Eric H. Monkkonen
Social historians, in general, have ignored tramps and tramping. Instead they have opted to analyze the late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century middle-class observers of tramping. There have been several reasons for this. The attitudes of the articulate and powerful are relatively easy to identify and analyze. Virtually all forms of our literary evidence concerning this period have come from this point of view, with the exception of a few valuable accounts by educated participant observers. Tramps themselves have for too long been absent from the historian's picture. As the essays in this book demonstrate, even by conservative population estimates, tramps traveled across an earlier America in massive numbers, and information about them abounds. This information may be analyzed with the full array of methodological techniques at the historian's disposal, ranging from the relatively traditional analysis of newspapers to rarer oral interviews, to quantitative analysis, and to the reexamination of contemporarily published secondary materials. The authors of this book have only had to forgo the examination of the private papers of individual tramps, although it would not be too surprising if someday this also becomes possible. For example, the correspondence between J. J. McCook and Bill Aspinwall, a tramp in the late nineteenth century, can be found in the McCook Collection, and one can hope that similar correspondence may be discovered. 1
But the larger reason for our ignorance of tramps is not that the sources do not exist, but that tramps simply do not fit our visions of the American past, even the most critical ones. They were poor, mostly single working men (and sometimes women) in constant if sporadic motion.