Do you have an ancestor who appears in an unexpected place or took off for parts unknown? This week I’m writing about my grandfather, Edward Raymond Kelsey, and his adventures as a hobo in the early 1900s.
My mother compiled his life history based on his remembrances and wrote the following.1
Dad completed his education when he was eighteen in 1904. He grew restless and wanted to get out in the world. He was a fireman on the railroad for many years but he grew restless of this so he spent a period of time just traveling around. In those days, he would be called a hobo. He traveled up through Oregon and Washington. He told me about the hobo jungles which were always located by a river. There would be tins left there by other hobos. He was adventuresome and I’m sure these days would stand out in his mind.
We have two photos of Ed in a hobo jungle where the men would gather to sleep, eat, and rest before heading out on the rails again. Ed was an outdoorsman, so this would have been an ideal life for him. He loved camping and hunting well into his 80s. He and his sons would go up into the Idaho mountains with their horses and mules, set up camp for a few days, and hunt deer and elk.
Ed was born on 12 November 1886 in Springville, Utah. His parents, Selina Beddoes and William Henry Kelsey, Jr., were both born in England and emigrated as young children to Utah with their parents. William build a beautiful brick house complete with fancy gingerbread trim where Edd grew up. I visited the Springville Kelsey house with my grandfather and my mother often when I was young. It has since been sold away from the family and is now a historical landmark. I wrote about the serendipitous events that allowed me to connect with the present owner in Family History Serendipity: Revisiting the House That William H. Kelsey built.
With such a beautiful home, why did Ed want to “get out in the world?” One reason could be that his home was next to the railroad tracks and his mother often fed the hobos that wandered by. Perhaps as a young man, he was enthralled with their stories. With his work as a fireman on the railroad, he would have known the rail system in and out, so likely felt comfortable striking out on his own.
Interestingly, Ed was listed twice on the 1910 census – first with his family in Springville, Utah,2 and second as a boarder in Scofield, Utah.3 He named his occupation both times as a fireman on a railroad.
What was Ed doing in Scofield, Utah? This was a hub for railroad lines carrying coal from the Carbon County mines. Perhaps he heard stories of his fellow railroad workers and wanted to see the great northwest instead of the mines of central Utah. The topographical map below shows the town of Scofield and the various rail lines and mines.4
The Hobo Life
The term hobo came into existence in the 1890s. Hobos were also called “tramps,” and Josiah Flint romanticized the life of riding the rails for free to see the world. 5 A fascinating look at the hobo jungles and hobo life can be found in the series of articles: “In Search of the American Hobo.” The article quotes author Allan Pinkerton, who in 1877 described the hobo “jungles” or camps where the men passed their time. 6
When Ed was tired of the hobo life, he left Springville with a team and wagon, traveled alone, and arrived in Burley, Cassia County, Idaho, on 25 February 1915. Ed was the only member of his family who moved north to Idaho and built a livestock business and farm. He certainly fits the description of “out of place” during this era of his life!
- Anna Mae Kelsey Shults, “Edward Raymond Kelsey,” FamilySearch Family Tree, Memories for Edward Raymond Kelsey 1886-1972, KVG6-JWB, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/4172779 : accessed 22 January 2023).
- “1910 U.S. Census, Utah County, Utah, population schedule, Springville Ward 2, enumeration district (ED) 200, sheet 1A (stamped), dwelling 4, family 4, William H. Kelsey head of household]; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 January 2023); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1610.
- “1910 U.S. Census, Carbon County, Utah, population schedule, Scofield, enumeration district (ED) 33, sheet 25A (stamped), dwelling 4, family 4, Ed R. Kelsey boarder, Joseph F. Broyles head of household]; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 January 2023); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1603.
- U.S. Dept. of the Interior Geological Survey, 1923; Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection (https://maps.lib.utexas.edu/maps/topo/utah/ : accessed 22 January 2023).
- Flynt, Josiah. Tramping With Tramps. (College Park, Maryland: McGrath Publishing Company, 1969 reprint), p. 303.
- Alan Pinkerton, Strikers, Communists, Tramps and Detectives (NY: G.W. Carleton & Co., 1877), p. 37.
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Thanks for the note!