter the profession. Numerous obstacles will be put in
their way, and hundreds will get discouraged, but for those who
"stick," a great career will open up. The beginners must necessarily be
the pioneers and fight the brunt of the battle, but, the battle once
fought, there will be some positions of splendid opportunity.

For the benefit of those who may care to consider seriously the
possibilities of the career, it will not be inappropriate, perhaps, to
describe the kind of men they may expect to have to associate with while
going through their apprenticeship, to explain some of the difficulties
that will be encountered, and to make a few suggestions in regard to the
training necessary for a successful performance of duty. I can write of
these matters only as a beginner, but it is the would-be beginner that I
desire to reach.

In all police organisations supported by cities there are two distinct
kinds of officers, the uniformed men and the detectives. Among these the
beginner will have to pick out his friends, and until he knows well the
work of both classes of men he will be in a quandary as to which he
desires to ally himself with. There are things in the detective's life
which make it more attractive to some men than the policeman's, and
_vice versa_. The two officers have different attitudes toward the
criminal world, and the beginner will probably be decided in his choice
according to the impression the different attitudes make upon him. The
uniformed officer, or "Flatty," as he is called in the thief's jargon,
if he remains upright and honest, arrests a successful professional
criminal with the same _sang-froid_ and objectivity that are
characteristic of him when arresting a "disorderly drunk." It is a
perfunctory act with him; the offender must be shut up, no matter who he
is, and he is the party paid to do it.

The officer in citizen's clothes, the "Elbow," is a different kind of
man. He realises as well as the "Flatty" that it is his business to try
to protect the community which employs him, but he handles a prisoner,
especially if the latter is a nicely dressed and well known thief, in a
different way from the ostentatious manner of arrest characteristic of
the ordinary policeman. It almost seems sometimes as if he were showing
deference to his prisoner, and the two walk along together like two old
acquaintances. The fact of the matter is that a truly successful
professional thief is a very interesting man to meet, and he is all the
more interesting to the officer if he has been able to catch him
unawares and without much trouble. Realising what a big man he has
got,--and thieves themselves have no better opinion of their ability
than that which the detective has of it,--he likes to ask him about
other big men, to get "wise," as the expression is. If it has been a
hard chase, he also likes to go over the details of it, and find out who
has doubled the most on his tracks. In time, if he keeps steadily at the
business and learns to know a number of what are called "good guns"
(clever thieves), he develops into a recognised successful
thief-catcher; but he has spent so much of his time in fraternising with
"guns," in order to learn from them, that he comes to think that his
moral responsibility is over after he has located them. Technically, I
suppose this is true; it is his business to catch, and the State must
prosecute and convict. The point I would bring out, however, is that he
is inclined to be lenient with his prisoner. To him the struggle has
been merely one of intelligence and shrewdness; he has had to be quick
and alert in capturing the "gun," and the latter has exercised all of
his ingenuity in trying to escape. Moral issues have not been at stake;
the thief has not stolen from the officer, and why should the latter not
be friendly when they meet?

In defence of this attitude toward crime it may be said that criminals
are much more tractable in the custody of an officer of the kind under
consideration than when arrested by some blustering "Flatty," who shows
them up in the street as they walk along, and it is natural for a
detective to try to do his work with as little friction as possible. The
question, however, that I was continually putting to myself as a
beginner in the business was, whether I should not eventually drift
into a very easy-going policeman if I learned to look upon the thief
merely as a whetstone, so to speak, on which my wits were to be
sharpened. It seemed to me that to do my full duty it was necessary to
have moral ballast as well as shrewd intelligence, really to believe in
law, and that lawbreakers must be punished. I would not have it
understood that there are no police officers who keep hold of this
point, but I am compelled to say that the detective--and he is the man
to whom we shall have to go before professional crime in this country
can be seriously dealt with--is too much inclined to overlook it.

The beginner in the profession must take sides, one way or another, in
regard to this kind of officer, and as he chooses for him or against him
he will find himself in favour or not with the class--and it is a large
one--to which the man belongs. It is unpleasant to have to begin one's
career by immediately antagonising a number of daily companions, and a
series of exasperating experiences follow such a policy, but in the
case in question I believe it will be found best to nail up one's
colours instanter and never to take them down. The officer who does this
gets the reputation of being at least consistent even among his enemies,
and he is also relieved of being continually approached by criminals
with bribes.

Once started on his course, and his policy defined, the worst difficulty
that he will encounter for a number of months will be a reluctance,
natural to all beginners, to make an arrest. It seems easy enough to
walk up to a man, put a hand lightly on his shoulder, and say: "You're
my prisoner," but one never realises how hard it is until he tries it.
During my experience I had no occasion to make an arrest single-handed,
but it did fall to my lot to have a prisoner beg and beseech me to let
him go after he had been turned over to my care, and to the beginner
this is the hardest appeal to withstand. The majority of persons
arrested are justly taken into custody, and the bulk of the "hard luck"
stories they tell are fabrications, but it takes a man who has been
years in the service to listen to some of their tales of woe without

This squeamishness conquered, the beginner will have to be careful not
to become hard and pessimistic. There is a good deal to be said in
excuse of a police officer who develops these traits of character,--the
life he leads is itself often hard,--but if they dominate his nature he
learns to look upon the world in general merely as a great collection of
human beings, any one of whom he may have to arrest some day. He sees so
much that is "crooked" that he is in danger of thinking that he sees
crime and thieves wherever he turns, and unless he is very cautious he
will drift into a philosophy which permits him to be "crooked" also,
because, as he thinks, everybody else is.

If the beginner has lived in a society where courtesies and kindnesses,
rather than insults and scoldings, have prevailed, he will also find it
hard for awhile to appreciate the fact that a police officer is a
peacemaker, and not an avenger. Wherever he goes, and no matter what he
does, he is a target for the nasty slings of rowdies and a favourite
victim of the "roastings" of thieves. In tramp life I have had to take
my share of insults, and until I experimented with the police business I
thought that as mean things had been said to me as a man ought to stand
in an ordinary lifetime, but on no tramp trip have I been berated by
criminals as severely as during my recent experience as a railroad
police officer, and yet it was my duty not to answer back if a quarrel
was in sight.

Not all, however, in the policeman's life is exasperating and
discouraging. But few men have so many opportunities of doing good, and
of keeping track of people in whom they have taken an interest. Nothing
has pleased me more in my relations with the outcast world than the
chance I had as a railroad patrolman to help in sending home a penitent
runaway boy. He had left Chicago on the "blind baggage" of a passenger
train to get away from a tyrannical stepfather, and he fell into our
hands as a trespasser and vagrant several hundred miles from his
starting-point. It was a pitiful case with which no officer likes to
deal according to the requirements of the law, but we had to arrest him
to rescue him from the local officers of the town where he had been
apprehended; if he had been turned over to them the probability is that
he would have been put on the stone-pile with the hardened tramps, and
when released would have drifted into tramp life. We took him to
headquarters on the train, and the general manager of the railroad gave
him a pass home, where he has remained, sending me a number of weekly
accounts about himself. I report the incident both to show the
opportunities in a policeman's life, and to give a railroad company
credit for a kind deed which has probably preserved for the country a
bright lad who would otherwise have been an expense and trouble to it as
a vagabond and criminal.

A word, before closing this chapter, in regard to how a young man,
desirous of following the police career, can best get a start. I chose a
railroad police force for my preliminary experience, and I would
recommend a similar choice to other beginners if the opportunity is
favourable. As long as a man does his work well in a railroad police
organisation he is not likely to be disturbed, but under existing
conditions the same cannot be said of a municipal force. A railroad
officer also has the advantage of being able to travel extensively and
to acquaint himself with different communities. If he can rise to the
top there is no reason, so far as I can see, why he should not be an
eligible candidate for the superintendency of a municipal police force.
The chief that I had, if he were able to gather the right men about him,
could protect a large city as successfully as he now protects a big
railroad system. If it is impossible for a would-be beginner to find
lodgment in any police force at the start, my suggestion is that he
experiment with the work of a police reporter on a newspaper. It is
difficult at present for a police reporter to tell all that he learns,
and it is to be hoped that he will some day be able to give the readers
of his paper full accounts of his investigations; but the young man who
is training for police work can make the reporter's position, in spite
of its present discouraging limitations, a stepping-stone to a position
in a police organisation. It helps him to get "wise," as the detective
says, and it is when he has become "wise" in the full sense of the word
that he is most valuable in the police business.

A guard's position in a penitentiary makes a man acquainted with a great
many criminals, and is helpful in teaching one in regard to the
efficiency of different kinds of punishment. It is, perhaps, to be
recommended to the beginner as the next best position to try for, if,
after the reporter experience, there is still no opening in a police
force. The beginner may not be sure whether he desires to become a
police officer or to take part in the management of a prison, and the
guard's post helps him to come to a decision.

All three of the recommended preparatory positions will be found useful,
if the young man has the patience and time to go through the drudgery
which they involve, and he will find that when he finally succeeds in
getting into a large police force he has a great advantage over men who
have not had his thorough training.



Scattered over the railroads, sometimes travelling in freight-cars, and
sometimes sitting pensively around camp-fires, working when the mood is
on them, and loafing when they have accumulated a "stake," always
criticising other people but never themselves, seldom very happy or
unhappy, and almost constantly without homes such as the persevering
workingman struggles for and secures, there is an army of men and boys
who, if a census of the unemployed were taken, would have to be included
in the class which the regular tramps call "gay-cats." They claim that
they are over five hundred thousand strong, and socialistic agitators
sometimes urge that there are more than a million of them, but they
probably do not really number over one hundred thousand.

Not much is known about them by the general public, except that they are
continually shifting from place to place, particularly during the warm
months. In the winter they are known to seek shelter in the large
cities, where they swell the ranks of the discontented and complaining,
and accept benefits from charitable societies. They certainly are not
tramps, in the hobo's sense of the word. His reason for derisively
calling them "gay-cats" is that they work when they have to, and tramp
only when the weather is fine.

Many of them really prefer working to begging, but they are without
employment during several months in the year, and are constantly
grumbling about their lot in the world. They think that they are the
representative unemployed men of the country, and are gradually
developing a class feeling among themselves. They always speak of their
kind as "the poor," and of the people who employ them as "the rich," and
they believe that their number is continually increasing.

As a railroad policeman it was my duty to keep well in touch with this
class of wanderers. Although they do not belong to the real tramp
fraternity, and are disliked by the hoboes proper, they follow the
hobo's methods of travel, and are constantly trespassing on railroad
property. The general manager of the railroad by which I was employed
asked me to gather all the facts that I could in regard to their class.

"The attitude of the company toward this class of trespassers," he said,
in talking to me about the matter, "must necessarily be the same as
toward the tramps, as long as they both use the same methods of travel,
but I have often wondered whether there are enough of those who claim to
be merely unemployed men to justify railroad companies in experimenting
with a cheap train a day, somewhat similar in make-up to the fourth
class in Germany and Russia. At present the trouble is that we can't
tell whether they would support such a train, and I personally am not
convinced that all of them are as honest out-of-works as they say they
are, when arrested for stealing rides. If you can gather any data
concerning them which will throw light on this matter, I should be glad
to have it."

All told, I have met on the railroads about one thousand men and boys
who claimed to be out-of-works and not professional vagabonds and
tramps. In saying that I have met them, I mean that I have talked with
them and learned considerable about their history, present condition,
and plans and hopes for the future. They talked with me as freely as
with one of their own kind; indeed, they seemed to assume that I
belonged among them.

The most striking thing about them is that the majority are practically
youths, the average age being about twenty-three years, both West and
East. Of my one thousand out-of-works, fully two-thirds were between
twenty and twenty-five years old; the rest were young boys under
eighteen and mature men anywhere from forty to seventy.

Youths of all classes of society have their _Wanderjahre_, and so much
time during this period is taken up with mere roaming that it is easy to
understand how many of them must be without work from time to time. It
is also true that young men are more hasty than their elders in giving
up positions on account of some real or supposed affront; life is all
before them, they think, anyhow, and meanwhile they do not intend to
knuckle down to any overbearing employer. In certain parts of the
country, on account of crowded conditions, it must be stated,
furthermore, that it is difficult for a number of young men to get
suitable employment.

There is a sociological significance, however, about the present
strikingly large number of young men who are "beating" their way over
the country on the railroads. There is gradually being developed in the
United States a class of wanderers who may be likened to the degenerated
_Handwerksburschen_ of Germany. They are not necessarily apprentices in
the sense that the _Handwerksburschen_ usually are, although the great
majority of them have trades and make some effort, in winter at least,
to work at them, but they are almost the exact counterpart of the
_Burschen_ in their migratory habits. Years ago the travelling
apprentice was a picturesque figure in German life, and it was thought
quite proper that he should pack up his tools every now and then, get
out his wheelbarrow, and take a jaunt into the world. He had to take to
the highways in those days, and there was no such inducement, as there
is now, to make long, unbroken trips. A few miles a day was the average
stint, and at the end of a fortnight, or possibly a month, he was ready
and glad to go to work again.

This is not the case to-day. The contemporary _Handwerksbursch_ works
just as little as he can, and travels in fourth-class cars as far as the
rails will carry him. In a few years, unless there is some home
influence to bring him back, he generally wanders so far afield that he
becomes a victim of _Die Ferne_, a thing of romance and poetry to his
sturdier ancestors of Luther's time, which for him has become a snare
and a delusion. German vagabondage is largely recruited from German
apprentices. It is the same love of _Die Ferne_, the desire to get out
into the world and have adventures independent of parental care and
guidance, which accounts largely for the presence of so many young men
in the ranks of the unemployed in this country. As I have said, they are
not tramps or "hoboes," but neither are they victims of trusts,
monopolists or capital.

Great public undertakings, like the World's Fair at Chicago, the recent
war with Spain, a new railroad and the attractions of places like the
Klondike, have a tendency to increase the number of these youthful
out-of-works. The World's Fair stranded many thousands, and there are
already signs that the war with Spain has brought out a fresh crop of
them. They have taken to travelling on the railroads because they have
become inoculated with _Wanderlust_ and because they think that it is
only by continually shifting that they are likely to get work. The same
thing took place, only on a larger scale, after the Civil War, and our
present tramp class is the result. Some of the young men who took part
in the Spanish war, and when mustered out joined the wanderers on the
railroads, will eventually develop into full-fledged tramps; it is
inevitable. At present they are merely out-of-works, and at times
honestly seek work.

Let me tell the story of one of my young companions for a few days on a
railroad in Ohio. He was a plumber by trade and had left a job only a
fortnight before I met him. The weather had got too warm to work, he
said (it was in June), and he had enough of a "stake" to keep him going
for several weeks "on the road." He was on his way to the Northwest.

"The West is the only part o' this country worth much, I guess," he
said, "'n' I'm goin' out there to look around. Here in the East
ev'rything is in the hands o' the rich. There's no chance for a young
fellow here in Ohio any more." I asked him whether he was not able to
make a good living when he remained at work. "Oh, I can live all right,"
he replied, "but this country's got to give me somethin' more'n a
livin', before I'll work hard month in and month out. I ain't goin' to
slave for anybody. I got as good a right's the next man to enjoy myself,
'n' when I want to go off on a trip I'm goin'." I suggested that this
was hardly the philosophy of men who made and saved a great deal of
money. "Well, I ain't goin' to work hard all my life 'n' have nothin'
but money at the end of it. I want to live as I go along, 'n' I like
hittin' the road ev'ry now and then."

"How long do you generally keep a job?"

"If I get a good one in the fall I generally keep it till spring, but
the year round I guess I change places ev'ry two or three months."

"How much of a loaf do you have between jobs?"

"It depends. Last year I was nearly four months on the hog
once,--couldn't get anything. As a general thing, though, I don't have
to wait over six weeks if I look hard."

"Are you going to look hard out West?"

"Well, I'm goin' to size up the country, 'n' if I like it, why, I guess
I'll take a job for awhile. I got enough money to keep me in tobacco 'n'
booze for a few weeks, 'n' it don't cost me anything to ride or eat."

"How do you manage?"

"I hustle for my grub the way hoboes do,--it's easy enough."

"I should think a workingman like yourself would hate to do that."

"I used to a little, but I got over it. You got to help yourself in this
world, 'n' I'm learnin' how to do it, too."

The nationality of the "gay-cats" is mainly American. A large number
have parents who were born in Europe, but they themselves were born in
this country, and there are thousands whose families have been settled
here for several generations.

What I have said in regard to the unemployed young men applies also, in
a measure, to the old men; the latter, in many cases, are as much the
victims of _Wanderlust_ as are their youthful companions: but there are
certain special facts which go to explain their vagabondage. The older
men are more frequently confirmed drunkards than are the younger men.
Occasionally during the past year I have met an aged out-of-work who was
a "total abstainer," but nine-tenths of all the mature men were by their
own confession hard drinkers. Whether their loose habits are also
answerable for their love of carping and criticising, and their notion
that they alone know how the world should be run, it is impossible for
me to say; but certain it is that their continual grumbling and scolding
against those who have been more persevering than they is another of the
causes which have brought them to their present unfortunate state. Men
who are unceasingly finding fault with their lot, and yet make no
serious attempt to better it, cannot "get on" very far in this country,
or in any other.

This type of out-of-work exists everywhere, in Germany, Russia, England,
and France as well as in the United States, but I am not sure that our
particular civilisation, or rather our form of government, has not a
tendency to develop it here a little more rapidly than in any other
country which I have explored.

It is a popular notion in the United States that every American has the
right to say what he thinks, and my finding is that the love of speaking
one's mind is exceedingly strong among the uneducated people of the
country. Agitators, who go among them, are partly to blame for this, and
I have observed that a number of the expressions used by the "gay-cats"
are the stock phrases of socialistic propagandists, but there is
something in the air they breathe that seems to incite them to
untempered speech. In Germany, where there is certainly far more
governmental interference to rant about, and among an equally
intelligent class of out-of-works who are not allowed for an instant the
freedom of movement permitted the same class in America, there is no
such wild talk as is to be heard among our unemployed. I have met scores
of old men on the railroads whom long indulgence in unconsidered
language has incapacitated for saying anything good about any one of our
institutions, as they conceive them, and they begrudge even their
companions a generous word. Such men, it seems to me, must necessarily
go to the wall, and although a few, perhaps, can advance evidence to
show that circumstances over which they had no control brought them low,
the majority of those that I know have themselves to blame for their
present vagabondage.

It is furthermore to be remarked concerning these aged out-of-works that
pride and unwillingness to take work outside of their trades have also
been causes of their bankruptcy. The same is true, to some extent, of
all sorts of unemployed men, young and old, but it is particularly true
of "gay-cats" who have passed their thirty-fifth year. I have known them
to tramp and beg for months rather than accept employment which they
considered beneath their training and intelligence.

It has been a revelation to me to associate with these men and see how
determined they are that the employing class shall have no opportunity
to say: "Ah, ha! we told you so!" Many of them have given up their
positions in a pet, and taken to the "road," with the idea that if they
cannot get what they want they will make the world lodge and feed them
for nothing. To bring out clearly their point of view, I will describe a
man whom I travelled with in Illinois. He had been without employment
for over eight months when I met him, and had just passed his
forty-second year. He expected to get work again before long, and was
passing the time away, until the position was ready for him, travelling
up and down the Illinois Central Railroad. He was a carpenter by
profession, and claimed that for over five years he had never worked at
any other occupation, when he worked at all.

"I put in three hard years learnin' to be a carpenter," he said, "an' I
ain't goin' to learn another trade now. For awhile I used to take all
kinds o' jobs when I got hard up, but I've got over that. It's
carpenterin' or nothin' with me from now on. You got to put your foot
down in this country or you won't get on at all.

"If I was married 'n' had kids, o' course I'd have to crawl 'n' take
what I could get, but, seein' I ain't, I'm goin' to be just as stuck up
as any other man that's got somethin' to sell. That's what all men like
us in this country ought to do. The rich have got it into their heads
that they can have us when they want us, 'n' kick us out when they don't
want us, 'n' that's what they've been doin' with the most of us. They
ain't goin' to play with me any more, though. Ten years ago I was better
off than I am now, 'n' I'd be in good shape to-day if it hadn't been for
one o' them trusts."

"Are you not at all to blame for your present condition?" I asked,
knowing that the man was fond of whiskey. He thought a moment, and then
admitted that he might have squandered less money on "booze," but he
believed that he was entitled to the "fun" that "booze" brings.

"'Course we workingmen drink," he explained, "'n' a lot of us gets on
our uppers, but ain't we got as much right to get drunk 'n' have a good
time as the rich? I'm runnin' my own life. When I want work I'll work,
'n' when I don't I won't. What we men need is more independence. What
the devil 'ud become o' the world if we refused to work? Couldn't go on
at all. That's what I keep tellin' my carpenter pals. 'Don't take
nothin' outside o' your trade,' I tell 'em, 'n' then the blokes with no
trades'll have a better chance.' But you know how it is,--you might as
well tell the most of 'em not to eat. I have had a little sense knocked
into me. You don't catch me workin' outside o' my trade. I'd rather

And, unless he got the job he expected, he is probably still "on the

Enough, perhaps, has already been said to indicate the general trend of
the philosophy of the "gay-cats," but this account of them will fail to
do them justice if I do not quote them in regard to such matters as
government, religion, and democracy. It has never been my privilege to
hear them contribute anything particularly valuable to a better
understanding of the questions they discuss, but it seems fitting to
report upon some of their conclaves, if only to show how they pass away
much of their time. They have an unconquerable desire to express
themselves on all occasions and on all subjects, and it is no
exaggeration to say that two-thirds of their day passes in talk.

In regard to the government under which we live, the favourite
expression used to characterise it was the word "fake."

"Republic!" I heard a man exclaim one day; "this ain't no republic. It's
run by the few just as much as Russia is. There ain't no real republic
in existence. You and I are just as much slaves as the negroes were."

Not all stated their opinions so strongly as this, and there were some
who believed that on paper, at least, we have a democratic form of
government, but the prevailing notion seemed to be that it was only on
paper. The Republican party is considered as derelict as the Democratic
by these critics. Neither organisation, they contend, is trying to live
up to what a republic ought to stand for, and they see no hope, either
for themselves or anybody else, in any of the existing political
parties. When quizzed about our Constitution and the functions of the
various departments of the government, they all show deplorable
ignorance, but it avails nothing to take them to task on this ground.
"They guessed they knew the facts just about as well as anybody else,"
and that was supposed to end the matter.

Religion, which the majority of the men with whom I talked took to be
synonymous with the word church, was another favourite topic of
discussion. Indeed, as I look back now over my conversations with the
"gay-cats," it seems to me that there was more said on this subject than
any other, and I have observed its popularity as a topic of conversation
among unemployed men in other countries as well. There is something
about it which is very attractive to men who are vagrants, as they
think, because of circumstances over which they had no control, and they
sit and talk by the hour about what they think the church ought to do,
and wherein it fails to accomplish that which it is supposed to have
for a purpose. The men that I met think that the reason that the church
in this country is not more successful in getting hold of people is
because it neglects its duties to the poor.

"Here you and I are," a young mechanic remarked to me, as we sat in the
cold at a railroad watering-tank, "and what does any church in this town
care about us? Ten chances to one that, excepting the Catholic priest,
every clergyman we might go to for assistance would turn us down. Is
that Christianity? Is that the way religion is going to make you and me
any better? Not on your life. I tell you, the church has got to take
more interest in me before I am going to go out of my way to take much
interest in it."

"But the church is not a public poor-house," I remonstrated. "You and I
are no more excused than other people from earning our living. If the
church had to take care of all the people who think they're poor, it
would go bankrupt in a day."

"It's bankrupt already, so far as having any influence over the men that
you and I meet," he replied. "I don't see a man more than once in six
months who goes near a church, and he's generally a Catholic. There's
something wrong, you can bet, when things have got to that pass. If the
church can't interest fellows like us, it's going to have its troubles
interesting anybody."

There were others who expressed themselves equally strongly, but I was
unable to get any satisfactory suggestion from any of them as to how the
church may be made either more religious or effective. They all had
their notions concerning its defects and shortcomings, but they seemed
unable to tell how these were to be supplanted by merits and virtues.
Many of them impressed me as men who would be capable, under different
conditions, of religious feeling, and there was something pathetic, I
thought, in the way they loved to linger in conversation on the subject
of religion, but in their present circumstances the most inspired church
in the world could not do much with them. They are victims of the
passion for indiscriminate criticism, and I doubt whether they would
know whether a church was doing its duty or not.

Naturally a never-failing subject for talk was the labour question, and,
under this general head, in particular the importation of foreign labour
by the big corporations. I cannot recall an allusion to their present
circumstances that did not bring this point prominently to the fore, and
on occasions the mere mention of the word "foreigner" was sufficient to
bring out the most violent invectives. In a number of instances they
claimed that they knew absolutely that they had been forced out of
positions to make room for aliens who would work for less money.

"An American don't count for what he used to in this country," an old
man said to me in Chicago. "The corporations don't care who a man is, so
long as he'll work cheap. 'Course a Dago can live cheaper'n I can, 'n'
so he beats me. I don't blame the Dago, 'cause he's doin' better'n he
did in Italy, anyhow, but I do blame them corporations, 'n' they're
goin' to get it in the neck some day, too. I won't live to see it,
perhaps, but you will. I tell you, Jack, there's goin' to be a
revolution in this country just as sure as this city is Chicago. It's
comin' nearer every day. Just wait till there's about a million more men
on the road, 'n' then you'll see somethin'. It'll beat that French
revolution bang up, take my tip for that."

This same man, if his companions told the truth, had had a number of
opportunities to succeed, and had let them slip through his hands. Like
hundreds of others, however, he could not bear to admit that he was to
blame for his own defeat in life, and he made the foreigner his
scapegoat. It is, perhaps, true that some foreigners in this country
have ousted some Americans from their positions, but one needs but to
make a journey on any one of the railroads frequented by "gay-cats" to
realise how small a minority of them are tramping because foreigners
have got their jobs. Corporations and trusts may or may not be
beneficial, according to the way one considers them, but, in my opinion,
they are innocent of dealing unfairly by the thousand "gay-cats" that I
have recently interviewed.



Previous to my experience in a railroad police force, I was employed by
the same railroad company in making an investigation of the tramp
situation on the lines under their management. The object of the
investigation was to find out whether the policy pursued by the company
was going to be permanently successful in keeping tramps and
"train-riders" off the property, and to discover how neighbouring roads
dealt with trespassers. Incidentally, I was also to interview tramps
that I met, and ask their opinion of the methods used by the railroad
for which I worked. The first month of the investigation was given up to
roads crossing and recrossing the lines in which I was particularly
interested, and I lived and travelled during this period like a
professional tramp. While on my travels I made the acquaintance of a
very interesting organisation of criminal tramps, which is continually
troubling railroads in the middle West. As I also had to keep watch of
it while on duty as a patrolman, an account of my experience with some
of its members seems to fall within the scope of this book.

One night, after I had been out about a week on the preliminary
investigation for the railroad, I arrived at Ashtabula, Ohio, on the
Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, in company with a little
Englishman, who, when we registered at the police station where we went
to ask for shelter, facetiously signed himself, George the Fourth. There
are four "stops," as the tramp says, in Ashtabula, three police stations
and the sand-house of the Lake Shore Railroad, and after we had used up
our welcome in the police stations we went to the sand-house. Later,
when we were sure that the police had forgotten us, we returned to the
"calabooses," and made another round of them, but we also spent several
nights at the sand-house. On our first night at the sand-house we
arrived there before the other lodgers had finished their hunt for
supper, and on the principle of "first come first served" we picked out
the best places in the sand. It was early in April, and in Ashtabula at
this season of the year the sand nearest the fire is the most
comfortable. During the evening other men and boys came in, but they
recognised that our early arrival entitled us to the good places, and
they picked out the next best. About ten o'clock we all fell asleep,
leaving barely enough room for the sand-house attendant to move about
and attend to his duties. A little after midnight I was awakened by loud
voices scolding and cursing, and heard a man, whom I could not see,
however, say:

"Kick the fellow's head off. It's your place right 'nough, teach 'im a

Somebody struck a match then, and I saw two burly men standing over the
little Englishman. They were the roughest-looking customers I have ever
seen anywhere. More matches were struck in different parts of the
sand-house, and I heard men whispering to one another that the two
disturbers were "Lake Shore Push people," and that there was going to be
a fight.

"Get up, will ye?" one of them said, in a brutal voice to my companion.
"It's a wonder ye wouldn't find a place o' yer own."

"Hit 'im with the poker," the other advised. "Stave his slats in."

Then the first speaker made as if he were going to kick the Englishman
in the head with his big hobnailed boot. The Englishman could stand it
no longer, and jumping to his feet and snatching up an empty
sand-bucket, he took a defensive position, and said:

"Come on, now, if you blokes want a scrap. One o' ye'll go down."

The crowd seemed only to need this exhibition of grit on the part of the
Britisher to make them rally to his side, and one of them set a ball of
newspapers afire for a light, and the rest grabbed sand-buckets and
pieces of board and made ready to assist the Britisher in "doing up" the
two bullies. The latter wisely decided that fifteen to two was too much
of a disadvantage, and left, threatening to come back with the "push"
and "clean out the entire house," which they failed to do, however, that
night or on any other night that the Englishman and I spent at the

After they had gone, the crowd gathered around the Englishman, and he
was congratulated on having "put up such a good front" against the two
men. Then began a general discussion of the organisation, or "push," as
it was called, which I could only partially follow. I had been out of
Hoboland for a number of years previous to this experience, and the
"push" was a new institution to me. It was obvious, however, that it
played a very prominent part in the lives of the men at the sand-house,
for each one present had a story to tell of how he had been imposed upon
by it, either on a freight-train or at some stopping-place, in more or
less the same way as the Englishman had been. Had it not been that
questions on my part would have proven me to be a "tenderfoot," which it
was bad policy for one in my position to admit as possible, I should
have made inquiries then and there, for it was plain that the "push" was
an association that ought to interest me also; but all that I learned
that night was that there was a gang of wild characters who were trying
to run the Lake Shore Railroad, so far as Hoboland was concerned,
according to their own wishes and interests, and that there were
constant clashes between them and such men as were gathered together in
the sand-house. There was no mention made of their strength or identity;
the conversation was confined to accounts of their persecutions and
crimes, and to suggestions as to how they could be made to disband. One
man, I remember, said that the only thing to do was to shoot them, one
at a time, on sight, and he declared that he would join a "push" which
would make this task its object as an organisation. "They're the
meanest push this country has ever seen," he added, "an' workin' men as
well as 'boes ought to help do 'em up. They hold up ev'rybody, an' it's
got so that it's all a man's life's worth to ride on this road."

The following morning, while reading the newspaper, a week or so old, in
which a baker had wrapped up some rolls which I had purchased of him, I
came across a paragraph in the local column, which read something like
this: "A middle-aged man was found dead yesterday morning, lying in the
bushes near the railroad track between Girard and Erie. His neck was
broken, and it is thought that he is another victim of the notorious
'Lake Shore gang.' The supposition is that he was beating his way on a
freight-train when the gang overtook him, and that, after robbing him,
they threw him off the train."

After reading this paragraph, I strolled down the Lake Shore tracks to
the west, until I came to the coal-chutes, where tramp camps are to be
found the year round. As many as fifty men can be seen here on
occasions, sitting around fires kept up by the railroad company's coal,
and "dope" from the wheel-boxes of freight-cars. I found two camps on
the morning in question, one very near the coal chutes, and the other
about a quarter of a mile farther on. There were about a dozen men at
the first, and not quite thirty at the second. I halted at the first,
thinking that both were camps where all roadsters would be welcome. I
had hardly taken a seat on one of the ties, and said, "How are you?"
when a dirty-looking fellow of about fifty years asked me, in sarcasm,
as I afterward learned, if I had a match. "S'pose y' ain't got a piece
o' wood with a little brimstone on the end of it, have ye?" were his
words. I replied that I had, and was about to hand him one, when a
general grin ran over the faces of the men, and I heard a man near me,
say, "Tenderfoot, sure." It was plain that there was something either in
my make-up or manner which was not regular, but I was not left long in
suspense as to what it was. The dirty man with the gray hair explained
the situation. "This is our fire, our camp, an' our deestrict," he said
in a gruff voice, "an' you better go off an' build one o' yer own. Ye've
got a match, ye say?" the intonation of his voice sneeringly suggesting
the interrogation. There was nothing to do but go, and I went, but I
gave the camp a minute "sizing up" as I left. The men were having what
is called in tramp parlance a "store-made scoff." They had bought eggs,
bread, butter, meat, and potatoes in Ashtabula, and were in the midst of
their breakfast when I came upon them. In looks they were what a tramp
companion of mine once described as "blowed in the glass stiffs." It is
not easy to explain to one who has never been in Hoboland and learned
instinctively to appraise roadsters what this expression signifies, but
in the present instance it means that depravity was simply dripping off
them. Their faces were "tough" and dirty, their clothes were tattered
and torn, their voices were rasping and coarse, and their general
manner was as mean as human nature is capable of. To compare them to a
collection of rowdies with which the reader is acquainted, I would say
that they resembled very closely the tramps pictured in the illustrated
edition of Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper." Their average age
was about thirty-five years, but several were fifty and over, and others
were under twenty. The clever detective would probably have picked them
out for what they were, "hobo guns,"--tramp thieves and "hold-up"
men,--but the ordinary citizen would have classified them merely as
"dirty tramps," which would also have been the truth, but not the whole

I learned more definitely about them at the second camp, where a welcome
was extended to everybody. "Got the hot-foot at the other camp, I
guess?" a young fellow said to me as I sat down beside him, and I
admitted the fact. "Those brutes wouldn't do a favour to their own
mothers," he went on. "We've jus' been chewin' the rag 'bout goin' over
an' havin' a scrap with 'em. There's enough of us this mornin' to lay
'em out."

"Who are they?"

"Some o' the Lake Shore gang. They jump in an' out o' here ev'ry few
days. There's a lot more o' them down at Painesville. They're scattered
all along the line. Las' night some of 'em held up those two
stone-masons settin' over there on that pile o' ties. Took away their
tools, an' made 'em trade clothes. Caught 'em in a box-car comin' East.
Shoved guns under their noses, an' the masons had to cough up."

A few nights after this experience, and again in company with my friend,
George the Fourth, I applied for lodging at the police station at
Ashtabula Harbour. We made two of the first four to be admitted on the
night in question, and picked out, selfishly, it is true, but entirely
within our rights, two cells near the fire. We had made up our beds on
the cell benches out of our coats and newspapers, and were boiling some
coffee on the stove preparatory to going to sleep, when four newcomers,
whom I had seen at the "push's" camp, were ushered in. They went
immediately to the cells we had chosen, and, seeing that our things were
in them, said: "These your togs in here?" We "allowed" that they were.
"Take 'em out, then, 'cause these are our cells."

"How your cells?" asked George.

"See here, young fella, do as yer told. See?"

"No, I don't see. You're not so warm." And George drew out his razor.
The men must have seen something in his eyes which cowed them, for they
chose other cells. I expected that they would maul us unmercifully
before morning, but we were left in peace.

One more episode: One afternoon George and I decided that it was time
for us to be on the move again, and we boarded a train of empty cars
bound West. We had ridden along pleasantly enough for about ten miles,
taking in the scenery through the slats of the car, when we saw three
men climb down the side of the car. George whispered "Lake Shore Push"
to me the minute we saw them, and we both knew that we were to be "held
up," if the fellows ever got at us. It was a predicament which called
for a cool head and quick action, and George the Fourth had both. He
addressed the invaders in a language peculiar to men of the road and
distinctive mainly on account of its expletives, and wound up his
harangue with the threat that the first man who tried to open the door
would have his hand cut off. And he flashed his ubiquitous razor as
evidence of his ability to carry out the threat. The engineer
fortunately whistled just then for a watering-tank, and the men
clambered back to the top of the car, and we saw them no more.

So much for my personal experience with the "Lake Shore Push" as a
possible victim; they failed to do me any harm, but it was not their
fault. They interested me so much that I spent two weeks on the Lake
Shore Railroad in order to learn the truth concerning them. I reasoned
that if such an organisation as they seemed to be was possible on one
railroad property, it might easily develop on another, and I deemed it
worth while to inform myself in regard to their origin, strength, and
purpose. Nearly every other newspaper that I came across, while
travelling in this district, made some reference to them, but always in
an indefinite way which showed that even the police reporter had not
been able to find out much about them. They were always spoken of as the
"infamous" or "notorious Lake Shore gang," and all kinds of crimes were
supposed to have been committed by them, but there was nothing in any of
the newspaper paragraphs which gave me any clue as to their identity. In
the course of my investigations I ran across a man by the name of Peg
Kelley, who had known me years before in the far West, and with whom I
had tramped at different times. We went over in detail, I romancing a
little, our experiences in the interval of time since our last meeting,
and he finally confessed to me that he was a member of the "Lake Shore
Push," and added that he was prepared to suggest my name for membership.
From him I got what he claims are the facts in regard to the "push." To
the best of my knowledge, never before in our history has an association
of outlaws developed on the same lines as has the "Lake Shore Push," and
it stands alone in the purpose for which it now exists.

In the early seventies, some say in 1874, and others a little earlier,
there lived in a row of old frame houses standing on, or near, the site
of the present Lake View Park in Cleveland, Ohio, a collection of
professional criminals, among whom were six fellows called New Orleans
Tom, Buffalo Slim, Big Yellow, Allegheny B., Looking Glass Jack, and
Garry. The names of these particular men are given, because Peg Kelley
believes that they constituted the nucleus of the present "Lake Shore
Push." They are probably all dead by this time; at any rate, the word
"push" was not current tramp slang in their day, and they referred to
themselves merely as the "gang." Cleveland was their headquarters, and
it is reported that the town was a sort of Mecca for outlaws throughout
the neighbouring vicinity. The main "graft," or business, of the gang,
was robbing merchandise cars, banks, post-offices, and doing what is
called "slough work," robbing locked houses. The leader of the company,
if such men can be said to have a leader, was New Orleans Tom, who is
described as a typical Southern desperado. He had been a sailor before
joining the gang, and claimed that during the Civil War he was captured
by Union soldiers and sailors, while on the _Harriet Lane_, lying off
Galveston. The gang grew in numbers as the years went on, and there is a
second stage in its development when Danny the Soldier, as he was
called, seems to have taken Slim's place in leadership. By 1880,
although still not called "The Lake Shore Push," the gang had made a
name for itself, or, rather, a "record," to use the word which the men
themselves would have preferred, and had become known to tramps and
criminals throughout northern Ohio and southern Michigan. The police got
after them from time to time, and there were periods when they were
considerably scattered, but whenever they came together again, even in
twos and threes, it was recognised that pals were meeting pals. When
members of the gang died or were sent to limbo, it was comparatively
easy to fill their places either with "talent" imported from other
districts, or with local fellows who were glad to become identified with
a mob. There has always been a rough element in such towns as Cleveland,
Toledo, Erie, and Buffalo, from which gangs could be recruited; it is
composed largely of "lakers," men who work on the lakes during the open
season, and live by their wits in winter time. This class has
contributed its full share to the criminal population of the country,
and has always been heavily represented in mobs and gangs along the lake

Opinions differ, Peg Kelley claims, as to when the name "Lake Shore
Push" was first used by the gang, as well as to who invented it, but it
is his opinion, and I have none better to offer, that it was late in the
eighties when it was first suggested, and that it was outsiders, such
as transient roadsters, who made the expression popular. He says, in
regard to this point:

"The gang was known to hang out along the lake shore, an' mainly on the
Lake Shore Road, an' 'boes from other States kep' seein' 'em an' hearin'
about 'em when they came this way. Well, ye know how 'boes are. If they
see a bloke holdin' down a district they give 'im the name o' the place,
an' that's the way the gang got its monikey (nickname). The 'boes kep'
talkin' about the push holdin' down the Lake Shore Road, an' after
awhile they took to callin' it the 'Lake Shore Push.'

"Ev'ry 'bo in the country knows the name now. Way out in 'Frisco, 'f
they know 't ye've come from 'round here they'll ask ye 'bout the push,
if it's what it's cracked up to be, an' all that kind o' thing. It's got
the biggest rep of any 'bo push in the country."

The story of how the "push" got its "rep" is best told by Peg, and in
his own words. I have been at considerable pains to verify his
statements, and have yet to discover him in wilful misrepresentation. He
admits that the "push" has done some dastardly deeds, and appreciates
perfectly why it is so hated by out-of-works who have to "beat" their
way on trains which run through its territory, but he believes that it
could not have been otherwise, considering the purpose for which the
"push" was organised.

"Ye can't try to monopolise anythin', Cigarette," he said to me,
"without gettin' into a row with somebody, an' that's been the
'xperience o' the push. When there was jus' that Cleveland gang, nobody
said nothin', 'cause they didn't try to run things, but the minute the
big push came ev'rybody was talkin', an' they're chewin' the rag yet."

"Who first thought of organising the big push?"

"I don't know 't any one bloke thought of it. It was at the time that
trusts an' syndicates an' that kind o' thing was beginnin' to be
pop'lar, an' the blokes had been readin' 'bout 'em in the newspapers. I
was out West then,--it was in '89,--an' didn't know 'bout the push one
way or the other, but from what the blokes tell me the idea came to all
of 'em 'bout the same time. Ye see, that Cleveland gang had kep' growin'
an' growin' an' spreadin' out, an' after awhile there was a big mob of
'em floatin' up an' down the road here. Blokes from other places had got
into it, an' they'd got to be the biggest push on the line. There was no
partickler leader, the way the James and Dalton gangs had leaders, an'
there never has been. 'Course the newspapers try to make out that this
fella an' that fella runs the thing, but they don't know what they're
talkin' 'bout. The bigger the gang got, the more room it wanted, an'
pretty soon they began to get a grouch on against the gay-cats that kep'
comin' to their camps. Ye know how it is yourself. When ye've got
'customed to a push, ye don't want to have to mix with a lot o'
strangers, an' that's the way the gang felt, an' they got to drivin' the
gay-cats away from their camps. That started 'em to wonderin' why they
shouldn't have the Lake Shore Road all to themselves. As I was tellin'
ye, trusts an' syndicates was gettin' into the air 'bout that time, an'
the push didn't see why it couldn't have one too; an' they begun to have
reg'lar fights with the gay-cats. I came into the push jus' about the
time the scrappin' began. I ain't speshully fond o' scrappin', but I did
like the idea o' dividin' up territory. There's no use talkin', Cig, if
all the 'boes in the country 'ud do what we been tryin' to do, there'd
be a lot more money in the game. Take the Erie Road, the Pennsy, the
Dope,[1] an' the rest of 'em. Ye know as well as I do, 't if the 'boes
on those lines 'ud organise an' keep ev'ry bum off of 'em 't wasn't in
the push, an' 'ud keep the push from gettin' too large, they'd be a lot
better off. 'Course there's got to be scrappin' to do the thing, but
that don't need to interfere. See how the trusts an' syndicates scrap
till they get what they want, an' see how many throats they cut. We've
thrown bums off trains, I won't deny it, an' we hold up ev'ry one of
'em 't we can get hold of, but ain't that what the trusts are doin',

I asked him whether the "push" distinguished or not in the people it

"If a reg'lar 'bo, a fella 't we know by name," he went on, "will open
up an' tell us who he is, an' his graft, we'll let 'im go, but we tell
'im that the world's gettin' smaller 'n' smaller, 'n' 't he'd better get
a cinch on a part of it, too. That don't mean 't he can join the push,
an' he knows it. He understan's what we're drivin' at. He can ride on
the road 'f he likes, but he'll get sick o' bein' by himself all the
time, an' 'll take a mooch after awhile. 'Course all don't do it, ye've
seen yerself that there's hunderds runnin' up an' down the line 't we
ain't got rid of, an' p'r'aps never will. I ain't so dead sure that the
thing's goin' to work, but the coppers'll never break us up, anyhow.
They've been tryin' now for years, an' they've got some of the blokes
settled, but we can fill their places the minute they've gone."

"How many are in the push?"

"'Bout a hunderd an' fifty. Sometimes there's more an' sometimes
there's less, but it aver'ges 'bout that."

"Do all the fellows come from around here?"

"No, not half of 'em. There's fellas from all over; a lot of 'em are

"What is the main graft?"

"Well, we're diggin' into these cars right along. We got plants all
along the road, from Buffalo to Chi. I can fit ye out in a new suit o'
clothes to-morrow, 'f ye want to go up the line with me."

"Don't the railroad people trouble you?"

"O' course, they ain't lookin' on while we're robbin' 'em, but they
can't do very much. We got the trainmen pretty well scared, an' when
they get too rambunctious we do one of 'em up."

"Do you ever shift to other roads?"

"Lately we've branched out a little over on the Dope an' the Erie, but
the main hang-outs are on the Shore. We know this road down to the
ground, an' we ain't so sure o' the others. Most o' the post-office
work, though, is done off this road."

"What kind of work is that?"

"Peter-work,[2] o' course, what d'ye think?"

"Pan out pretty well?"

"Don't get much cash, but the stamps are jus' about as good. Awhile ago
I was payin' fer ev'rythin' in stamps. Felt like one o' the old
fourth-class postmasters."

"Doesn't the government get after you?"

"Oh, it's settled some of us, but as I was tellin' ye, there's always
fellas to take the empty places."

"Got much fall money?"

"No, not a bit. We don't save anythin', it all goes fer booze an' grub.
I've seen a big box o' shoes go fer two kegs o' beer, an' ye can't get
much fall money out o' that kind o' bargaining. We have a good time,
though, an' we're the high-monkey-monks o' this road."

Later he introduced me to some of his companions. They were the same
kind of men with whom the Englishman and I had had the disagreeable
encounters,--rough and vicious-looking. "They're not bad fellas, are
they?" Peg asked, when we were alone again. "You'd tie up to them, Cig,
'f ye was on the Shore, I know ye would."

It was useless to argue with him, and we separated, he to join a
detachment of the "push" in western New York, and I to continue on my
way westward. Since the meeting with Peg I have been back several times
in the "push's" territory, and have continued to make acquaintances in
it. In the tramp's criminal world it stands for the most successful form
of syndicated lawlessness known up to date, and, unless soon broken up
and severely dealt with, it will serve as a pattern for other
organisations. Whether it is copied or not, however, when the history of
crime in the United States is written, and a very interesting history it
will be, the "Lake Shore Push" must be given by the historian a
prominent place in his classification of criminal mobs.


[1] Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

[2] A "Peter-man" is a safe-"blower," and Peter-work is safe-breaking.



It is a popular notion that tramps have a mysterious sign-language in
which they communicate secrets to one another in regard to professional
matters. It is thought, for instance, that they make peculiar chalk and
pencil marks on fences and horse-blocks, indicating to the brotherhood
such things as whether a certain house is "good" or not, where a
ferocious dog is kept, at what time the police are least likely, or most
likely, to put in an appearance, how late in the morning a barn can be
occupied before the farmer will be up and about, and where a convenient
chicken-coop is located.

Elaborate accounts have been written in newspapers about the amount of
information they give to one another in this way, and many persons
believe that tramps rely on a sign-language in their begging.

It is well to state at the outset that this is a false conception of
their methods. They all have jargons and lingoes of their own choosing
and making, and they converse in them when among themselves, but the
reported puzzling signs and marks which are supposed to obviate all
verbal speech are a fabrication so far as the majority of roadsters are
concerned. Among the "Blanket Stiffs" in the far West, and among the
"Bindle Men," "Mush Fakirs," and "Turnpikers," of the middle West, the
East, and Canada, there exists a crude system of marking "good" houses,
but these vagrants do not belong to the rank and file of the tramp army,
and are comparatively few in numbers.

It is furthermore to be said that the marking referred to is occasional
rather than usual. Probably one of the main reasons why the public has
imagined that tramps use hieroglyphics, in their profession is that when
charity is shown to one of them the giver is frequently plagued with a
visitation from a raft of beggars.

This phenomenon, however, is easily explained without recourse to the
sign-language theory. Outside of nearly all towns of ten thousand
inhabitants and more the tramps have little camps or "hang-outs," where
they make their headquarters while "working" the community. Naturally
they compare notes at meal-time, and if one beggar has discovered what
he considers an easy "mark,"--a good house,--he tells his pals about it,
so that they may also get the benefit of its hospitality. The finder of
the house cannot visit it himself again until his face has been
forgotten, at any rate he seldom does visit it more than once during a
week's stay in the town; but his companions can, so he tells them where
it is, and what kind of a story they must use.

Although the hoboes do not make use of the marks and signs with which
the popular fancy has credited them, they have a number of interesting
theories about begging and a large variety of clever ruses to deceive
people, and it is well for the public to keep as up-to-date in regard to
these matters as they keep in regard to the public's sympathies. Not all
tramps are either clever or successful; the "road" is travelled by a
great many more amateurs than professionals, but it is the earnest
endeavour of all at least to make a living, and there are thousands who
make something besides.

Roughly estimated, there are from sixty to seventy-five thousand tramps
in the United States, and probably a fifth of all may be classified as
"first-class" tramps. There is a second and a third class, and even a
fourth, but it is the "A Number One men," as they call themselves, who
are the most interesting.

The main distinction between these tramps and the less successful
members of the craft is that they have completely conquered the
amateur's squeamishness about begging. It seems comparatively easy to go
to a back door and ask for something to eat, and the mere wording of the
request is easy,--all too easy,--but the hard part of the transaction is
to screw up courage enough to open the front gate. The beginner in
tramp life goes to a dozen front gates before he can brace himself for
the interview at the back door, and there are men to whom a vagrant life
is attractive who never overcome the "tenderfoot's" bashfulness.

It was once my lot to have a rather successful professional burglar for
a companion on a short tramp trip in the middle West. We had come
together in the haphazard way that all tramp acquaintanceships are
formed. We met at a railroad watering-tank. The man's sojourn in
trampdom, however, was only temporary; it was a good hiding-place until
the detectives should give up the hunt for him. He had "planted" his
money elsewhere, and meanwhile he had to take his chances with the

He was not a man who would ordinarily arouse much pity, but a tramp
could not have helped having sympathy for him at meal-time. At every
interview he had at back doors he was seized with the "tenderfoot's"
bashfulness, and during the ten days that our companionship lasted he
got but one "square meal." His profession of robber gave him no

"I can steal," he said, "go into houses at night, and take my chances in
a shootin' scrape, but I'll be ---- if I can beg. 'Taint like swipin'.
When ye swipe, ye don't ask no questions, an' ye don't answer none. In
this business ye got to cough up yer whole soul jus' to get a lump
(hand-out). I'd rather swipe."

This is the testimony of practically all beginners in the beggar's
business; at the start thieving seems to them a much easier task. As the
weeks and months pass by, however, they become hardened and discover
that their "nerve" needs only to be developed to assert itself, and the
time comes when nothing is so valuable that they do not feel justified
in asking for it. They then definitely identify themselves with the
profession and build up reputations as "first-class" tramps.

Each man's experience suggests to him how this reputation can best be
acquired. One man, for example, finds that he does best with a "graft"
peculiarly his own, and another discovers that it is only at a certain
time of the year, or in a particular part of the country, that he comes
out winner. The tramp has to experiment in all kinds of ways ere he
understands himself or his public, and he makes mistakes even after an
apprenticeship extending over years of time.

In every country where he lives, however, there is a common fund of
experience and fact by which he regulates his conduct in the majority of
cases. It is the collective testimony of generations and generations of
tramps who have lived before him, and he acts upon it in about the same
way that human beings in general act upon ordinary human experience.

Emergencies arise when his own ingenuity alone avails and the "average
finding" is of no use to him, and on such occasions he makes a note on
the case and reports about it at the next "hang-out" conclave. If he has
invented something of real value, a good begging story, for instance,
and it is generally accepted as good, it is labelled "Shorty's Gag," or
"Slim's," as the man's name may be, and becomes his contribution to the
general collection of "gags."

It is the man who has memorised the greatest number of "gags" or "ghost
stories," as they are also called, and can handle them deftly as
circumstances suggest, that is the most successful beggar. There are
other requirements to be observed, but unless a man has a good stock of
stories with which to "fool" people, he cannot expect to gain a foothold
among "the blowed in the glass stiffs." He must also keep continually
working over his stock. "Ghost stories" are like bonnets; those that
were fashionable and _comme il faut_ last year are this year out of
date, and they must be changed to suit new tastes and conditions, or be
replaced by new ones. Frequently a fresh version of an old story has to
be improvised on the spot, so to speak.

The following personal experience illustrates under what circumstances
"gags" are invented. It also shows how even the professionals forget
themselves and their pose on occasions.

One morning, about eight years ago, I arrived in a small town in the
Mohawk valley in company with a tramp called Indianapolis Red. We had
ridden all night in a box-car in the hope of reaching New York by
morning, but the freight had been delayed on account of a wreck, and we
were so hungry when we reached the town in question that we simply had
to get off and look for something to eat. It was not a place, as we well
knew, where tramps were welcome, but the train would not stop again at a
town of any size until long after breakfast, so we decided to take our

We had an hour at our disposal until the next "freight" was due. The
great question was what story we should tell, and we both rummaged
through our collections to find a good one. Finally, after each of us
had suggested a number of different stories and had refused them in
turn, on the ground that they were too old for such a "hostile" place,
Red suggested that we try "the deef 'n' dum' gag." There are several
"gags" of this description, and I asked him which one he meant.

"Let's work it this way," he said, and he began to improvise. "I'm your
deef 'n' dum' brother, see? An' we're on our way to New York, where I'm
going to get a job. I'm a clerk, and you're seein' me down to the city
so's't nothin'll happen to me. Our money's given out, an' we've simply
got to ask fer assistance. We're ter'bly hungry, an' you want to know if
the lady o' the house'll be good enough to help yer brother along. See?"

I "saw" all right, and accepted the proposition, but the odds seemed
against us, because the town was one of the most unfriendly along the
line. We picked out a house near the track. As a rule such houses have
been "begged out," but we reasoned that if our story would go at all it
would go there, and besides the house was convenient for catching the
next freight-train.

As we approached the back door I was careful to talk to Red on my
fingers, thinking that somebody might be watching us. A motherly old
lady answered our knock. I told her Red's story in my best manner,
filling it out with convincing details. She heard me out, and then
scrutinised Red in the way that we all look at creatures who are
peculiar or abnormal. Then she smiled and invited us into the
dining-room where the rest of the family were at breakfast. It turned
out to be a Free Methodist clergyman's household. We were given places
at the table, and ate as rapidly as we could, or rather Red did; I was
continually being interrupted by the family asking me questions about my
"unfortunate brother."

"Was he born that way?" they asked, in hushed voices. "How did he learn
to write? Can he ever get well?" and other like queries which I had to
answer in turn. By the time I had finished my meal, however, I saw by a
clock on the wall that we had still fifteen minutes to catch our train,
and gave Red a nudge under the table as a hint that we ought to be
going. We were about to get up and thank our hostess for her kindness
when the man of the house, the clergyman, suggested that we stay to
family prayers.

"Glad to have you," he said; "if you can remain. You may get good out of
it." I told him frankly that we wanted to catch a train and had only a
few minutes to spare, but he assured me that he would not be long and
asked me to explain the situation to Red. I did so with my fingers,
telling the parson afterward that Red's wiggling of his fingers meant
that he would be delighted to stay, but a wink of his left eye, meant
for me alone, said plainly enough to "let the prayers go."

We stood committed, however, and there was nothing to do but join the
family in the sitting-room, where I was given a Bible to read two
verses, one for Red and one for myself. This part of the program
finished, the parson began to pray. All went well until he came to that
part of his prayer where he referred to the "unfortunate brother in our
midst," and asked that Red's speech and hearing be restored.

Just then Red heard the whistle of our freight. He forgot everything,
all that I had said and all that he had tried to act out, and with a
wild whoop he sprang for the door, shouting back to me, as he went out:

"Hustle, Cigarette, there's our rattler."

There was nothing to do but follow after him as fast as my legs would
carry me, and I did so in my liveliest manner. I have never been in the
town since this experience, and it is to be hoped that the parson's
family have forgiven and forgotten both Red and me.

Besides studying the persons of whom he begs, and to whom he adapts his
"ghost stories" as their different natures require, the tramp also has
to keep in mind the time of the day, the state of the weather, and the
character of the community in which he is begging. I refer, of course,
to the expert tramp. The amateur blunders on regardless of these
important details, and asks for things which have no relation with the
time of the day, the season, or the locality.

It is bad form, for instance, to ask early in the morning for money to
buy a glass of whiskey, and it is equally inopportune to request a
contribution toward the purchase of a railway ticket late at night. The
"tenderfoot" is apt to make both of these mistakes; the expert, never.
The steady patrons of beggars, and all old hands at the business have
such, seldom realise how completely adjusted to local conditions "ghost
stories" are. They probably think that they have heard the story told to
them time and again and in the same way, but if they observe carefully
they will generally find that, either in the modulation of the voice, or
the tone of expression, it is different on rainy days, for instance,
from what it is when the sun shines. It takes a trained ear to
discriminate, and expert beggars realise that much of their finesse is
lost even on persons who give to them; but they are artists in their
way, and believe in "art for art's sake." Then, too, it is always
possible that they will encounter somebody who will appreciate their
talent, and this is also a gratification.

Speaking generally, there is more begging done in winter than in summer,
and in the East and North than in the South and West; but some of the
cleverest begging takes place in the warm months. It is comparatively
easy to get something to eat and a bed in a lodging-house when the
thermometer stands ten degrees below zero. A man feels mean in refusing
an appeal to his generosity at this time of the year. "I may be cold and
hungry some day myself," he thinks, and he gives the beggar a dime or

In summer, on the other hand, the tramp has no freezing weather to help
him out, and has to invent excuses. Even a story of "no work" is of
little use in the summer. This is the season, as a rule, when work is
most plentiful, and when wages are highest, and the tramp knows it, and
is aware that the public also understands this much of political
economy. Nevertheless, he must live in summer as well as in winter, and
he has to plan differently for both seasons.

The main difference between his summer and winter campaigns is that he
generally travels in summer, taking in the small towns where people are
less "on to him," and where there are all kinds of free "dosses" (places
to sleep), in the shape of barns and empty houses. In November he
returns to the cities again to get the benefit of the cold weather
"dodge," or goes South to Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

Probably fifteen thousand Eastern and Northern tramps winter in the
South every year. Their luck there seems to be entirely individual; some
do well and others barely live. They are all glad, however, to return to
the North in April and go over their old routes again.

An amusing experience that I had not long ago illustrates the different
kind of tactics necessary in the tramp's summer campaign. So far as I
know, he has never made use of the story that did me such good service,
and that was told in all truthfulness, but it has since occurred to me
that he might find it useful, and I relate it here so that the reader
may not be taken unawares if some tramp should attempt to get the
benefit of it.

I was travelling with some tramps in western Pennsylvania at the time,
and we were "beating" our way on a freight-train toward a town where we
expected to spend the night. Noontime found us all hungry, and we got
off the train at a small village to look for lunch. It was such a small
place that it was decided that each man should pick out his particular
"beat," and confine his search to the few houses it contained. If some
failed to get anything, those who were more successful were to bring
them back "hand-outs."

My "beat" was so sparsely settled that I hardly expected to get so much
as a piece of bread, because the entire village was known to hate
tramps; but an inspiration came to me as I was crossing the fields, and
I got a "set-down" and a "hand-out" at the first house I visited.

The interview at the back door ran thus:

"Madam,"--she was rather a severe-looking woman,--"I have exactly five
cents in my pocket and I am awfully hungry. I know that you don't keep a
boarding-house, but I have come to you thinking that you will give me
more for my nickel than the storekeeper will over in the village. I
shall be obliged to you if you will help me out."

A look of surprise came into the woman's face. I was a new species to
her, and I knew it, and she knew it.

"Don't know whether we've got anything you want," she said, as if I were
a guest rather than a wayfarer.

"Anything will do, madam, anything," I replied, throwing into my words
all the sincerity of which a hungry man is capable. She invited me into
the dining-room, and gave me a most satisfying meal. There were no
conversational interruptions. I ate my meal in silence and the woman
watched me. The new species interested her.

Just as I was finishing, she put some sandwiches, cake, and pie into a
newspaper. I had made a good impression.

"There," she said, as I was about to go. "You may need it."

I held out my nickel and thanked her. She blushed, and put her hands
behind her back.

"I don't keep a hotel," she said, rather indignantly.

"But, madam, I want to pay you. I'm no beggar."

"You wouldn't have got it if you had been. Good-bye."

The tramps' methods of begging, as has been said, are largely regulated
by circumstances and experience, but even the amateurs have theories
about the profession, and they are never more interesting than when
sitting around some "hang-out" camp-fire, discussing their notions of
the kind of "ghost stories" that go best with different sorts of people.
Indeed, the bulk of their time is passed in conferences of this
character. Each man, like the passionate gambler, has a "system," and he
enjoys "chewing the rag" about its intricacies. The majority of the
systems are founded on the tramp's knowledge of women. Taking the
country by and large, he sees more of women on his begging tours than
of men, and it is only natural that his theoretical calculations should
be busied mainly with women. Some tramps believe that they can tell to a
nicety what a blonde woman will give in excess of a brunette, or vice
versa, and the same of a large woman in contra-distinction to a small
one. Much of their theorising in these matters is as futile as is the
gambler's estimate of his chances of luck, but certain it is that after
a long apprenticeship they become phenomenally accurate in "sizing up"
people; and it is he who can correctly "size up" the greatest number of
people at first glance and adapt himself to their peculiarities, that
comes out winner in the struggle.

Next in importance to the ability to appraise correctly the generous
tendencies of his patrons, and to modulate his voice and to concoct
stories according to their tastes, come the tramp's clothes and the way
he wears them. It probably seems to most persons that the tramp never
changes his clothes, and that he always looks as tattered and torn as
when they happen to see him, but the expert has almost as many
"changes" as the actor. Some days he dresses very poorly; this is
generally the case in winter; and on other days he looks as neat and
clean as the ordinary business man. It all depends on the weather and
the "beat" he has chosen for the day's work. Every morning, before he
starts out on his tour, he takes a look at the weather and decides upon
his "beat." The "beat" selected, he puts on the "togs" which he thinks
suit the weather, and away he goes for better or worse. In New York city
there are probably a hundred scientific beggars of this character, and
they live as well as does the man with a yearly income of $2,000.

Sunday is the most dismal day in the week to the average tramp,--the
beggar who is content with his three meals a day and a place to lie down
in at night. But few men who go on tramp for the first time expect that
Sunday is going to be any different from any other day in the week. They
usually reach "the road" on a week-day after a debauch, and they find
that their soiled clothes and general unkempt condition differentiate
them in public thoroughfares very little from hundreds of workingmen. No
policeman worries them with suspicious glances, and in large cities they
pass unchallenged even in the dead of night. Indeed, they receive so
little notice from any one that they wonder how they had ever imagined
that outcasts were such marked human beings.

Then comes their first Sunday. They get up out of their hayloft, or
wherever it may be that they lay down the night before, prepared to look
for their breakfast just as they did on the previous day, and after
brushing off their clothes and washing themselves at some pump or public
faucet, they start out. In a small town they feel that something is
wrong before they have gone a block, and by nine o'clock in large towns
they decide to go without their breakfast if they have not yet got it. A
change has come over the earth; they seem out of place even to
themselves, and they return through back streets to their lodging-houses
or retreats on the outskirts of the town, sincerely regretting that
they are travellers of "the road."

A number of men in the world have to thank this Sunday nausea that they
are to-day workers and not tramps. The latter feel the effects of it to
the end of their days; it is as unescapable as death, but like certain
seafaring men who never get entirely free of seasickness and yet
continue as sailors, so old vagabonds learn to expect and endure the
miserable sensations which they experience on the first day of the week.
These sensations are due to the remnant of manhood which is to be found
in nearly all tramps. The majority of them are for all practical
purposes outcasts, but at breakfast-time, on Sunday morning, they have
emotions which on week-days no one would give them credit for.

It was my fate, some years ago, to be one of a collection of wanderers
who had to while away a Sunday in a "dugout" on a bleak prairie in
western Kansas. We had nothing to eat or drink and practically nothing
to talk about except our dismal lot. Toward nightfall we got to
discussing in all earnestness the miserableness of our existence, and I
have always remembered the remarks of a fellow sufferer whom we called
"West Virginia Brown." He was supposed to be the degenerate scion of a
noble English family, and was one of the best educated men I have ever
met in Hoboland. He took little part in the general grumbling, but at
last there was a lull in the conversation, and he spoke up.

"I wonder," he said, "whether the good people who rest on Sunday, go to
church, and have their best dinner in the week, realise how life is
turned upside down for us on that day. There have always been men like
us in the world, and it is for us as much as for any one, so far as I
know, that religion exists, and yet the day in the week set apart for
religion is the hardest of all for us to worry through. Was it, or
wasn't it, the intention that outcasts were to have religion? The way
things are now, we are made to look upon Sunday and all that it means
with hatred, and yet I don't believe that there's any one in the world
who tries to be any squarer to his pals than we do, and that's what I
call being good."

The last "the road" knew of Brown, he was serving a five years' sentence
in a Canadian prison. His lot cannot be pleasant, but methinks that on
Sundays, at least, he is glad that he is not "outside."



As a political party the tramps cannot be said to amount to much.
Counting "gay-cats" and hoboes, the two main wings of the army, they are
numerous enough, if concentrated in a single State, or in a city like
New York, to cast, perhaps, the determining vote in a close election,
but they are so scattered that they never become a formidable political
organisation. They are more in evidence in the East than in the West,
and in the North than in the South, but they are to be met in every
State and Territory in the Union. On account of their migratory habits
very few of them are legally entitled to vote, and the probability is
that only a small fraction of them actively take part in elections. In
large cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco,
and during fiercely fought political struggles even in some of the
smaller towns, they are collected into colonies by unscrupulous
electioneering specialists, and paid to vote as they are told, but
otherwise they make very little effort to have their voices count in
political affairs. Two of their number, Indiana Blackie and Railroad
Jack, have achieved some notoriety as stump speakers, and Blackie was a
man who might have secured political preferment,--a consulship,
perhaps,--if he had understood how to keep sober, but he broke down
during a campaign in West Virginia, and was drowned not long after in
the Ohio River. In Wheeling, West Virginia, I heard him make one of the
wittiest political speeches I have ever heard anywhere, and his hearers
listened to him as attentively as a few evenings before they had
listened to a famous politician. The speech was no sooner ended,
however, than Blackie went off on a terrible "jag," and I saw him at
noon the next day, looking for a wash-boiler. He was splattered all
over with mud, and did not know whether he was in West Virginia or
Indiana. He finally concluded from the colour of the mud that he was out
in Wyoming.

Although the tramps have no comprehensive political organisation, and
take but little interest in voting, except when their ballots bring in
hard cash, they are great talkers on political questions of the day, and
are continually championing the cause of some well-known political
leader. As a class, they may be called _Geister die stets
verneinen_,--they are almost invariably in opposition to the party in
power. Since the last presidential election Mr. William Jennings Bryan
has been their hero, and they expect of him, if his ambition to be
President is ever gratified, a release from all the troubles which they
think are now oppressing the country, and particularly themselves. They
have, without doubt, misconstrued a great deal that Mr. Bryan has said
in his speeches and writings; they have pinned their faith to him
without carefully considering his promises; but in something that he
has said or done, or in his personality, they have discovered, they
think, the elements of leadership, which, for the nonce, at any rate,
they admire. There is not a man in the country at the present moment,
for whom they would shout as much, and in whose honour they would get so
drunk, as for Mr. Bryan. They know very little concerning his theories
about silver, beyond the expression, "The Cross of Gold," and they are
very scantily informed in regard to his notions about expansion and
imperialism, but he represents for them, as probably no other political
leader ever did, upheaval and revolution, and it is on such things that
they expect to thrive.

The place to hear them talk and to get acquainted with their political
views is at the "hang-out." Practically any nook or corner where they
can lie down at night is a "hang-out" to them, but as most of their life
is spent on the railroads their main gathering points are little camps
built alongside the track. Here they sleep, eat, wait for trains, and
"chew the rag." Much of their conversation is confined to purely
professional matters, but every now and then, at some large camp, a
roadster will make a slurring remark about this or that political
leader, or a paragraph in a newspaper in regard to a "burning" question
of the hour will be read aloud, and the confab begins. The topic that
started it is soon smothered under a continually accumulating pile of
fresh ones, but that does not matter, the "hang-out" never settles
anything; it takes up one thing after the other in rapid succession, as
fancy dictates, and one must listen carefully merely to catch the drift
of what is said. The sentences are short and broken, and a word often
suffices to kill what promised to be a lengthy discussion. The old men
speak first, the young men next, and the boys are supposed to keep quiet
and listen. Sometimes, when "booze" accompanies the talk, the age
distinctions are temporarily overlooked, and all speak together; but
this kind of a conclave finally ends in a free fight, to which politics
and everything else are subordinated.

The burden of practically all the palavers is "the way the country is
going to the dogs." It comes as natural to the average tramp to declare
that the United States is in dire peril as it does to the German
socialist to say that Germany is a miserable _Polizei-Staat_. He does
not honestly believe all that he says, and it needs but a scurrilous
remark about our country from some foreign roadster to startle him into
a pugnacious patriotism; but in the bosom of his "hang-out" he takes
delight in explaining what a bad plight the country is in. This is
really his political creed. Free trade, protection, civil service
reform, the currency question, pensions, and expansion are mere side
issues in his opinion. The real issue is what he considers the frightful
condition of our "internal affairs." From Maine to California the tramps
may be heard chattering by the hour on this topic, and they have singled
out Mr. Bryan as their spokesman because they think that he voices their
pessimism better than any other man in public view.

It came as a surprise to me, when first getting acquainted with tramps,
to find that they were such grumblers and critics,--such _Nörgler_, as
Kaiser Wilhelm says. I had pictured them as a class which managed to
live more or less successfully whether any one else got on or not, and
had imagined that they were, comparatively speaking, at peace with the
world. That they troubled themselves with public questions and political
problems was a thought that had not occurred to me. The fact is,
however, that they are as fierce political partisans as the country
contains, and in talking with them one must be careful not to let an
argument go beyond what in polite society would be considered rather
narrow bounds. They are quick to resort to fists in all discussions, and
in my intercourse with them it has paid best to let them do most of the
talking when politics has been the topic of conversation.

It would take a book, and a large one at that, to report all the
evidence that they advance at "hang-out" conferences in support of
their statements concerning the evils from which they believe the
country is now suffering, but no account of their political notions, no
matter how short, should fail to take note of their rantings against
capital, and what they consider the political corruption of the country.
Nearly every conversation they have on politics begins with some wild
assertion in regard to one of these topics, and Mr. Bryan's name is
invariably dragged into the discussion. They believe that he hates the
man who has saved money and understands how to make it earn more, quite
as much as they do, and they will be very much disappointed in him, in
case he is ever elected President, if he does not suggest legislation by
which the rich man can be made "to shell out his coin." On no subject do
the tramps use such violent language as on this one of the capitalist.
They think that it is he who has imported all the foreign labour in the
country,--another eyesore in their opinion; who has made England the
real "boss" of things on this side of the Atlantic,--a notion which
they claim to have dug out of Mr. Bryan's speeches; who has reduced the
wages of the "poor workingman" and increased the cost of living; and,
worst of all, who is now trying to take away from them what they
consider their inalienable railway privileges.

They hold him answerable also for the trusts and syndicates, agitation
against which they require from any political party in which they take
an interest. They have thought seriously over these matters about as
much as a ten-year-old child has, but that does not matter. They do not
propose to think hard about anything. Mr. Bryan is for the present doing
all the thinking which they consider necessary, and they are content
merely to repeat in their own jargon statements which he has made, or
which they think he has made. He has become for them an infallible
oracle, who understands them and their position, and whom they
understand. In the bottom of their hearts they know that they are
deserving of precious little championship, that they lead despicable
lives, and commit some very reprehensible deeds; but it is a
consolation to them which they cannot let go, to think that Mr. Bryan
includes them in his classification of victims of the "gold bugs," so
they try to make propaganda for him.

The time was when many of them shouted for Henry George and "General"
Coxey as vociferously as they now shout for Bryan. They expected from
George and Coxey the same overthrow of their imaginary oppressors and
general upheaval of things that they now look forward to from Mr. Bryan.
They were once also enamoured of Mr. Blaine, but for a different reason.
They admired the way he championed the cause of Americans who got into
trouble in foreign parts. When he was Secretary of State it was a
temporary fad among them to scold about the way Americans were treated
abroad, and on one occasion, the details of which I have forgotten, Mr.
Blaine pleased them immensely by insisting on the release of an American
who had been falsely arrested in some foreign port.

They are particularly entertaining when talking about the corruption in
the country. They discuss this question with all the seriousness of
professional moralists and reformers, and it seems never to occur to
them that there is any inconsistency in their attitude toward the
matter. An amusing instance of their lack of perception in this
particular came to my notice in Columbus, O., where I was temporarily on
duty as a railroad police officer. One morning, word came that Mr. Bryan
was expected to arrive about noon. He was to give a talk to his local
admirers. There were about two hours between the time I received notice
of his coming and the hour of his arrival, and I put them in strolling
about the streets, seeing whether there were any light-fingered gentry
in the town whom I knew. In the course of my wanderings I dropped into a
saloon in one of the side streets where a man, whom I recognised as a
"hobo gun,"--a tramp pickpocket,--was holding forth in loud language on
the "poleetical c'rupshun" in the country, and in Ohio in particular.
He made the usual platitudinous remarks about this matter, to which his
drunken hearers listened with approval, and wound up his harangue with a
eulogy on Mr. Bryan, who was "the one honest man in the land." When Mr.
Bryan arrived at the railroad station, my companions and I had to be on
watch to see that his pockets as well as those of the people crowding
about him were not picked, and whom should I find prowling about
suspiciously in the throng, but the loud-mouthed reformer of the saloon!
He was looking hard for a pocket to "nick," but some one must have
"tipped off" the "fly cops" to him, for he disappeared before long as
mysteriously as he had appeared, and without any plunder, for no
"leather" was "lifted" on that occasion.

Not all of the tramps' political talk is merely negative and critical;
some of it is also positive and constructive. They think that they know
what they want in the way of government, as well as what they do not
want. Speaking generally, they favour a crude kind of state socialism,
to be prefaced, however, by a general cataclysm, in which existing
conditions are to be entirely revolutionised, and out of which the poor,
and more particularly the outcast, are to come victorious. They make no
attempt to elaborate in conversation the details either of the
convulsion, or of the new order of things which is to follow;
generalities alone interest them, and they scorn inquiries as to how
their theories are to be put into practice. That Mr. Bryan is in
sympathy with their notions of the extensive powers that the government
ought to have is proved for them by the fact that he believes that
silver can be given its rightful place in our monetary system merely by
an enactment of Congress, or by command of the President. They recognise
no laws in politics other than those which man makes. That there are
natural laws and economic facts, over which man has no control, is a
matter which they have never taken into consideration. I refer to the
rank and file of the tramp army. There are individual men who do not
subscribe to what I have given as the political philosophy of the
majority of the tramps,--men, indeed, who laugh at the thought of a
tramp having any political notions at all,--but they are exceptions. The
average roadster considers himself as justified in stating his political
beliefs, and working for them, if he is so inclined, as does the
workingman,--even more, because he thinks that he has time to formulate
his ideas, whereas the workingman is kept busy merely earning his bread.

As agitators and propagandists the tramp is mainly in evidence at big
strikes. In the last fifteen years there has not been a notable railroad
strike in the country in which he has not taken part either as a helper
in destroying property, or as a self-elected "walking delegate." The
more damage the strikers achieve, the more he is pleased, because he
believes, as said above, that it is only upon ruins that the government
he desires can be founded. When a train of cars is derailed or burned,
he considers the achievement a contribution to the general downfall of
the rich and favoured classes. He also has the antiquated notion of
political economy, that when a thing has been rendered useless by
breakage or incendiarism the workingman is benefited, because the thing
must be replaced, and labour must be employed to do it,--hence it pays
the poor to effect as much destruction as possible. It would be unjust
to Mr. Bryan to say that the tramp has got this notion from him, but the
trouble is that Mr. Bryan preaches from texts so easily misunderstood by
the class of people to which tramps and criminals belong, that he does a
great deal of harm to the country, and materially hurts his own cause.
Not only the tramp, but thousands of workingmen expect of him, in case
he is successful in his ambition, things which he can no more give than
can the humblest of his admirers; yet both the tramp and the workingman
believe that they have promises from him which justify them in expecting
what they do. He is a victim of his own "gift of gab," as the tramp dubs
his oratory. He has talked so much and so loosely that the tramp has
read into his words assurance of changes which he can never bring about.
Of course it is not to be expected that he or any other man in his
position should put much store by what such a constituency as the tramps
thinks of him, but the tramp's exaggerated notions of his policy are
symptomatic of the man's influence on people. What the tramp
particularly likes about him is his doctrine of discontent; they would
drop him like a hot coal if he should admit that the country was in a
proper condition. A great many other people, who are not tramps, tie to
him for the same reason. He is the idol _par excellence_ of persons who
have nothing to lose whether he succeeds or fails. He has promised them
great benefits if they will help him to office, and as in the case of
the tramp, it costs them nothing to shout and vote for him.

His tramp admirers, however, he can hold only so long as he represents
what they deem to be the most radical doctrines going. If another man
like "General" Coxey should appear, with more attractive propositions,
they would flock to him as readily as they now rally around Mr. Bryan.
They are a volatile people. Just before war had been declared with
Spain, while everybody was discussing our chances in the approaching
struggle, a great many of the tramps were sure that the United States
was going to get the "licking" of its life. One tramp was so positive of
this that he declared that "Spain had forgotten more than we ever knew
about naval warfare, or ever would know." To-day the same man, as well
as the majority of those who sided with him, believe that the United
States can "knock out" any nation in existence, and they are
dissatisfied because we don't do it. So it will probably go with Bryan,
so far as they are concerned. At the next presidential election, if he
is defeated again, the majority of them will look around for some other
man for whom they can talk. Even successful leadership bores them after
awhile. They love change, and are continually seeking it in their
every-day life as well as in their politics. It is this trait of theirs
which would defeat any attempt at permanent organisation among them.

Two friends were recently discussing the relative power and influence of
the man who writes and the man who organises and leads. The late George
William Curtis was cited as a man who must have wielded great power with
his pen, and Richard Croker was set over against him as an organiser and
leader. The argument ran on for some time, and one of the friends
finally made this statement: "I wouldn't care if they were nothing
better than tramps, provided a thousand of them would follow my
directions in everything that was undertaken. Why, I could be king of a
ward with such a following. Take the East Side, for instance. The man
over there who can vote solid a thousand men on all occasions, beats any
writer in the country in influence." Perhaps he does, but no man in the
country, be he writer or organiser, could hold a thousand tramps
together in politics. For one election they might be kept intact, but a
defection would take place before the second one was due. As men to
manipulate and direct, they could be made to do most in battle, and I
have always regretted that a regiment of them did not go to Cuba during
the late war. With a regiment of regulars behind them to have kept them
from retreating, and some whiskey to inspire them, a regiment composed
of fellows such as are to be found in "The Lake Shore Push," for
instance, would have charged up San Juan Hill with a dash that even the
Rough Riders would have had trouble to beat. They are not good political
philosophers, or conscientious citizens, but in desperate circumstances
they can fight as fiercely as any body of men in the world.



In a superficial way tramps read practically everything they can get
hold of. As a class they are not particularly fond of books when there
is something more exciting to engage their attention, such as a
"hang-out" conference, for instance, but they get pleasure out of both
reading and writing. They have generally learned how to read as boys,
either at home with their parents or in some institution for truants and
"incorrigibles." Dime novels and like literature amuse them most at this
stage in their career, and the same is true of tramp boys who are found
in Hoboland, but they learn to laugh over the fascination that such
books had for them, as do more highly cultivated readers. As a rule,
however, it is not until they have served a term in prison that they
take a definite interest in the books that appeal to educated people. In
all large prisons there are libraries from which the inmates can draw
books at stated intervals, and the majority of the truly professional
tramps generally serve at least one sentence in these institutions. As
youths, it was their ambition to be successful thieves, crack burglars,
pickpockets, and "Peter-men" (safe thieves), and they have usually
experimented with the thief's profession long enough to get a year or
two in a penitentiary. Some take a longer time than others to become
convinced that they lack criminal wit, and are fitted, so far as their
world is concerned, for nothing higher than tramping, but the majority
of tramps in the United States arrive at this conclusion sooner or
later, and degenerate into what may be called discouraged criminals. In
the process of getting discouraged they have access to prison libraries,
and can pick and choose their books as they like. In some prisons the
wardens keep track of the kinds of books their charges call for, and I
have seen interesting reports in which an attempt has been made to read
the characters of the men from their different bookish preferences; but
it is easy to make mistakes in such calculations. I know of prisoners,
for instance, who have called for nothing but religious books in the
hope that the "Galway" (the prison priest) would be so impressed with
their reformation that he would recommend their cases to the Board of
Pardons for reconsideration. Indeed, prisoners in general are such
_poseurs_, in one respect or another, that not much faith can be put in
conclusions as to their literary tendencies deduced from their selection
of books in prison libraries. One must observe them in the open, and see
what they read when they are free of the necessity of making an
impression, to discover their real preferences.

In summer they are almost constantly "in transit," and read very little
except newspapers, but in winter they flock to the large cities and
gather around the stoves and radiators in public libraries, and it is
then that one can learn what kind of reading they like best. The library
in Cooper Union, for example, is one of their favourite gathering-places
in New York City during the cold months, and I have seen the same tramps
reading there day after day. Novels and books of adventure appeal to
them most, and it would surprise a great many people to see the kind of
novels many of them choose. Thackeray and Dickens are the favourite
novelists of the majority of the tramps that I have happened to talk
with about books, but the works of Victor Hugo and Eugene Sue are also
very popular. The general criticism of the books of all of these
writers, however, is that they are "terribly long drawn out." A tramp
who had just finished reading Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" once said to me:
"Why the devil didn't he choke it off in the middle, an' leave out all
the descriptions? It's a good book all right enough, but it's as
long-winded as a greyhound." Robert Louis Stevenson, on the other hand,
is admired by a Western tramp acquaintance of mine on account of his
"big mouthfuls of words."

Detective stories like "Sherlock Holmes" and the books of Gaboriau are
read widely by both tramps and criminals, and the ingenuity of their
authors is often admired; but the tramp cannot understand, and no more
can I, why the writers of such stories prefer to give their own
conception of a detective to the "Hawkshaw" of real life. He believes,
and I agree with him, that much more interesting detective tales could
be written if the truth about police life were told; and there awaits
the writer who is prepared and willing to depict the "fly cop" as he
really is in Anglo-Saxon countries, a remunerative and literary success.
No mistake has been made in portraying him as the King of the Under
World, but some one ought to tell what a corrupt king he has been, and
still is, in a great many communities.

Popular books, such as "Trilby," "David Harum," and "Mr. Dooley," almost
never reach the tramps until long after their immediate success is over.
The tramps have no money to invest in books of the hour, and the
consequence is that while the public is reading the book of some new
favourite author, they are poring over books that were popular several
years back. There are roadsters who are to-day reading for the first
time the earliest books of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and other well-known
authors, and the next crop of vagabonds will probably read the works of
writers who are now in the foreground. In Chicago I met, one day, a
tramp who had just discovered Bret Harte, and he thought that
"Tennessee's Partner" and "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" were recent
stories. "I tell ye, Cigarette," he declared, enthusiastically, "those
stories'll make that fella's fortune. Jus' wait till people get to
talkin' about 'em, an' you'll see how they'll sell." He had read the
tales in a sailor's mission to which somebody had donated a mutilated
Tauchnitz edition of Bret Harte's writings.

In a county jail in Ohio I also once heard two tramps discuss for nearly
two hours the question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays when he did
or about two hundred years later. The tramp who favoured the latter
theory based it on the supposition that the balcony scene in "Romeo and
Juliet" could not have been possible so far back as "in Shakespeare's

"Why, gol darn it," he exclaimed, "they didn't have no such porches in
them days. A porch, I tell ye, is a modern invention, just like dynamite

Next to the exciting novel or tale of adventure, the tramp likes to read
books which deal with historical and economic subjects. It is a rather
exceptional tramp who can read intelligently such a book as Henry
George's "Progress and Poverty," but a number of roadsters have gone
through this work time and again, and can quote from it quite freely.
Indeed, it has been the cause of long discussions at "hang-outs" all
over the United States. Any book, by the way, which "shows up" what the
tramps consider the unreasonable inequalities in our social conditions,
appeals to them, and thoughts in regard to such matters filter through
the various social strata and reach the tramp class more rapidly than
the reader would think. I have heard tramps discuss socialism, for
instance, with quite as clear an insight into its weak points, and with
as thorough an appreciation of its alluring promises, as will be found
in any general gathering of people. They are much more entertaining when
discussing a book dealing with some serious question than when trying to
state their opinion of a novel. If a character in a novel has taken hold
of them, they can criticise it intelligently and amusingly, and they
have their favourite characters in fiction just as other people have,
but only a few tramps read novels with the intention of remembering
their contents for any length of time; such books are taken up mainly
for momentary entertainment, and are then forgotten. Books of historical
or political import, on the contrary, are frequently read over and over
again, and are made to do service as authorities on grave questions
discussed at "hang-out" conferences. Bryan's "First Battle" has been
quoted by tramps in nearly every State in the Union, and some roadsters
can repeat verbatim long passages from it.

A striking example of the tramp's fondness for what he would call heavy
books was a man whom I met, some years ago, at a tramp camp in central
New York. We had been sitting around the camp-fire for some time,
discussing matters of the road, when the man called my attention to his
weak eyes. I had noticed that the lids of his eyes were very red, and he
told me that it was only with difficulty that he could read even large
print. "Used them up in the stir" (penitentiary), he explained. "We had
no work to do, and were shut up in our cells practically all of the
time, and I simply read myself blind." I asked him what kind of reading
he had enjoyed most, and he gave me a string of authors' names, whose
books he had drawn from the library, which but few college graduates
could beat. I have forgotten many of the books he mentioned, but Kant's
"Pure Reason" and Burton's "Melancholy" were among the number. We
talked together for over three hours about writers and writing, and I
have seldom enjoyed a conversation more. The man was still a tramp in
essential matters, and had no intention of becoming anything better, but
his reading had widened the boundaries of his world to such an extent
that in other clothes and with a few changes in his diction he might
have passed muster in very respectable companionship. If he is alive, he
is probably still looking for "set-downs" and "hand-outs," and
discussing between meals with the hoboes the wonderful things that were
revealed to him during the ten years he spent in his prison university.

Endowed with this interest in books of a serious nature, it would seem
that the tramp ought eventually to take to heart some of the wisdom such
books contain, and try to live up to it in his every-day life, but I am
compelled to say that, in the majority of cases, he considers himself a
being apart from the rest of the world, so far as moral responsibility
is concerned. He likes to ponder over the moral obligations of others,
and to suggest schemes for a general social regeneration, but he finds
it irksome and unpleasant to apply his advice and recommendations to his
own existence. Theoretically, he has what he would call a religion, but
he no more expects to live up to his religion than he intends to work
when he can get out of it. He has two worlds in which he lives,--one
consisting of theories and fanciful conceits which he has got from books
and his own imagination, and the other of hard facts, prejudices, and
habits. He is most natural in the latter environment, but moods come
over him when he feels impelled to project himself into the world of
theories, and then nothing pleases him more than imaginatively to
reconstruct the world in general as he believes it ought to be.

I have been asked whether he ever voluntarily reads the Bible. It is an
easy book to get hold of, and in prison it is forced upon the tramp's
attention, but it has no marked fascination for him. I have known a
roadster to beg a New Testament from a Bible House agency in order to
settle a dispute about religious doctrine, but this is a very
exceptional case. The average tramp knows no difference between the Old
and New Testaments, and bases any religious convictions that he may have
on personal revelations of truth rather than on inspired Scripture. In
one respect, however, he conforms to conventional customs,--he likes to
sing hymns. In jail or out, if he happens to be in a singing mood, it is
only necessary to start such hymns as "Pull for the shore," "There were
ninety and nine," "Where is my wandering boy to-night?" and this
tattered and uncouth creature breaks forth into song. There is a grin on
his lips while he sings, for he appreciates the ludicrousness of the
situation, but he sings on at the top of his voice. At night, on a
Western prairie, where he and his pals have built a "hang-out" near a
railroad track, there is no more picturesque scene in all Hoboland than
when he stands up, starts a tune, and the others rise and join him.

Equally amusing, if not so harmless, are the tramp's improvised schools.
In the autumn, when the weather gets too cold for sleeping out, the
country schoolhouse becomes one of the tramp's night shelters. He gets
in through one of the windows. A wood-pile is near by, and what with a
good fire and benches to lie on, he makes a very cosy nest. Let a crowd
of ten or twenty appropriate such a place, and there is always a frolic
before bedtime. One of the tramps is elected teacher, the scholars'
books and slates are taken from their desks, and school begins. "Moike,
oppen yer mug 'n' see if ye kin read," the teacher commands, and the
burly pupil begins to paw over the leaves. Later comes a turn at
spelling, writing, and "figgerin'," and a wild hobo song ends the
session. A keg of beer sometimes helps to enliven things, and then
ink-bottles, readers, and spelling-books are scattered about the room in
great confusion. The wood-pile also disappears, and sometimes the
building itself goes up in flames. I have often wondered whether the
real pupils were not glad to find things so topsy-turvy in the morning.
It must take time to put the schoolhouse in order again, and the boys
and girls have a vacation meanwhile. The taxpayers grumble, of course,
but, as the tramp says, "they ought to fasten things tighter," and until
they do he will continue, I fear, to entertain himself at their expense.

An experience that I had not long ago illustrates the tramp's
unwillingness to have his reading matter regulated by outsiders. I was
making an investigation of the tramp situation on certain railroads in
the middle West at the time, and one night, in company of some fellow
roadsters, I went for shelter to the tramp ward of a poor-house. The
room we were sent to was in the cellar, and we all passed a very
miserable night. In the morning we were given our breakfast in the
common dining-room of the institution, and while we were sitting at the
table the wife of the keeper gave each one of us a "tract," which we
carefully tucked under our plates and left there. When we had finished,
one of the tramps asked our hostess whether there was a place in the
building where we could wash; the hole we had had to stay in over night
was so dirty that our clothes and hands were covered with dust, and the
tramp knew that any stream we might find outside would be frozen over.
The woman looked at him severely, and said: "There's a brook at the foot
of the hill." The tramp's anger was aroused. "Madam," he said, "I have
always been taught that cleanliness is next to godliness. You have given
us all tracts, but you won't give us a place to wash. Your religion and
mine don't jibe. You'll find the tracts under the plates." We all got
another severe look, and the next batch of tramps probably got the

Of the newspapers that the tramp reads there is but little that is novel
to report beyond the fact that he begs for them in the same systematic
fashion characteristic of him when looking for his meals. Not all tramps
are anxious to keep up to date as regards the world's doings, but a fair
proportion of them look for their morning newspaper immediately after
breakfast. They go to stores and barber-shops, and do not hesitate to
ask even newsdealers. In summer the newspapers which they get also serve
them as beds in railroad box-cars; they spread them out on the floor of
the car and lie down on them, their shoes and vests doing duty as
pillows, and their coats as covering. Their favourite papers are of the
yellow kind, but I doubt whether they take them any more seriously than
other people do who buy them merely for particular items of news and
then throw them away. They like spicy articles and glaring pictures, and
scramble with one another for first chance at the _Police Gazette_, but
this taste is not unnatural; their life is rough, vulgar, and
sensational, and the wonder is that they can appreciate and care for the
high-class literature which many of them read.

I have said that they get enjoyment out of writing as well as reading.
There are a few well-educated men in tramp life, and they have been
surprised attempting to make literature as well as to read it. In
Germany it is quite a custom among the _Chausseegrabentapezirer_ to
keep diaries in which they jot down notes and comments on their life,
and in this country, also, journals and essays by tramps have been
discovered. One of the most intelligent criticisms of my tramp papers in
_The Century_ came from a Boston tramp, hailing for the time being from
Texas. Excepting a few mistakes in grammar which many persons who are
not tramps are guilty of, it was a very creditable production.

Once upon a time, not to be too particular, two tramps were shut up all
alone in a jail in Michigan, and their sentences wore so heavily upon
them that they found it very difficult to be patient. Their stories gave
out, the jail fare became tiresome, there was very little to read, and
they were by nature very restless. At last things looked so gloomy that
they decided to spin a coin for a choice of two suggested
pastimes,--writing a story, or planning and carrying out an escape. It
was "heads" for the story, and "tails" for the escape. Heads won. True
to their contract, these two men, one fairly well educated, and the
other with a big imagination, sat themselves down to the task, pencil
and paper being furnished by the sheriff. For ten days they wrote and
wrote, then rewrote, until, as the man with the imagination said, their
"poor brains seemed squeezed to death." Indeed, they had worked so hard
that the man with a little education thought it would be worth while to
try to sell the story; so, after it had been read to the sheriff and his
wife, both of whom it pleased, sufficient postage was collected to send
it to a periodical thought to be looking for such contributions; and off
it went, and with it the solemn prayers of the authors. Three weeks
later, lo and behold! a letter arrived in care of the sheriff. The two
men opened it tenderly and fearfully, each tearing a little of the end
off and then passing it to the other, saying, like silly girls: "I don't
dare." But what was their surprise, the terrifying little thing once
laid bare, to find in it a check for ninety dollars, payable to them
jointly or severally, as if the editor had fancied that they might be
turned loose at different times. Unfortunately, they were freed
together, and two hours afterward the man with the imagination had so
inflated it with whiskey that he wanted to storm the jail and free the
sheriff. His story, however, was not disgraced. It is still quite
readable. He, poor fellow, would probably like to toss up again for
pastimes; when last heard of he was "doing" solitary confinement.



Engineers build railroads and are largely represented in their
management, but both in building and operating them they are dependent,
at one time or another, upon some kind of police protection. Indeed,
there are railroads that could not have been constructed at all without
the aid of either soldiers or policemen. The Trans-Caspian railroad was
built largely by soldiers, and is still superintended by the war
department at St. Petersburg rather than by the minister of ways of
communication. The Siberian line is, in parts, the result of the work of
convicts, who were carefully watched by police guards, and the Russian
civil engineers in Manchuria have needed the protection of Cossacks
merely to survey that end of the road. In Germany, practically all the
railroad officials, from the head of the engineering department down to
the track-walkers, have police power. The conductor of a train, for
instance, can put an obstreperous passenger under arrest without waiting
until a station is reached, and resistance to him is as serious an
offence as is resistance to the ordinary _Schutzmann_.

In Europe, it was seen, when railroads were first coming into use, that
police efficiency, as well as that of the technical railroader, would be
required, if the properties were to be well managed, and it was secured
at the start. Before the railroads were built it had been made plain,
after long experience, that even on the public turnpikes policemen were
indispensable, and the authorities decided to employ them on railroads
as well. The protection of life and property is a very serious matter in
Europe, where precautions are taken which in the United States would
seem superfluous. It avails nothing in Germany, for example, for a
director of a company to excuse the loss of money intrusted to his care
on the ground that he thought he was acting in a businesslike manner.
Inspectors, or commissioners, are appointed to see whether his
transactions come up to the standard of what is considered businesslike,
and if they find that he has not exercised good judgment, although there
may have been nothing intrinsically dishonest in the way he has managed,
his bondsmen frequently have to reimburse the stockholders for the loss
that his mistakes have brought upon them. It is the spirit of
carefulness behind such a precaution as this which goes to explain why
the Germans have the systematised police surveillance of railroad
property referred to. Much of this surveillance is in the hands of the
municipal police and rural constabulary, but the fact that the majority
of the railroad officials have police authority shows how much
protection was considered necessary to manage the properties carefully.

In the United States the idea seems to have been that the engineers and
managers could be relied on to get out of railroad investments all the
profit that was in them, and that the assistance of policemen could be
dispensed with except as watchmen. It is true that, for a number of
years, railroad companies have had on their pay-rolls what are called
"railroad detectives," but up to a few years ago there was not a
well-organised railroad police force in the United States, and yet there
is no country in the world, at the present moment, where railroads are
more in need of such auxiliary departments. A great deal of money would
have been saved to investors, and not a few lives would have been
spared, had the American railroads seriously taken up this police matter
in the early days of their existence, and until they do, say what one
will about the luxuries to be found on American trains, and the speed at
which they run, American railroad properties, in this particular at
least, are inferior to those of Europe in management.

The purpose of this last chapter is to call attention to the
inadequateness of the police arrangements now prevalent on nearly all
railroad systems in the United States, to show what has resulted from
this inadequateness, and to interest railroad men and the general public
in police organisations which will be equal to the work necessary to be

To bring out clearly the defects of the prevailing railroad police
methods in the United States, it seems appropriate to take a concrete
case, and describe the situation on a railroad which I have been over as
a passenger and as a trespasser. It employs about sixty men in its
police department, and is one of the most tramp-infested roads in the
country. The maintenance of the so-called detective force costs the
company about forty thousand dollars a year.

By way of illustration, I will give a résumé of conversations that I had
respectively with a detective, a tramp, and a trainman that I
encountered on the property. Each of these men was representative of his
class, and spoke his mind freely.

The detective had started out in life as a brakeman, but his eyesight
became faulty after a few years, and he got a position on the police
force. He had just passed his fiftieth year when I met him, and was
heavy, unwieldy, and inclined to be lazy. His beat consisted of forty
miles of track, and he generally went over it in a passenger train.

I asked him whether he found many tramps on passenger trains. He was not
supposed to devote all of his time to watching trespassers, but they
were so obviously a nuisance on the property that it struck me as
peculiar that he did not ride on trains where they were more likely to
be found.

"No," he replied, in a drawling voice, to my query, "I don't find many
tramps in passenger coaches; but I know where their camps are, and
several of us raid 'em every now and then."

"I should think you would want to ride more on freight-trains," I went
on, "and catch the trespassers in the act, so to speak."

"I'm too heavy to fool around freight-trains; besides, I don't want to
have a knife put into me. Some o' them tramps are mighty quick on their
feet, and if I went at 'em they'd have a razor cut in me before I could
turn round."

I asked him why, in view of his age and heaviness, he did not try to
find employment in some other department of the road more suited to his
abilities. Railroad companies are often very lenient with employees of
long standing, and give them easy positions in their old age.

"This is the easiest department the road's got," he returned. "Besides,
I'm my own boss."

"Don't you have to make regular reports to any one?"

"I go to the trainmaster's office every morning for orders, but he don't
know much about the business, and generally tells me to do as I think
best. We men haven't got a chief the way the regular railroaders have."

"Who is responsible for what you do?" I inquired.

"Nobody, I guess, but the pres'dent o' the road."

"How do you spend your time?"

"Well, I go to the trainmaster in the morning, and if he hasn't heard of
anything special, like a car robbery or an accident where there's likely
to be a claim for damages, I stay around the station a while, or go down
into the yards and see what I can see. Sometimes I spend the day in the

"What do you do there?"

"Oh, I loaf around, keep the kids away from the cars, chin-chin with the
switchmen 'n' the other men, keep my eyes open for fellows that there's
rewards for, eat my dinner, an' go to bed."

"Why don't you try to break up the tramp camps?"

"We do try it, but they come back again."

"Don't you think you would probably be more successful if you raided
them oftener?"

"Yes, I guess we would; but, you see, there ain't any one who's running
the thing. When an order comes from the superintendent to make raids we
make 'em, but he don't send in that order more'n once in three months,
an' the rest o' the time we do pretty much as we like."

"How do you think things would go if you men were organised and had a
chief? Would better work be done?"

"Better work would be done, I guess, but it would be a darned sight
harder work," and he smiled significantly.

My tramp informant was an old roadster of about forty, who had "held
down" the railroad in question for a number of years. I asked him how
long it had been an "open" road,--one easy for trespassers to get over.

"As long as the memory of man goes back," he replied, with a suggestive
flourish of his hand.

"Are not some divisions harder to beat than others?"

"Once in awhile a division'll get a little horstile, but only fer a few

"How many tramps are riding trains?"

"I don't see all the trains, so I can't tell you; but I never seen a
freight yet that wasn't carryin' at least five bums, 'n' I've seen some
carryin' over a hundred In summer there's most as many bums as

"Is there much robbing of cars going on?"

"Not so much as there might be. The blokes are drunk most of the time,
'n' they let chances go by. If they'd keep sober, 'n' look up good
fences, they could do a nice little business."

"Do the police trouble you much?"

"When they round up a camp they're pretty warm, but I don't see much o'
them 'cept then. 'Course you wants to look out fer 'em when a train
pulls into division yards, 'cause 'f yer handy they'll pinch you; but
they ain't goin' to run after you very far. I've heard that they have
orders to let the bums ride, so long as there ain't too much swipin'
goin' on. The company don't care, some people say."

The trainman that I interviewed was a freight-train conductor who had
been in the employ of the company over twenty-five years. I asked him
whether he had instructions to keep trespassers off his trains.

"I got the instructions all right enough," he said, "but I don't follow
them. I'm not a policeman for the road. I'm a conductor, and I only draw
a salary for being that, too. When I was green I used to try to keep the
bums off my trains, but I nearly got my head shot off one night and
stopped after that. It's the detectives' business to look after such

"Do you see much of the detectives?"

"Once in awhile one of them shows up on my trains, but I've never seen
them make any arrests. One of them got on my train one day when I was
carryin' fifty tramps, and he never went near them."

"What do you think ought to be done to keep tramps off trains?"

"Well, what I'd like to have done would be for the United States
government to let all us trainmen carry revolvers and shoot every
galoot that got on to our trains. That'd stop the thing."

"Do you think the company wants it stopped?"

"I don't know whether they do or not, but I wish to God they'd do
something. Why, we men can't go over our trains at night any more, and
be sure that we ain't goin' to get it in the neck somewhere. It's a holy

I have quoted these men because their testimony may be accepted as
expert. They know the situation and they know one another, and they had
no reason to try to deceive me in answering my questions. In addition to
their remarks, it is only necessary, so far as this particular road is
concerned, to emphasise the fact that the forty thousand dollars a year
which the company spends for protection of the property are not
protecting it, and are bringing in to the stockholders practically no
interest. The police force is entirely lacking in system; many of the
men are too old and indifferent, and the property is littered up with as
miscellaneous a collection of vagabonds and thieves as is to be found
in a year's travel. This is neither good management, nor good business,
and it is unfair to a community which furnishes a railroad much of its
revenue, to foist such a rabble upon it.

A more or less similar state of affairs exists on the great majority of
the trunk lines in the United States. They are all spending thousands of
dollars on their "detective" forces, as they call them, and they are all
overrun by wandering mobs of ne'er-do-wells and criminals. There are no
worse slums in the country than are to be found on the railroads.
Reformers and social agitators are accustomed to speak of the congested
districts of the large cities as the slums to which attention should be
directed, but in the most congested quarters of New York City there are
no greater desperadoes nor scenes of deeper degradation than may be met
on the "iron highways" of the United States. A number of railroads are
recognised by vagrants and criminals as the stamping ground of
particular gangs that are generally found on the lines with which their
names are connected.

Every now and then the report is given out that a certain railroad is
about to inaugurate a policy of retrenchment, and the newspapers state
that a number of employees have been discharged or have had their work
hours cut down. The best policy of retrenchment that a number of
railroad companies can take up would be to stop the robberies on their
properties, collect fares from the trespassers, and free their employees
from the demoralising companionship of tramps and criminals. To carry
out such a policy a well organised railroad police force is
indispensable, and as I have made use of a practical illustration to
indicate the need of reform, I will advance another to show how this
reform can be brought about.

There is one railroad police organisation in the United States which is
conscientiously protecting the property in whose interests it works, and
I cannot better make plain what is necessary to be done than by giving a
short account of its organisation and performance. It is employed on
the Pennsylvania lines west of Pittsburg, and in inception and direction
is the achievement of the general manager of that system.

As a division superintendent this gentleman became very much interested
in the police question, and organised a force for the division under his
immediate control. It worked so successfully that, on assuming
management of the entire property, he determined to introduce in all the
divisions the methods which he had found helpful in his division. There
was no attempt made, however, to overhaul the entire property at once.
The reform went on gradually, and as one division was organised, the
needs and peculiarities of another were studied and planned for.
Suitable men had to be found, and there was necessarily considerable
experimenting. The work was done thoroughly, however, and with a view to
permanent benefits rather than to merely temporary relief. To-day, after
six years of preparatory exercise, the "Northwest System" has a model
police organisation, and the "Southwest System" is being organised as
rapidly as the right men can be found.

The force on the "Northwest System"--and it must be remembered that this
part of the property takes in such cities as Pittsburg, Cleveland,
Toledo, and Chicago, where there is always a riffraff population likely
to trespass on railroad property--is made up of eighty-three officers
and men. The chief of the force is the superintendent, whose
jurisdiction extends to the "Southwest System" also. He reports to the
general manager, and is almost daily in conference with him. For an
assistant to manage things when he is "out on the road," and to relieve
him of road duty when he is needed at headquarters, he has an inspector,
a man who has risen from the ranks and has demonstrated ability for the
position. Each division has a captain, who reports to the division
superintendent and to the chief of the police service. This captain has
under him one or more lieutenants and the necessary number of patrolmen
and watchman, who report to him alone. An order from the general
manager consequently reaches the men for whom it is meant through
official channels entirely within the police department, and the same is
true of statements and reports of the men to the general manager.

Practically everything is run according to a well-understood system, and
this is the secret of the department's success. Day in and day out every
man on the force knows what he has to do, and expects to be called to
order if his work does not come up to what is desired. Hunting down
trespassers and thieves is but a part of the routine. The property is
patrolled almost exactly as a large city is, and the men are expected to
make reports about such matters as the condition of frogs and switches,
switch-lights, fences, and station-buildings, to do preliminary work for
the department of claims, to keep the property free from trespassers, to
protect the pay-car, look out for circus and excursion trains, and
generally make themselves useful. They are all picked men, and have to
come up to the requirements of the United States army as regards health
and physical strength. Their personal records are known for five years
previous to being employed on the force. They constitute for the general
manager an invaluable guardianship. He has but to press the button, so
to speak, and within a few hours the entire police force is carrying out
his instructions. Through it he can keep in touch with a thousand and
one matters which would otherwise escape his notice, and he can order an
investigation with the assurance that he will get an exact and
trustworthy report within a reasonable time.

Such is the organisation. Its performance, up to date, has consisted in
cleaning up a property that, seven years ago, as I know from
observation, was so infested with criminals that it was notorious
throughout the tramp world as an "open" road. To-day that system is
noted for being the "tightest shut" line, from the trespasser's point of
view, in the country, and the company pays seventeen thousand dollars a
year less for its police arrangements than it did in 1893 for its
watchmen and detective force. These are facts which any one may verify,
and it is no longer possible for railroad companies to explain their
hesitation in taking up the police matter in earnest on the ground that
it would cost too much. It costs less, not only in the police
department's pay-rolls, but in the department of claims as well, than it
did when detached men, without any organisation and direction, were
employed, and the conditions at the start were very similar to those on
railroads now known to be "open." It is to be admitted that the rabble
which formerly infested this property has in all probability shifted to
other roads,--gangs of this character naturally follow the lines of
least resistance,--but it would have been impossible for it to shift had
other railroads taken a similar stand against it; it must have vanished.

The time must come when this stand will be taken by all railroads. For a
number of years there has been no more valuable contribution to the
business of railroading in the United States than the demonstrated
success of a railroad police force, and it is difficult to believe that
the benefits it brings can be long overlooked. The question of methods
to be employed will naturally occasion considerable discussion, and it
will doubtless be found that an organisation which suits one railroad is
not available for another, but I believe that the general plan of the
police organisation described above is a safe one to follow. It is
founded on the principle that the men must be carefully selected,
thoroughly trained, systematically governed, and the scope of their work
sharply defined. No police force, railroad or municipal, can do really
good work unless due regard be given to these very important matters.

For the benefit of railroad police forces which may be organised in the
future, the following suggestion seems to me to be worthy of

The title "detective" should not be given the men. They are not
detectives in the ordinary sense of the word, and to be so called hurts
them with the public and with their fellow employees. Railroading is a
business done aboveboard and in the public view, and its police service
should stand on a different footing from that of the detective force of
a large city, where, as all the world knows, secret agents are
necessary. They may be necessary at times on railroads also, but there
already exist reputable agencies for furnishing such service.

The superintending officers of the force should be superior men. In
Germany a police patrolman has not the slightest hope of becoming so
much as a lieutenant until he has passed a very severe examination,
which practically implies a college education, and he consequently
realises that his superior officer is entitled to his position on other
grounds than mere "pull" or "seniority," and learns to have great
respect for him. A similar dignity should be attached to authoritative
positions in the railroad police, and to secure it able men must be

The superintendent of the service should be as supreme in it as is the
superintendent of a division. If he has been chosen for the position on
account of his fitness for it, the supposition is that he knows how to
fill it, and there should be but one superior to whom he must answer. I
bring up this point because on most railroads the police arrangements
are, at present, such that almost every head of a department gives
orders to the "detectives." On some roads even station agents are
allowed to regulate the local police officer's movements.

Whether an American railroad police can be organised on as broad lines
as in Germany, where practically all the railroad officials have police
authority, is a question which cannot yet be definitely decided. The
conditions in the United States are very different from those in
Germany, and it may be that the sentiment of the people would be against
giving so many persons police power; but I think it would be
advantageous to experiment with the track-walkers, crossing-watchmen,
and gatemen, and see whether they can be incorporated in the railroad
police. Great care must naturally be exercised in picking out the men to
possess patrolmen's privileges, but an examination, such as all German
railroad police officials have to pass, would seem to be a precaution
which ought to secure safe officers. If such an arrangement were made,
the railroad police would admirably supplement the municipal police and
the rural constabulary, and the requirements, physical, mental, and
moral, of the examinations to be gone through would have a tendency to
elevate the morale of the men, not only as patrolmen, but also as

In conclusion, I desire to point out the opportunity of teaching by
example which I believe the railroad police of the United States are
going to have. Unlike the municipal police, they are free of the toils
of politics, and ought to become exemplary. Their methods and efficiency
will not remain unnoticed. The day that the railroad companies succeed
in ridding their properties of the vagrant class which now troubles
them, and thousands of this class begin to take up permanent quarters
in the cities because they are unable to travel afoot, the public is
going to make inquiries as to whence this undesirable contingent has
come. They will then learn what a police force can do when it is not
officered by political appointment and when it is made up of men who
have been trained for the task imposed upon them.

A good thing cannot for ever go a-begging. Six years ago it seemed as
impossible that a railroad could be cleaned up morally, as the one I
have described has been, as it now seems that American cities can have
police departments independent of politics. The trouble was that no
railroad had taken the initiative. Ten years hence, I venture to
prophesy, the railroads of the United States will not be the avenues of
crime that they are at present. Some day a similar reform in police
methods will be attempted and carried through in one of our cities, and
if the railroad police have done their work well, and remained true to
honest principles, not a little of the credit will belong to them.

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