Dakota Datebook

Chasing Hobos from Minot

Friday, November 23, 2007

On this date in 1905, the Minot Optic reported that the city was fed up with all of its downtown beggars and hobos. Starting today, the Optic reported, those “hobos” who have exhibited “repulsive features in our city,” will be given the “cold shoulder.” These vagrants must “disappear in the immediate future, or will be arrested and made to pay the penalty of the law.”
Minot, not unlike other North Dakota cities in 1905, was experiencing an influx of “disagreeable characters” that were passing through town. Many of these “characters” reported that they were on their way to sunny California from eastern states. One would probably not be surprised to hear that their preferred method of travel was the “Side Door Pullman” cars of the railroad. In other words, boxcars.
Newspaper accounts from this period in our state’s history are filled with articles about “hobos and beggars” causing problems in the larger cities. Most however were honest poor travelers who were escaping the poor working conditions of the east, hoping to find a better life out west. North Dakota, with its strait-line railroad, became a “passing through” state for many of them.
In Minot’s case however, things were getting a little out of hand.
Hotels and boarding houses reported stolen overcoats and other winter wearing apparel. Train travelers who stopped in Minot also reported their overcoats being stolen. Edward Edwards of Fargo found his $140 fur-lined coat missing during a stopover while a passenger on the Oriental Limited. During the past week, Chief of Police Kimball also received many complaints from local citizens about the large number of beggars in the downtown area.
Chief Kimball was determined to do something about the problem. Assisting in the roundup campaign was Officer John Stromman and Judge Murray. The Optic reported that both gentleman “always accomplished a great deal” when faced with an outraged citizenry.
Arrests only took place if the hobos and beggars didn’t take the official’s order: “leave town immediately or face a fine and some jail time.” At lease for a time, the number of “mendicants with repulsive features and degrees of hideousness” went down, in downtown Minot.

by Dave Seifert
The Minot Optic, as reported in The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Thursday Evening, November 23, 1905. pg. 11

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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