Santa Rosa was filled with bums; there were panhandlers on Fourth street and drunks hanging out in the park, there were petty thefts and burglaries and vegetable gardens raided. The Press Democrat said the Police Chief and Sheriff were working together on “a new drive to rid the city of all ‘undesirables,’ especially the canned heaters.” Uh, “canned heaters?” Everyone knew those were the most screwed-up addicts – in 1931.

If there’s any year in Santa Rosa’s history to NOT visit in your time machine, it’s 1931 (see sidebar). Prohibition was still very much a thing and that year about 800 people were arrested in Santa Rosa, more than half of them for something to do with booze. Money was tight and pockets were empty; farmers and chicken ranchers were lucky to break even and only prunes and Gravensteins made any profit at all. In the Press Democrat’s classifieds, the Help Wanted section was usually entirely missing – while the Real Estate section filled several columns. (“For Sale at foreclosure: 5 acre; modern 5-rm house, chicken equipment. Near town, $3,800.”)


That year was when the Great Depression scraped bottom; those photos we see of long breadlines and former stock brokers selling apples on Wall Street were most likely taken in 1931. There was no safety net whatsoever – no Social Security, no state or federal welfare, no unemployment insurance. Santa Rosa and other cities set up Relief Committees that appealed for anyone who still had a job to donate one day’s wages along with employers asked to donate one day’s profit.

The Santa Rosa Relief Committee saw requests for aid skyrocket from 25 needy families to 300 by the end of the year, which represented 750 men, women and children – seven percent of the town population. Emergency family housing was built at Veterans Park, the corner of McDonald and Pacific avenues (now the site of the First Presbyterian Church). Donated food and clothing were given away at the relief store on Fifth street, as well as any firewood split by hoboes or prisoners in county jail.

Add a few more points to the misery index because of the influx of hoboes that spring. There were several well-established “hobo jungles” along the railroad tracks in Sonoma County: on Lakeville in Petaluma, near Cotati, under the Healdsburg Railroad Bridge, by the Laguna in Sebastopol and close to Fulton. But the best known jungle of all was in Santa Rosa – and that’s where many hoboes went in March, after a murder in the Petaluma jungle led to a police crackdown. The same month Marin authorities ordered every jungle in that county cleared out “for keeps” after a robbery at the San Rafael railroad station. The PD reported that sent about 150 denizens headed north.

The uptick in petty thefts and problems with the “canned heaters” led the Sheriff to declare prisoners in county jail henceforth would have to work on a chain gang. Much ado about this announcement was made in both Santa Rosa newspapers, with particular emphasis that it would scare hoboes away from here. But the program was apparently shut down a month later when the Labor Council protested that it was an affront to exploit free convict labor when there were hundreds of local men desperately looking for any kind of work.

Santa Rosa’s hobo jungle was also frequently in the news because police were making arrests there; it was suspected that vagrants were behind a string of burglaries around town (yup, indeed they were). It was during such a raid when they found Ada Calahan, a 22 year-old woman dressed like a man. Just a month earlier she and husband Frank had married in Reno and although they had the wedding certificate to prove it, they were arrested and sentenced to 10 days in jail while the cops attempted to contact her parents in Yuba City. “Why drag my family into this? I’m not kicking about living in the jungles,” the adult woman groused.

With all this going on, the Press Democrat sent a reporter to live undercover in the tumultuous camp for 72 hours. Despite the possible dangers, the assignment went to 19 year-old cub reporter Herbert Waters Jr. He did more than just prove his mettle; Herb – who would go on to become the PD’s editor-in-chief following the death of Ernest Finley in 1942 – filed an 11-part, 13,000 word series. In 1931 it was a novelty serial that could be considered voyeuristic; today, it’s a valuable historic document because we’re still grappling with some of the same problems over homeless encampments.

About an hour after sunset on that early September night, Herb Waters started walking west along the railroad tracks to Sebastopol (now the Joe Rodata Trail), looking like what he thought a proper hobo should look like.

Although he had expected to come across campfires, it was completely dark and silent; then near Dutton ave. a path to the left led to the back of a warehouse. This was the old Petaluma-Santa Rosa railroad freight terminal, then just used for storing prunes. Here was the heart of Santa Rosa’s hobo jungle.

The opposite side of the building was unobtrusive, set far enough back from Sebastopol Road for large trucks to back into the loading dock. Waters found about forty men sleeping there. “As I reached the front of the building, which has a long loading platform covered with a roof, I saw a continuous row of bodies stretched out on the wooden floor, like a ward in a hospital, or, it seemed to me in the silent darkness, corpse in a morgue.”

The next morning he found the others on the railroad side of the warehouse cooking breakfast over a row of campfires. A closer look revealed more evidence that this was a long-established hobo jungle: “The dozen or more fireplaces were all different – some elaborately built brick ovens, some built from scraps of iron from neighboring dumps, some set in dug-out hollows – but all permanent fireplaces used time after time by the itinerants, never destroyed, but left for the next user.”

A search of the Press Democrat archives turns up a mention of this hobo jungle going back to 1925, when police raided the camp looking for the men who had robbed the White House department store. The building was owned by fruit packers Libby, McNeil & Libby, who used it as a prune warehouse – during Waters’ brief stay a truck came by to pick up a load. Besides the loading dock, men could sleep underneath because the building was elevated several feet off the ground. The company apparently tolerated the hoboes as unpaid watchmen and during winter when the prunes were gone, allowed it to be used as a “hobo hotel” as long as there was no drinking or smoking inside.

He quickly learned these men were homeless drifters and not migrant workers. The “fruit tramps” lived in tents near the fields where they worked, following the harvest seasons up and down the coast; these fellows didn’t work at all if they could help it and particularly turned up their noses at anyone who did field labor.

Looking over what the others were cooking, Herb was astonished how well they were eating; “anything you might see in a restaurant during breakfast.” No one was in a hurry to leave. “Everything has a lazy atmosphere. Eating is a slow process and quite a social occasion. They linger over the meal, trading jokes and banter, calling remarks from one fire the other.”

Aside from the breakfast hobnobbing, Herb soon was introduced to their other major pastime: “The hoboes are happy on two occasions: when they are eating and when they are drunk.”

Unable to buy liquor from a store because of Prohibition and without the money or local connections to score a jug of moonshine or jackass brandy, they were drinking denatured alcohol and Sterno (“canned heat”) – which is to say, they were drinking poison. During his three days of hobo life Herb encountered several men who were expected to soon die. Descriptions of some others strongly imply that Herb believed they were brain-damaged. He met one drug addict who screamed at night and was said to be using “snow,” which at that time likely meant some form of speed.

Herb quickly learned their code of conduct expected – even required – that you shared whatever you had. That included the dangerous ersatz hootch; if a bottle was being passed around you had to take a swig (Herb claimed he faked it). “I was now one of the gang – I had friends – hoboes, to be sure – but friends. They would fight for me, ‘divvy up’ food or money with me, and accept me in any of their plans. I had been tested and found a ‘good guy’ – it would have been an unforgivable insult to refuse to drink when invited.”

In the jungle he found a remarkable spirit of cooperation and comradeship. The men liked and helped each other; they nursed and fretted over their sick and frail. He met a barber, a cobbler and a man who collected bruised fruit that he canned. It was an oasis of equality where African-Americans and Hispanics were welcomed, the jungles being free of racial discrimination (at least in the West, he was told). “All seem tied together by a common sympathy and understanding and one race or color is as good as another as long as you prove yourself a ‘square guy’ according to the code of the jungles.”

For most of them Santa Rosa was a stopover before heading to someplace else, although not necessarily very far away – one hobo later told the PD he had not been outside of the North Bay for over 20 years. While they were here, most hung out at Depot Park in Railroad Square during the day rather than staying around the jungle. “The park is a meeting place and general headquarters during the daytime, although they return to the jungles at night. Transients stop off there to look for friends before continuing their journey.”

"Napa Valley", December 1938 photo by Dorothea Lange
“Napa Valley”, December 1938 photo by Dorothea Lange

Some were also here permanently. “Santa Rosa, I learned, is really a popular town. The bums get good treatment here, plenty to eat, and have a good place to flop in the jungles.”

It appears the welcome mat was first rolled out in 1909 when California and other western states witnessed a surge of vagrants, as told here earlier in “THE HOBOES COMETH.” An evangelical group started a rescue mission near the current location of the Catholic Charities homeless center on Morgan st. which was followed by a W. Eighth st. shelter for “down and outs.” Presumably other Good Samaritan efforts based near the train tracks came and went, unmentioned by the local newspapers; the Salvation Army had a constant presence on the western end of the downtown district and in 1930 a soup kitchen was established on the SW corner of B and Second street.

The main draw, however, was that local residents were an easy touch, despite the hardships of the Great Depression. It had been part of a long standing social contract that a vagrant could knock on a kitchen door and earn a sandwich or slice of pie in exchange for a few minutes of weeding or other light work, but the hoboes who Herb met bragged that a good sob story was all they needed. Although Herb often witnessed them display such great compassion and generosity with each other, the people of the town were clueless suckers who deserved to be scammed.

After one of the men described the “lacing” he had received from a woman after begging for food, another hobo asked for directions to the family’s house. “And sure enough, less than fifteen minutes later, hardly time to walk to the house and no time to have done any kind of work for the food, he returned with a good sized arm load of assorted food – eggs, bread, some cold meat, sandwiches, and some jam. It looked like he had completely cleaned out the lady’s pantry shelves.” He proudly re-enacted for them the melodramatic bullshit that won him the payload.

The Relief Committee asked residents to stop giving handouts to beggars, saying they were doing more harm than good. Like the Salvation Army, the Relief office on Fifth street would give someone a meal ticket after they put in a 30 minute shift at the city woodpile (the wood was mainly from the orchard recently chopped down to create Juilliard Park). It appears few hobos took them up on the work-for-food deal; another PD article said hoboes laughed and cussed at relief volunteers who suggested it. The soup kitchen even printed a notice that their operation was “strictly free from the Salvation Army.”

Stealing food was also common. Herb was told of a chicken farm not far away that stored eggs in an unlocked shed, the hoboes being careful not to take enough to be noticed. Another day they ate hamburger after one of the gang begged a butcher to grind as much meat scraps that 10¢ would buy. “While the soft-hearted butcher was in the back of the shop fixing up much more than a dime’s worth of hamburger and considering himself doing charity work, Williams helped himself to choice pieces of meat behind the counter.”

Another hobo scam that Herb exposed was chimney sweeping. “The chimney sweeps work in pairs, with one always seeking entrance into the house on some pretext. While working around a fireplace from inside the house he invariably picks up any odds and ends he might use himself or peddle to pawn shops. Then they charge the customer $5 for the privilege of having his house robbed and go away leaving the chimney about as dirty as before.”

A small class of hoboes were hardened criminals, called “yeggs” by the press (nobody knows where the term came from – it just popped up in the early 1920s). These burglars and thieves lived apart from the hobo jungles; the pair responsible for about a dozen break-ins around Santa Rosa had a secluded camp on the Creek. Also not welcome in the jungle were hoboes who had been busted for drunkenness in town. After sobering up overnight in jail, the hoboes were routinely given “floaters” by the judge – 30-day sentences which were suspended as long as they got out of town. If they were arrested again during that time there was a risk the police would descend on the jungle and kick out everyone.

Herb met up with a handful of convicted floaters lounging and drinking in the tall grass farther down the track, near where it crossed Stony Point road. Holding court there was “Slippery” Williams, a popular character who actually preyed upon his companions: “He joked and they laughed. He sang and they applauded. And he makes his living in just that manner hooking up with moneyed bums awed by his manner, until he had spent what money they had and then shedding faked tears as he left them, He wasn’t a bit ‘dumb’ like the usual run.”

Then this happened:

I was suddenly startled by a crackling sound and the grass behind me burst into flames. A carelessly tossed cigarette butt had started a fire, with dry grass all around. Instead of putting the fire out, the hoboes surprised me by yelling ‘Beat it’ and starting running away, afraid of getting caught if the fire got burning good. In a few seconds I smothered the blaze with blankets they had forgotten to take in their haste. A few minutes more and it would have been a bad fire.

That little incident is revelatory because vagrants were almost always the prime suspects whenever there was a fire of mysterious origin. They lavished Herb with praise when they returned and discovered he had easily put out the small fire. “‘Gees, yu saved us kid’ said Slippery. Most of them know that tough penalties are dealt out for incendiarism and are afraid of starting fires.”

Abridged transcript of the 1931 series (PDF)

Not everyone Herb met was a suicidal alcoholic or light-fingered scammer. He found the hoboes well-read and knowledgeable about current events, although most had simplistic views. One of the permanent residents of the Santa Rosa jungle maintained a library of newspapers and magazines on the loading dock because everyone read voraciously.

Nor should we forget that being among the “knights of the open road” was still somewhat considered an honorable, even noble, activity. In 1925, 53 year-old Dudley Kinsell, a Superior Court judge in Oakland resigned from the bench and bummed to Florida. He called it one of the greatest experiences of his life, as it taught him to take joy in the simple things.

Herb spent most of one installment on a respected older hobo’s thoughtful predictions of a coming second world war (and remember, this was 1931): “War, a horrible war, is coming. It will be a world war of size hard to imagine…The war will be unlike any other in history – it will combine revolutions with battles between every nation in a huge slaughter.” Our Nostradamus of the loading dock left his audience rattled, but now we know he got all the prophecies wrong; instead of war with Germany and Japan, he imagined a second American Civil War where Russia steps in to undermine the side fighting to preserve the U.S. government (come to think of it, maybe he was foreseeing the 2010s and not the 1930s.)

When his three days were over, Herb wrote a final piece on what he had learned. Don’t generalize about the hoboes; the men were both good and bad, no better or worse than those in any other group. Permanent jungles with running water should be allowed in every town, preferably indoors, and the camps should have routine inspections. Provide medical care and an employment agency so they can try to find jobs. Never give them money without working for it. Some (all?) of these suggestions probably came from Herb Waters Sr. who was among the leaders of the Relief Committee.

“Hoboes will come and hoboes will go, but as long as a community gives them an opportunity to live fairly decently it has done all that should be done,” he concluded.

There are a few postscripts to our story, and Gentle Reader should be forewarned that none are pleasant.

As everyone in the jungle was a keen reader, you can be certain they absorbed every word in the series as soon as it was available. The Press Democrat blurbed it for two days before the first installment appeared, so I imagine there was angry gossip along with great fear as to who had been the spy in their midst.

While the series was running, there were two fires near the Santa Rosa jungles, and on the day the last of the series appeared, a hobo named George Peterson was found drowned in the shallow Santa Rosa Creek. Foul play was suspected, but no one was charged.

The day after the series finished, deputies raided and cleared out all known hobo jungles near Santa Rosa.

The Santa Rosa jungle at the warehouse endured until 1940. That year a heavy storm caused the building to collapse, killing nine who had sought shelter beneath it.

It’s a bitter coincidence that the location of Santa Rosa’s famous hobo jungle was just steps away from the recent Roseland homeless camp behind the Dollar Tree store. Known as Camp Michela or Last Chance Village, it was cleared out by authorities in 2018 – because making this subculture go away is so, so easy, as history shows.

Sebastopol hobo jungle underwater during the 1940 storm. Photo: Sonoma County Library
Sebastopol hobo jungle underwater during the 1940 storm. Photo: Sonoma County Library

Top: Hobo camp in the 1920s; Town of Sodus (NY) Historical Society

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For Santa Rosa newspaper editors and other fans of the “gentleman hobo,” 1909 had to be the greatest year ever. The traffic of tramps was more than the previous five years combined, judging by the number of articles that appeared in the papers, and local scribblers of prose dusted off their thesauri to see who could write the most magniloquent panegyric to the knights of the dusty road.

The winner – which is to say, absolutely the worst writing – was the description of a hobo scrounging food at a farm near Fort Ross: “One Sabbath morning, when a holy calm brooded somnolently over the seashore, including the ranch of Mr. Zeek, and when the tide was away out upon the distant deep, and the deputy sheriff was angling for fish in a nearby creek, came the tramp, unheralded and uninvited…” The article continues with an inventory of food stolen, including a 50 lb. ham. “Having secured this and a hammock and two or three bars of soap and a painted tin flower vase and a few other things, he betook himself away.” Not to spoil the ending, but farmer Zeek “set off through the falling ocean evening fog upon the trail of the depredator” and finds Mr. Hobo eating his ham while lounging in his hammock. Complications follow.

The runner-up is the “Conservation of Tramps” editorial, which like the other article, appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican. Written likewise with tongue firmly in cheek, it bemoans “unsentimental people, without a grain of romance in their composition, would like to put the tramp out of business…He is an American institution as indigenous and native as a Kansas cyclone or a Dakota blizzard. He is as much a part of us as Iowa’s corn and hogs, or Chicago’s smoky air and dirty streets.” Alas, no one apparently proofread this masterpiece of wit, as there is a line or three of type missing.

Honorable mention goes to another Republican item (seeing a pattern, here?) that described a vagabond beggar. “[When] he approached a house, he would literally crawl up and down the steps as if he were in utter weakness and horrible pain. Upon gaining the street again, however, he lapsed into a perpendicular attitude and his strength appear to return and his anguish assuaged.” The man also brandished a little book with a statement that he was unable to work “signed by a couple of physicians who had forgotten to append thereto their places of residence” and insisted his destitute wife and six helpless and starving children were waiting for him in a Southern California town that couldn’t be found on any map.

Also that year was a visit from “Tennessee Bill,” a well-known drunk “who has been frequently arrested for yelling at the top of his voice from the steps of the old court house.” When in jail, Bill was known to tear off his clothes and set his cell on fire.

But the bulk of 1909 hobo coverage went to Leon Ray Livingston, who called himself “A Number One.” A relentless self-promoter, he introduced himself to the local newspaper upon arriving in every town, and the Press Democrat obligingly printed all of his tall tales, including that he had only spent $7.61 on railroad fare to travel almost a half-million miles and that he supported himself by carving portraits in potatoes.

(RIGHT: Leon Ray Livingston, known as “A-No. 1” as shown in his 1910 autobiography)

He invited himself to dessert with Luther Burbank and thanked him with an Indian profile carved out of (appropriately) a Burbank spud. The PD noted that “he is also a wood carver of ability” which sometimes got him in trouble; a pioneer graffiti artist, Livingston carved
everywhere he went, and a few weeks after his Santa Rosa visit, was given six months in the San Francisco pokey for carving his tag on the valuable mahogany doors of a major saloon.

Livingston also told the Press Democrat that he had written a book about his adventures, and that turned out to be true; the following year he self-published  Life and Adventures of A No. 1, followed by Hobo Camp Fire Tales and several other books, all of which are available for free Internet download. Among his titles was From Coast to Coast with Jack London, published the year after London’s death. His memoir claimed 18-year old Jack London had proposed a “hobo partnership” with Livingston for a cross-country trip, which is possible, but not probable. Livingston had visited the famous author in 1909, and his book reproduced a very short note from the author and two post-mortem letters from his widow, thanking him for sending copies of his earlier books. The note from Jack and the letters from Charmian London printed in his book – one of hers almost completely obscured by overlapping – give no affirmation that the two men traveled together. (The undertone of Charmian’s letters is, “please remind me who you are again?”) Nor did Jack mention a partner in his exceptional collection of short stories from his hobo year, The Road. Whatever the truth about his life, Leon Ray Livingston had a long post-hobo retirement, dying at 72 in 1944.

Santa Rosa was not alone in experiencing 1909 as a hobo year. While our local papers romanticized the rambling life and made light of theft and other hobo crimes, a Jan. 13 San Francisco Call article headlined “Army of Tramps Invading State” quoted a Southern Pacific special agent who claimed “vicious, idle men” were pouring into California and that the railroad was currently tracking the movements of 3,100 hoboes around the state. Solutions to the vagabond problem were widely discussed; a popular 1908 pamphlet, The Elimination of the Tramp, called for anyone without steady employment to be forced into labor camps, potentially for life.

What caused the explosion of the hobo population? Answers are not clear; as discussed here before, the bank panic of 1907 nearly destroyed the U.S. economy; unemployment in New York state reached 36 percent –  200,000 were estimated to be out of work in New York City alone – causing a vast number of men to seek work wherever they could find it.

A landmark 1911 study published by a New York charity, One Thousand Homeless Men, looked at 220 tramps and found that most drifted into the vagabond life. About a third took to the road out of wanderlust and many were well-educated, some with college degrees. Others couldn’t find work in their home communities or were outcasts; some were drunks or otherwise broken men, and a small number were on the run from the law. The study reprinted without dispute a widely-held guesstimate that there had been a fairly persistent population of over 500,000 hoboes nationwide for years.


Some unsentimental people, without a grain of romance in their composition, would like to put the tramp out of business. Their way of accomplishing this reform is through the instrumentality of rockpiles and shotguns. Other very ultra-sentimental people, hopelessly addicted to altruistic notions, would eliminate the aforesaid specimen of tired humanity by kindness. By various unaccountable means, not particularized, they think to make him abominate rest and spirituous things and to get him in love with soap and toil.

Both of these classes of people need suppressing as bad as any tramp. What would we do without the “bum”? In this new country we have no scenes of ruin to show the traveler. But we have Niagara, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the tramp. The latter serves as a national feature and a piece of local color all in one. He is an American institution as indigenous and native as a Kansas cyclone or a Dakota blizzard. He is as much a part of us as Iowa’s corn and hogs, or Chicago’s smoky air and dirty streets. tive benius [sic] of  a country can produce, make him uninteresting or commonplace.

Why do away with him? He wants to stay and he has his uses after all. What would the poor dog do lying lonely in the monotony of the back porch without a chance to exercise his jaws, or give vent to the exuberance of his feelings upon the person of an occasional hobo? How would the hundreds of thousands of housewives exhibit their hospitable and other traits of character unless opportunities were presented them to break bread for the wanderer or to break a broomhandle over his headpiece? Who else would supply the authorities in the country towns with jobs? And who would wrest free transportation from the grinding railroad monopolies?

A more striking spectacle can be hardly imagined than the one presented for weeks last winter all along the Southern Pacific line from Puget Sound to San Francisco. During that time on the road, more troops could be seen riding on top of the passenger trains than there were passengers sitting on the cushioned chairs inside.

If this personage inhabited Santa Rosa, the water question would not bother him. So long as the saloons ran beer, he would not care if the municipal and other water plants were made away with entirely.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, March 13, 1909
“A No. 1” in Santa Rosa Yesterday–Visits Burbank–Has a Remarkable Record

Have you ever seen a queer cabalistic sign painted on fences and barns along the railroad lines, or carved artistically into shanties or water tank supporters, etc., etc., “A No. 1” with a date and arrow underneath it?

If you have never seen it, watch and look for it and you will be surprised to notice for how many years some of these marks have been decorating those above mentioned places. It is a queer sign, yet it means that “A No. 1,” the world’s most famous tramp, has passed through Santa Rosa, and has left behind him this mark, showing the date and the direction he was journeying. This man, whose only known name is this sobriquet, “A No. 1,” visited the Press Democrat office yesterday and gave some very interesting experiences of his roving life.

“A No. 1” is interesting because:

He has hoboed 458,193 miles.

He has spent only $7.61 on railroad fare.

He has traveled 10,738 miles since January 1, 1908, without paying a cent in fare.

He has been around the world three times.

He is a linguist; speaks and writes in four languages.

Has prevented twenty wrecks.

Wears a $40 suit of clothes.

Wears a gold watch.

Keeps his name secret.

Carves potatoes for a  living.

Does not smoke, drink, chew, swear or gamble.

How did he adopt this queer name? That is a story, too. When he first started on the road it was with an older man. The latter was attracted by the ingeniousness of the younger companion, by his bright ways, his natural attitude for a life in box cars and riding the rods beside the grinding wheels underneath the heavy freight, where release for a moment of the bar of iron would have meant a horrible death. “Kid, you’re all right,” declared the older one at the end of a particularly hard journey, “you’re A No. 1.” The title has since stuck, and the wanderer has more than lived up to it, for ever a hobo’s life could be said to be a success it is that of this fellow.

He travels in overalls and jumpers,  but after arriving in Santa Rosa yesterday he divested himself of these and appeared neat in a brown suit, is always clean shaven and has a prosperous appearance.

“A No. 1” has been “on the road” since elven years of age, and he is now thirty-five. His real name is not known, and of his family connection he does not speak. He has a profession, which is carving potatoes, and in this he has no equal. Hundreds of times he has carved faces for persons in return for small favors. He is also a wood carver of ability.

From the Press Democrat office “A No. 1” went over to call at the Burbank residence in the hope that he could get a look at the great scientist. He did more. He had a chat with Mr. Burbank and had the time of his life. “I had supper there, too,” he told a Press Democrat representative–that is he had some coffee and cake on the porch of the residence. He carved for Mr. Burbank an Indian’s head out of a huge Burbank potato, and he thanked Mr. Burbank for having produced such large potatoes.

Many railroad officials who have given him cards freely state that he has prevented the loss of many lives in frequent cases. By telling train operators, when beating his way, of broken car wheels or other disasters, or other disarrangements, he has prevented serious wrecks. He has been in four wrecks, but has never been badly hurt.

During his travels “A No. 1” has learned four languages–English, German, French and Spanish. His parents were of French and German descent,

His toilet set is complete, though it takes little room to carry it. It consists of a tooth brush and soap, shaving soap, comb and a few other necessaries. His carving tools are two knives kept very sharp. Blackening and shining rags occupy a part of his pockets.

“A No. 1” has written a book telling of his adventures and experiences, and some copies will be on sale at the local bookstores. He keeps a book system, showing where he has been and the distance traveled from one city to another. He showed this register in the Press Democrat office. The total distance traveled is equal to eighteen trips around the world. With pride the visitor produced a gold medal which signifies that “A No. 1” has won a $1000 prize from the Police Gazette for beating his way from New York to San Francisco in less time than six competitors: His time was 11 days and 6 hours.

“You would not believe me,” he said, “yet it is a fact that I realize that my end will be the same as ninety per cent of all tramps–an accident. This is why I have at least provided for a decent burial. In 1894, of the $1,000 I received as a prize from the Police Gazette I bought for $750 a tombstone and lot at Cambridge, Pa. Seems strange that almost every night that silent monument seems to beckon from yonder green hillside in my dreams entreating me to stop my roving. This I have tried to do many a time, but in vain, and my epitaph, which I hope, will be a silent, everlasting warning to the restless, is simple: ‘A No. 1, the Rambler, Resting at Last.'”

“A No. 1” leaves for Sacramento this morning.

— Press Democrat, March 28, 1909

Famed Tramp Who Visited Santa Rosa Some Time Ago Gets Into Trouble For Carving Name

Some weeks ago the Press Democrat contained an interesting story of the visit paid Santa Rosa by the world-famous tramp, “A No. 1,” whose autograph, “A No. 1,” can be found on fences, posts and sides of buildings all over the continent and in foreign lands. His penchant for inscribing his name got him into trouble in San Francisco on Thursday and led to his arrest. A San Francisco newspaper has this to say of the incident:

“An attempt to carve his tramp sign “A No. 1” upon all the doors in San Francisco has landed Leon R. Livingston, gentleman tramp, in the city prison. Complaint after complaint reached the police of the appearance of the tramp sign upon expensive doors. At a prominent downtown bar three mahogany doors worth $75 each were marred.

“Detectives Taylor and Macphee arrested Livingston while he was apparently waiting an opportunity of carving his sign upon a door at the Western National Bank.

“The man said he was an expert carver. He was living at the Hotel Langham, was well attired when arrested and had a suit of hobo clothing at the hotel.”

— Press Democrat, April 17, 1909

Jack London Entertains Notable Tramp at Home

Jack London, Sonoma County’s celebrated son, is entertaining at his Glen Ellen ranch this week a guest whom he delights to honor. No, it is neither a potentate nor a philosopher, nor any of the mighty and distinguished of the earth, that one would think would benefit the company of one of the two or three great creative literary artists of the country and generation. It is a tramp, just a tramp. Nevertheless through a tramp he be, he is no ordinary everyday sort of one. He is no less than the celebrated A No. One, whose reputation like his travels has eucircled the earth.

When A No. One arrives at any big city in the land, though he arrives not in purple and fine linen nor in a Pullman coach, but in a box car. A hobo in attire he is received by the representatives of the newspapers as if he were a whole congressional delegation, and his picture and story are always given publicity by the press. He appreciates all this complimentary mention made of him and has a complete collection of all such clippings, and treasures them above silver and gold and precious stones. Apropos of which it may be noted that he has kindly consented to accept a copy of the issue of this paper containing the tale of him.

Mr. A No. One has not confined his attention, time and energies to traveling, though he has been around the earth on a half dozen different occasions. He is something of a carver, having the ability to do sculpturing, not in wood, stone or marble, but in potato. He can cut any physiognomy out of that vegetable. Furthermore he is quite a writer himself. He has written a book on the Life and Adventures of A No. One.

He was unable to extend his stay with London longer than a few days, as he is an ardent devotee of the “strenuous life,” and to tarry in ease and luxury has no attraction for him. He makes visits to the great novelist’s Sonoma county home periodically. Readers of London have sought to connect A No. One with the much traveled and versatile hobo who appears in several of the former’s short stories.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 15, 1909
Constable Sullivan Lands Sextette in Jail

Six hoboes were arrested by Constable James Sullivan at Denman’s Friday morning, and have been charged with vagrancy. The men killed a porker belonging to a farmer in that vicinity and roasted the carcass, that they might have a feast. When the rancher discovered the loss of the pig he sent for the officers and had the men arrested.

Constable Sullivan, being the nearest officer to the scene of the trouble, was dispatched to bring the culprits in, and he captured the sextette without difficulty.

At Petaluma the rumor had spread around that the men were bold burglars and that they would put up considerable resistance before they would be captured. The return of Constable Sullivan was awaited with interest when this report gained currency.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 23, 1909


William Cornelius Tennessee Goforth, well known to the residents of Santa Rosa, came to town Sunday. His first act was to hunt up Chief of Police Fred J. Rushmore and ask to be taken to the county jail for a rest. He was accommodated and Jailer Charles Meyers is now his guardian temporarily. Goforth also wanted to be remembered to the newspaper boys. He is the man who has been frequently arrested for yelling at the top of his voice from the steps of the old court house.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 28, 1909

Mendicant is Subject to Temporary Sickness

An Italian, going about from house to house about town, soliciting coin, and representing himself as sick, disabled, the husband of one destitute wife and six helpless and starving children, was brought before Judge Bagley by Chief of Police F. J. Rushmore on Saturday morning on the charge of public begging, and was sent for ten days to sojourn at the county jail. He had a little book with a statement signed by a couple of physicians who had forgotten to append thereto their places of residence. These were in English and Latin and besought the public to assist pecuntarily the bearer, who was worthy and unable to work, assuring them that the Lord would bless them if they would.

Menera, according to those who saw him on his way, seemed to be temporarily subject to his infirmities. For when in his capacity of a mendicant, he approached a house, he would literally crawl up and down the steps as if he were in utter weakness and horrible pain. Upon gaining the street again, however, he lapsed into a perpendicular attitude and his strength appear to return and his anguish assuaged.

Upon being questioned as to the number and location of his wife and children, he appeared at a loss to answer until his little guide book was in his hands. He finally had them placed in a town in Southern California that nobody had ever heard of being on the map before. He didn’t sort of fancy the prospect of ten days in confinement very well, but when some one remarked that the county set a substantial table three times every day, his dark complexioned visage lightened perceptibly. The thirty unsolicited meals coming to him evidently anticipatively struck him in a tender spot somewhere.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 10, 1909


The usual morning formalities in the police court, consisting of an occasional drunk or disturber of the peace, was varied slightly Monday. Seven offenders were sent around the county jail for a few days each more or less, by Judge Bagley. Five of them were hobos–hobos of genuine, unadulterated article. They were rounded up and run in by Officer Boyes and Chief Rushmore Sunday evening. They had started in an endeavor to enliven the sabbath evening dullness in the vicinity of lower Ninth street and succeeded with a tolerable degree of success. They had not, however, proceeded far in this way before their hilarity had attracted the attention of the patrolmen. Hence their capture. Each was given three days in jail.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 16, 1909

Hobo Appears and Makes Things Disappear

From the Sonoma county seacoast near the old fortress at Fort Ross,  comes a weird and almost unbelievable tale of a tramp and his depredations. Deputy Sheriff C. E. Zeek is the bearer of the tidings and the victim of the unscrupulous and unbecoming doings of the hobo as well. In addition to his duties in preserving intact the majesty of the law in his domain, Zeek is also the proprietor of a ranch. It was at this ranch that the tramp first breaks into the story and incidentally where he breaks into a few other things. Going back to the beginning, it is like this. One Sabbath morning, when a holy calm brooded somnolently over the seashore, including the ranch of Mr. Zeek, and when the tide was away out upon the distant deep, and the deputy sheriff was angling for fish in a nearby creek, came the tramp, unhearalded and uninvited. He first proceeded to satisfy his gastronomic pangs. Though it wasn’t easter, he started with eggs. He invaded every hen’s nest on the place–there were over fifty of them–and ate the contents, leaving with a criminal extravagance, the shells and the whites of the eggs. Then he fell upon the dairy. Here sat a hundred pans of milk, with a crust of cream a half inch thick overspreading their surfaces. He consumed the cream, or what of it he could, and benignantly poured out the milk upon the ground as an offering to the cats. In the back porch of the house was a heavy wooden chest, which was the family meat repository. This was securely locked, but the hobo found the key. This he did not use, for he preferred a more sinful method yet of making an entrance into the house of ham. Hence he deliberately and maliciously cut a hole through one side of the box and through the aperature extracted a 50 pound ham. Having secured this and a hammock and two or three bars of soap and a painted tin flower vase and a few other things, he betook himself away. That evening Mr. Zeek returned. He didn’t say anything–for publication, but with evil in his heart and a double barreled shotgun in his hand, he set off through the falling ocean evening fog upon the trail of the depredator. He found him reclining in his hammock under a tree, nibbling ham. The latter denied ever having been in the vicinity of Mr. Zeek’s ranch, but was induced after a short argument to disassociate himself from his spoils. The hobo, says Zeek, was not particularly hard pressed for cash, having something more than a hundred dollars in coin and greenbacks, besides sporting a diamond ring and waring a lady’s gold watch chain five feet long, bespattered with pearls and a ruby or two. This individual has not been seen since, and it is presumed that he has left for other parts.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 1, 1909

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Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley loved drunks, and if the tippler was also a hobo, so much the better.

Finley could write prose worthy of Mark Twain when the spirit moved him, and could sketch a memorable little portrait from just a routine court appearance (while likely inventing all the dialog in the scene). But Finley’s favorite muse was “Tennessee Bill,” a hobo with a window-rattling yell who also had a penchant for tearing off his clothes and setting fire to them. More of Finley’s poetics over the skunk-drunk can be found in the 1906 papers.


“Look here, Judge,” You let me go this time and I promise you I will not take a single drink. If I do and am brought before you again, you just give me the limit, six months, and I will not blame anybody but myself.”

So said Joe Fenton, an old offender to Judge Bagley on Tuesday morning shortly after his release from jail, where he had been doing time for over indulgence in liquor, when he was again presented before the magistrate.

“Very well,” said the magistrate. “Now, remember, you have made a bargain.”

Wednesday morning Fenton was picked up again, drunk and incapable. He was hauled before the police judge again, having been brought to court in the patrol wagon. Asked to explain the why and the wherefore, he said:

“Judge, I just took one drink.”

“That’s one more than you said you would. You told me to give you the limit. But sixty days.”

“All right sir.”

And Joe was taken over once more.

– Press Democrat, September 5, 1907
“Tennessee Bill” Jailed in a Northern Calaboose, Burns His Clothes–Widely Known Specimen of Genus Hobo

William Cornelius Tennessee Goforth, familiarly known to all the officers of California from San Diego to Siskiyou and from the Sierras to the sea as “Tennessee Bill,” will probably drop into town in a day or two.

This noted specie of the genus hobo has been spending a few days of enforced retirement in the jail at Ukiah. The other day the people of that quiet Mendocino town were terrified by a series of most ungodly yells, and when the town marshal and the available police force investigated they found that the possessor of the powerful lung blast was none other than “Tennessee Bill.”

Bill was quickly gathered in and when taken before the magistrate was given a term in jail. It was necessary to prescribe a bath for Bill at Bastille soon after his arrival there. Then he tried on the same old joke he worked when he was last a guest at the county jail on Third street in this city. He watched an opportunity while the bath was being prepared and shoved all the old clothes he was wearing through the [illegible microfilm] as the flames preyed upon them. He reckoned without a realization that two can play a joke. Consequently instead of being passed out a brand new suit of overalls he was ordered at the conclusion of his ablutions to proceed to his cell and remain there wrapped in the folds of a blanket. Bill had to submit with all the grace he could commit under the circumstances in the long run, however he will win only when he is liberated he will get the clothes all right.

– Press Democrat, September 7, 1907
Hop Pickers Indulge Too Freely– “Tennessee Bill” Once More an Inhabitant of County Jail

There was something doing in police circles yesterday afternoon and Fourth street was kept alive with the jingle of the bell of the patrol wagon.

Half a dozen men, from the hop yards, celebrating the fact that they had been paid off, took a little too much hop brew aboard, and were overcome. Three of them required the assistance of the patrol wagon to reach a cool spot in the police station. Three of them were walked there. Police Officer Lindley was the arresting officer in each case.

Some time during the afternoon there was a lusty use of lung power and in response Constable Sam Gilliam hurried to Third street. Some how or other, the shouts seemed sort of familiar to the officer. It was none other than William Cornelius Tennessee Goforth, more familiarly known as “Tennessee Bill.” Bill went over to the county jail for fifteen days and thanked Justice Atchinson for the rest given. Bill finds the jails throughout the state the best homes he knows. He has been there often enough.

– Press Democrat, September 21, 1907

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