Two Hobo Convention Songs

In early hobo conventions, hobo singers looked around the crowd of hoboes and included their names in “The Hobo Convention Song.” Here are two versions of that song, taken from George Milburn’s The Hobo’s Hornbook (New York: Ives Washburn, 1930), pp. 25-30. The first was sung at Green Castle, Iowa, on May 12, 1900, and the second at Portland, Oregon, on June 3, 1921. The second is attributed to George Liebst.
 

                          1

Back in the Spring of ’90, 
     As everybody knows, 
Green Castle, Iowa, was swamped 
     By a gathering of ‘boes.

They came from north, south, east, and west, 
     Everywhere you could mention, 
And the reason they were there was, 
     They held a big convention.

That sunny day, the twelfth of May, 
     They collected in a mob, 
Hoboes from Chi’ and Kokomo 
     Clear down to Eagle Knob.

There was some ‘boes I never seen 
     They came from far and near; 
They all laid in and tanked-up ten 
     Big wagonloads of beer.

I put my peepers on them all, 
     And recognized a few, 
And now if I remember them, 
     Here’s their monikas for you:

There was Pete the Shive from Slapjack’s dive, 
     And Wino Bill from Cal, 
Parson-faced Ed and Wingey Red 
     And a ’bo named Sugan Al.

There was Boogie Sam and Biff ‘n’ Bam, 
     And a little punk from Q. 
Hikes and Spikes and Old Ring-tail Sykes 
     And a Philly ‘bo called Lou.

Back in the shade of the jungle’s glade 
     We slopped up on that beer. 
Each ‘bo throwed his guts while the other mutts 
     Laid back and lent an ear.

The night was getting started 
     When someone heard a clatter, 
And the clowns from the town came swarming down 
     And maybe we didn’t scatter.

Some flipped freights to other states, 
     And others stayed behind, 
Some glommed the rod and hopped the tops 
     And others hit the blind.

Now here I am in Omaha, 
     A hungry, ring-tailed bum, 
Tooting ringers for poke outs, 
     When what I want is slum.

Toot! Toot! There goes a highball now¾ 
     The rattler’s under way; 
They’re reefers for New Orleans, ma’am, 
     I’m off again—good day! 
 












                          
















                             2

You have heard of big conventions, 
     And there’s some that can’t be beat, 
But get this straight, there’s none so great 
     As when the hoboes meet.

To Portland, Oregon, that year 
     They came from near and far; 
On tops and blinds where cinders whined 
     And hanging to the drawbar.

Three hundred came from New York State, 
     Some came from Eagle Pass; 
That afternoon, the third of June, 
     They gathered there en masse.

From Lone Star State came Texas Slim 
     And Jack the Katydid. 
With Lonesome Lou from Kal-mazoo 
     Came San Diego Kid.

And Denver Dan and Boston Red 
     Blew in with Hellfire Jack, 
Andy Lang from longshore gang, 
     Big Mack from Mackinac.

I saw some ‘boes I never met; 
     A ‘bo called New York Spike, 
Con the Sneak from Battle Creek 
     And Mississippi Ike

Old Joisey Bill, dressed like a dude, 
     Shook hands with Frisco Fred, 
And Half-breed Joe from Mexico 
     Shot craps with Eastport Ed.

St. Looie Jim and Pittsburg Paul 
     Fixed up a jungle stew 
While Slip’ry Slim and Bashful Tim 
     Creaked gumps for our menu.

Then Jockey Kid spilled out a song 
     Along with Desp’rate Sam; 
And Paul the Shark from Terror’s Park 
     Clog-danced with Alabam.

We gathered ‘round the jungle fire, 
     The night was passing fast; 
We’d all done time for every crime, 
     And talk was of the past.

All night we flopped around the fire 
     Until the morning sun; 
Then from the town the cops came down¾ 
     We beat it on the run.

We scattered to the railroad yards 
     And left the bulls behind; 
Some hit the freights for other states 
     And many rode the blind.

Well, here I am in Denver town, 
     A hungry, tired-out ‘bo; 
The flier’s due, when she pulls through, 
     I’ll grab her and I’ll blow.

That’s her—she’s whistling for the block— 
     I’ll make her on the fly’; 
It’s number nine—Santa Fe line. 
     I’m off again—Goodbye!