A re-reading of Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory gives vivid descriptions of “hobo jungles.” They were actually camps, and from camp to camp there were hierarchies and power structures (meaning somebody was in charge; as hap-hazard as they looked. Hobo societies were like any other; there were rules and order to preserve. Part of the function of the hobo alphabet was to warn other fellow travelers as to what they could expect; it was a silent whistle, of sorts. The most welcome symbol was this one, depicted in the new piece which meant “safe camp,” which meant everything.
When the police would raid hobo jungles (they thought nothing of unleashing dogs and using clubs), these raids were brutal affairs and the killing of hobos was commonplace. Hobo jungles were thought to be warrens of criminals and it’d be naive to think that there were not criminal elements hiding among the itinerant populations. Still, the police would come in great numbers and inflict violence with impunity. It brings to mind something the writer Andre Gide once wrote: “There is nothing one man will not do to another.”